Strelka Bar

[>> Ezarith Research Institute - Sharo.]

"So where exactly are we heading?" asked Harke, as he held the backpack close to himself. The road ahead was mostly unpaved and unlit, and the noise of gravel under the tires complimented the sound of crickets loudly announcing their presence.

"Strelka Bar, downtown. Didn't give me much to go on in terms of how he looks, but apparently he's a guy in his mid-20s. Introduced himself as some kind of photographer? Dad didn't give me much details."

"What? That's not very helpful at all."

"Yeah, apparently he'll be finding us instead, since Dad gave him some ID on us. It's a pain, but he seemed pretty insistent about it, so it must be important," sighed Karen, as she turned into a bend to exit the research compound area into the road that would lead them into downtown Korolensk. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful, though unlike their trip coming in, they had both slept enough that they were wide awake. Soon enough, Harke could see the dim evening lights of the downtown area coming into view. Karen's hand moved downwards to her PET holstered on the dashboard of the car, which acted as her GPS navigator, though it lacked a NetNavi of its own.

In the end, they didn't need the assistance at all, as they found it soon after entering the town. While not as brightly advertised as the rest of the establishments along the road, it was still prominent enough to be visible. Heavy wooden doors framing thick glass panes formed the entrance. Through the windows, they could see a few people already inside, touting mugs of lager high into the air.

When Karen pushed the doors open, they could hear them laughing merrily and chattering amongst themselves, with Harke following closely behind. She met the gaze of the bartender, and gave him a slight nod in greeting, before she beckoned Harke to follow her from behind. He complied wordlessly, following her into a rather secluded table in the corner. Taking their seats, she brought up a wristwatch and peered at the time.

"Looks like we're about on time... Let's hope he's punctual. Ah, I'd like a drink, but I guess I'll get it after we're done..." she muttered, as Harke took his seat next to his sister, setting down the backpack under the table.
((From => Rogan's Sharo Hotel))

Rogan had regained his composure by the time he arrived at the bar that was to serve as their meeting point, and he had his game face on as he pushed in through the door. The bar atmosphere itself was one he could comfortably immerse himself and rest assured that no-one would really take any notice of him. The barkeep was busy serving another drink as he slipped through the heavy door and let it shut behind him, and he strolled through the gaps between the other patrons until he found a spot to glance about the common room with a relaxed look. He had physical descriptions, but nothing yet. About a minute passed of simply standing idly in a relaxed state and being mostly beneath the notice of others in the bar, before the door opened again a couple came in. That looked more promising.

He let his eyes follow without turning his head as they threaded through to one of the back tables, weighing the odds that they were the ones he was looking for. the descriptions were near enough. As they settled, the two took on the subtle air of people waiting for something, rather than simply relaxing socially and Rogan took a mental breath. He stood from his slouch against the wall and wandered over behind them. The woman was checking her watch. A small smirk touched his lips at the coincidence, after he'd just been thinking about how unusual such devices were now. With a smooth grace, he slipped into the seat opposite the pair and smiled, raising an eyebrow.

"Ezarith's people, right? Rogan. A pleasure to meet you." He extended a hand across the table to see which one of the two shook first. The smile was genuine enough, though it was more a grin that curled only one side of his lips. He knew that one of the two he was meeting was a registered netbattler, but not which one. Neither of the two looked like they might be any kind of actual body guard for the other though, and he didn't want to make any assumptions. With his other hand, he slipped his shoulder bag off into the seat beside him and unfastened one of the clasps, but didn't reach for any of his documents yet. Neither looked to be bearing any obvious weapons, but that was a given, in light of the meeting place, and there were any number of other surprises that were easy to conceal. He was wearing a dark blue shirt under his long coat today, and he'd re-dyed his hair to solid black a few days back, and he was confident that he was utterly nondescript for the setting; he let his body language relax, businesslike but comfortable while he watched their reactions.
The sound of some footsteps approaching was subtle enough that neither of the Ezariths would be able to pick it up until the man came into view, and took an uninvited seat across the table, though the way he slipped naturally into the seat made it seem otherwise. Dressed in a long black coat with a friendly-looking face, Harke tried to assess this new person as his brow furrowed unconsciously. While he had seen a few of the shadier people that his father often dealt with due to his connections with the Sharo higher-ups, he hadn't quite yet grasped the art of discerning them from a regular person.

As such, he had nothing to go on, except that this was a most ordinary man in his 20s, with no real distinguishing features except for his green eyes and his slightly unsettling grin. From his introduction, he assumed that this was the person Reverus had wanted them to meet on his behalf, to relay some information about their research that he had wanted, due to him being too busy to fly to Sharo himself. Harke shifted uncomfortably in his seat. While he did possess knowledge about his father's work in SciLab, and he could reasonably act as a representative of the family's work when supported by Karen, he did couldn't help but wonder why his father hadn't simply exchanged correspondence over e-mail or something similar, if he was that busy. In all likelihood, perhaps it was really just an excuse to have him visit home.

A handshake was offered ambiguously towards both of them, which Karen quickly took the initiative to accept. "Karen. Charmed," she said, smiling as she firmly grasped the offered hand. Watching the exchange, Harke nodded, and opted to extend his own hand as well, courteously matching the smiles around the table. "Harke," he introduced himself. Meanwhile, his sister reclined back into her seat; her neutral smile looked much more relaxed than her brother as she started the conversation.

"Well, let's cut to the chase. We're here on behalf of the old man, so I'd like to know what he sent us out here for."
As they shook, Rogan let his eyes pass more directly to each of them in turn. The woman seemed more 'in control' of the situation than the male, but they both seemed a little uncertain at least. Who could blame them, really. He nodded and slipped his PET out of his coat pocket and pressed a single button before setting it flat on the seat beside him, out of sight. There was a small whine for about a second, the sort that only those with decent hearing would notice, and those with sharp ears might wince at, but then a light on the retracted probe blinked from green to yellow and the sound was gone.

"Indeed." He shrugged and then turned slightly to begin pulling a couple of folders from his back. "I apologise if this all seems unusually cloak and dagger. There's some, well, potentially sensitive information in play, and I won't be certain how sensitive until we actually discuss it. Caution first. You understand, I'm sure." The first folder her placed on the table in front of himself was the one that contained the work ups on weapons that the group he was looking into had been seen with, but he kept it closed over initially. Instead, in a carefully measured motion of his wrist, while repositioning it in front of him, he allowed the front leaf to flick up just enough to show a momentary glance at what would be immediately recognisable as a weapon diagram, before it settled back closed again,

"Before we begin, I understand one of you is registered for net battling and virus busting, officially, correct? It makes a good excuse for strangers to meet and share a drink, and the best cover story is a true one." His eyes moved back and forth between the pair, one eyebrow raised. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind sending them in on a casual run, while we discuss other topics?"


While he had been talking, Lyntael had climbed out of the PET silently. She was mostly retreated on herself, and was dressed in her regular clothes again, but nevertheless moved gingerly away from the device. Her eyes still looked to be in a state of recovering from earlier tears, if anyone looked close enough, but the slight wince on her features might have suggested that whatever function Rogan was running with the PET currently, the sound was uncomfortable enough for her, from within, to drive the girl out and away from it for the time being. Instead, she looked around from where she found herself, taking in a seat-high view of the busy bar, and the general clamorous noise that drifted around. It was the sort of thing she'd normally find quite exciting and interesting, but this evening her heart wasn't particularly in it and instead she carefully, slowly, began to climb the strap of Rogan's shoulder bag, where it rested on the seat, until she could peek up above the edge of the table and steal a look at the people Rogan was talking to.

The tiny figure peeking up, short yellow hair and matching green eyes, would be the first either Harke or Karen would see of the small girl; just the top half of a head and a tiny pair of hands on the table edge, stealing a look while Rogan made his far more serious proposition. She knew he was talking business right now, and that that meant she was supposed to stay out of sight, but she also knew that this particular meeting was personal research, and not related to anything actually dangerous, and in the moment right now, between what had just happened, and now the sound of his static shell, and everything else, it was a small act of rebellion that she felt up to risking. What was he going to do about it, after all?

So she peeked, looking up at the two opposite and taking in their details with curious eyes that looked all the more green for signs of sore redness. Rogan didn't seem to have noticed her, focused as he was, and they both looked like they were equally focused on him. There was something of a similarity to the two, she thought. It was hard to place, and she wasn't sure if she was imagining it, but there was something there that made her look back and forth between them a few times. The moment either of the two actually looked in her direction and saw her staring at them from over the lip of the table, Lyntael flinched back, her breath catching as she dropped quickly back down the strap of the back to the seat.

"Sensitive information... Well, sure, that's what we're expecting with so much of this runaround," said Karen, waving her hand about as she watched Rogan extract the folder that he had prepared. A quick glimpse of Sharoan writing and the word "CONFIDENTIAL" in small lettering in the corner verified that part of his statement, at least.

Meanwhile, Harke's eyes narrowed slightly as the man proposed a virus busting run. Certainly, he was a registered Netbattler, and the reasoning for it was sound, but he couldn't help but be slightly suspicious at the proposal. The folder he had taken out had some schematic through it that somewhat registered in the back of his mind, perhaps one of the program schematics he had seen through his work with his father in SciLab from the past year. Unfortunately, he didn't get a good enough glimpse of it to ascertain what exactly it was.

Karen turned her eyes towards her brother, and flashed him a knowing smirk, with her eyebrows raised. Harke's response was to roll his eyes quickly, and extract his PET from his jacket.

"Er, yeah, I'm officially registered," said Harke, setting the terminal on the table for all to see. However, before he could turn on the holographic projector, he noticed a small blonde head that peered over the edge of the table, though as soon as he spotted it, the figure ducked out of sight. He paused for a moment before going back to what he was doing, and turned on the projector. Standing at about barely an inch tall, the holographic figures of Eternalis and Aurora showed themselves side-by-side after a brief delay. Eternalis opted to look around the area with his slimy hands propped at his sides, while Aurora focused her sights on Rogan.

"Nice place," commented Eternalis, before turning to Rogan and waving slightly. "Hey, name's Eternalis," he introduced himself with a friendly tone.

He then turned to Aurora, whose eyes were staring up at Rogan's face for a moment. Save for Eternalis, who seemed somewhat oblivious, she also joined the Ezariths in being somewhat leery of their new companion, before she nodded in greeting. "Aurora," she introduced herself, before turning to her operator. "We're going busting, Harke?" she asked.

"I think so. You've been listening, right? Do you mind? We'll just be doing this while we discuss some stuff."

"I'm okay with it. It's just a regular team-up run, right?" said Eternalis.

Harke pondered for a moment. From the way their rendezvous made it sound, a 'casual run' sounded a lot more suspicious than what the normal definition implied. "Should be. What's your Navi like, by the way?" said Harke, turning to Rogan. At the very least, he wanted to see what kind of Navi he had, since it was his Navis that were going to be heading in and not himself. "And which network did you have in mind? Mine aren't too strong, they're evaluated at about skill level 30 or so, so the main road of the local network should be about standard, Rogue-layer at max," he said, proposing a more public area to at least mitigate any suspicious activity that their company might have in mind.
While he shook each hand in turn, Rogan decided that Karen was likely the one he'd be exchanging most information with, given their behaviour, while the other was probably just a security escort. Not in the formal sense, he guessed, just in the way of bringing along a companion for safety. When Harke presented his navigators, Rogan's eyes traced over the pair for a few moments, then back up to his companions; anyone who knew Rogan already wouldn't be surprised that his quick appraisal hadn't acknowledged either program as any kind of person, but it might be a little off-putting for anyone else who wasn't accustomed to his mannerisms in that respect. Eternalis' friendly greeting seemed to fall on deaf ears as Rogan addressed Harke instead of answering him... Though from down and to his side, still out of sight, those who were listening particularly closely might hear a small intake of breath when Eternalis gave his name.

"It's nothing sinister, I promise. It's just a matter of having something else legitimate to explain and excuse our meeting, that's all. This one..." He glanced down to the side to reach for his PET and saw that Lyntael was already out. there was a moment where his brow furrowed and he raised an eyebrow; the girl looked like she was torn between hiding away and racing forward to climb up to the table, and couldn't decide which. He put down a hand, scooping her up to the sound of a startled gasp, then lifted his hand to the table top, letting her jump off again before returning the hand to its position in front of him. "Is not particularly strong or capable, and struggles to look after herself during the work that we do. Something I'm remedying currently. I don't mind where you take her, the local net will be fine. I had her collect some bounty work for the purpose as well, just for some extra legitimacy. If you wanted to take one for Sharo as well, I wouldn't object."

While he spoke, still directly to Harke with occasional glances to Karen, and with no regard at all for the programs below, the others might notice the unusual level of physical tangibility that the small girl seemed to posses; hologram or not, Rogan had picked her up and set her down, and when she had taken a few steps forward to look across the surface at the other two navis better, it had involved a slight stumble when she stepped up onto, then off, the corner of the folder in front of Rogan, distracted by what she was looking at. Her focus, unlike Rogan, now seemed to be entirely on Eternalis and Aurora, and her mouth silently formed the names as she looked at them each in turn. She tired a smile, and an uncertain and vaguely uncomfortable wave to them. Seeing her clearly, Aurora and Eternalis would almost certainly be able to identify the girl as the same one they'd seen in their charity resolution event messages, and it seemed clear that Lyntael had recognised their names as well. For her, it seemed to be causing a sudden attack of nerves and shyness, at least while Rogan was around.

"She serves her purpose at times, but I'm afraid a number of... quirks... often render her unable to carry out her instructions when I need, and that limits her usefulness. So for now, sending her busting as an excuse and a cover is as much as she's good for." Anyone watching Lyntael as he spoke would see her shoulders flinch slightly and her head turn down and away. There wasn't any sudden outrage or pouting, though; it was clearly a sentiment she had heard from him before. Instead of responding to his comments, she had made her way over to the other two, still obviously a bit shy, but equal parts curious as she got closer and was able to meet their eyes more clearly. she stopped a fair distance way, once she was close enough to talk and whisper to them comfortably, but not closer, and held her hands behind her back neatly.

"Hi... um, it's nice to meet you. My name's Lyntael, I um, I don't know if you remember, but, if you're Aurora and Eternalis, we messaged each other, during the charity event a little while ago. If, um if you don't remember that's fine, it's no big deal. It's nice to see you though!" She grinned again, more genuinely this time, though her words had been delivered in a low, quiet voice; the kind of tone that someone might use when they were trying not to interrupt or distract other people talking about more important things.

Heh, he made a show of picking his Navi's hologram up, that's kind of weirdly endearing, thought Harke, with an amused smile on his face. The youngest at the table wondered whether their companion was the kind to look professional, but made time for such a thing in his free time. It wasn't long before the way he talked about his own Navi dispelled that notion, however. It didn't seem like any kind of banter with how she turned her head away after he mentioned her 'lack of use', and a small sadness cropped up inside of him.

Karen was similarly interested as she watched Rogan bring out his Navi from under the table. As Lyntael moved forward, she saw the telltale sign that something was amiss--the PET had entirely broken line-of-sight with the small image of the Navi. A little doll? Somewhat eccentric choice, she thought. Certainly, there were numerous cases of NetNavis being used to power full-sized humanoid replicates. Half of the research done on that end was military-related, though there was a not-insignificant amount of research being done on them being physical companions. Strangely enough, in a lot of situations, Navis seemed to tend to prefer to stay strictly within the confines of netspace--it appeared to be an in-built limitation of the Hikari-AI model itself. Deconstruction of the model to create one more conducive to physical space...

While Karen's train of thought drifted into multiple tracks, the Navis seemed to be having a bit of a shock as well. Their eyes widened, and Aurora raised her hands up to her mouth and sharply inhaled. "It's you!" she exclaimed, her volume clearly disregarding the situation that their operators were in. She then lunged forward to tightly embrace her new comrade, clearly ecstatic at the coincidental meeting. Her body seemed to even glow as she did so, gleaming lines of circuitry running all through her body. The hug lasted for a few seconds before she drew away, holding Lyntael by her arms. "I can't believe we meet again like this! You're so much cuter in person," she said, a wide, beaming smile on her face. "Are you alright? How have you been since then?"

To the side, Eternalis watched over the two with an amused grin. "I feel kind of left out," he said, crossing his arms.

"Er, I guess you guys know each other?" said Harke. His mood was slightly lifted once she saw Aurora's reaction to the Navi, though the extent of it was a little unexpected.

"Yeah, like she said, we got paired up on the recent charity event. They seem pretty happy about it."

"They seem like they're getting along," the operator laughed.

Eternalis walked across to where the two were, and rested his hand on Aurora's shoulder. "Alright, girls, come on, let's leave the serious people to their business. Though come to think of it, Sharo Net's a bit too cold for that kind of outfit, so how about we head to Electopia's Beach Net? There should be a nearby uplink to it," he said.

Aurora turned to her partner Navi, her outburst interrupted. "Oh! You're right, that sounds much better than Sharo," she said, turning back to Lyntael. "Lyntael, what do you think? We can talk more there."

Meanwhile, Harke sat back up, stealing a glance over at her sister, who seemed to be deep in thought over something. Not wanting to interrupt it, he then turned to Rogan. "Well, that front's settled. Can you operate and talk at the same time?" he asked.
Lyntael's nervous introduction was cut off as Aurora demonstrated her own enthusiasm for the unexpected reunion. As the other woman lunged in for the hug, Lyntael brought her hands up quickly palms out with a shocked expression, starting to stammer quickly before she was swiftly enveloped.

"No, wait! You shouldn't"— The protest stopped and aurora would be able to feel the sudden tension and rigidity in her body relax again, and a slow breath escape the smaller girl. "Ah... Right... I guess I'm safe out here." Despite the sudden shock, and the nerves, no sign of Lyntael's usual sparking showed up while she was out of the PET, and whatever tactile feedback Aurora got from her just felt like slight-built girl with warm, soft skin, who maybe wasn't eating enough. She hugged back, after a delayed moment, though it was mostly with a lean in and a small nuzzle from her head and neck, since her hands were pinned up between them. If she'd been taller, they might have wound up in an embarrassing place, but as it was her fingertips were just pressed against Aurora's middle gently.

When she stood back at last, Lyntael had picked up the grin, despite herself, and the faintest hint of a blush had worked its way across her cheeks at being called cute. Looking at her close up, aurora would be able to see the red signs about the green of her eyes, but she seemed to be brushing thoughts like that of fin favour of new friends a she nodded.

"I- I'm ok, It's been... I... I'm still working on that resolution!" It was delivered with a brightness that came in contrast to picture of her situation that she'd painted to the other two during the event, and indeed, Rogan's on brusque treatment now. "I think I'm doing better. I mean, I didn't run away last time—" quite abruptly, her body language shifted and Lyntael retreated on herself, shutting down as her eyes slipped off to the side. One hand crept up to rub at her opposite elbow in a half self-hug before she shook her head and forced the grin back to her lips. "Sorry. I'm, um, I'm doing better, really."

Looking for a distraction, her eyes looked across to Eternalis nearby, and she turned, grabbed by sudden curiosity. Distracted from the train of thought, she tilted her head, blinking a few times. She took an extra step towards him, and without seeming to really be aware of whether it was appropriate or not, reached out one hand to lightly touch his chest and poke at the slime. There was a moment when her gaze settled on the estranged eye that resided in the asymmetrical mass of his left arm, but when it didn't seem to be reacting unusually in any way she passed it by.

"Well, I don't think you look like a horror movie monster, so there, hehe." The giggle was soft at first, but it allowed a broad grin to show her teeth just before she put a hand up to cover her moth politely. She looked back and up towards Rogan briefly as the others explained how they knew each other. Her operator flicked an eye down with only a passing interest, then back to Harke. This time Lyntael did pout for a moment, but it was followed by a quick set of her shoulders and a pointed turn back towards Eternalis and Aurora.

"Oh, I have some cold weather clothes I can put on—" she started, but stopped her protest as soon as the alternative suggestion, one of a beach trip, was offered instead. Rather than continue to protest her ability to dress warm, Lyntael instead began to nod her head, then turned back to Rogan, this time rushing back across the table to him.

"Rogan! I know it's not where you said, but can we? I... I can still train like you want me to, there, can't I?" This time, when she approached him, she crossed over onto the centre of the folder in front of him, without really thinking over much about where she was running. The request took his attention enough to look down at her and raise an eyebrow.

"It also poses a significantly lower danger, and if I recall, does not match the locations where your contracted targets are swarming. Are you suddenly ok with deleting large amounts of other programs just because I tell you to?" His answer was droll, with a twist of flat amusement in it and it was clear he'd already guessed her reaction when Lyntael shrank down again from the reaching pleading stance, up on her toes, back to her heels with her head down once more.

"Well, I... I just thought—"
"Because you wouldn't be going there to do nothing. You would be doing as before." This time she didn't answer. "Sharo, then, and you will continue working to fix your faltering and panic."
"Yes, sir."
"Good." She turned to walk back to Eternalis and Aurora, casting the pair a somewhat helpless gesture with her eyes as she did, but it was interrupted as Rogan turned his focus back to Harke and Karen and flipped open the folder before she had stepped off it completely. To his mild credit, he hesitated at the first feeling of resistance; noticing that she was still there, but the girl had already stumbled at the movement, and let out a small, surprised squeak before half falling, half tripping forward and along the raised card, before catching herself on the table top. Rogan hesitated long enough for her to dart clear, then continued opening the folder.

"I apologise for the interruption. Lyntael can rarely seem to prevent herself speaking out of turn, despite instructions to the contrary. Something else I'm working on. As he cast another glance at her, his eye passed over the other two navigators as well and he arched an eyebrow towards Harke. "I was under the impression that it was not usually tenable to house two navigators in a single device. Some non-standard customisation?" At this, Lyntael looked back over her shoulder, frowning, and opened her mouth as if to explain the situation to him, but then thought better of it and shook her head, continuing back towards her new friends. "Regardless," Rogan continued, "We are here to discuss other matters; if Lyntael cannot look after herself then I cannot use her in my line of work. I hope, young man, that you will not be distracted by what they are doing while we talk." He grinned again and then handed out a sheet of paper to each of them with a smile. The document would take a moment for each of them to peruse, but seemed to be a top sheet giving a brief on a series of personnel hand weapons, real-world, Sharo-make, but more than that would take a little longer to read.

Lyntael had fallen back to her more introverted body language when she returned to the others, offering them an apologetic and somewhat wistful smile.

"Sorry... Maybe we can all go to the beach after Rogan has done with... whatever this is about? I'd really like to go, but..." She glanced back over her shoulder. Between the two of them, it looked as though Rogan wasn't concerned enough about setting up and Lyntael was too hesitant; they were waiting for Aurora and Eternalis to actually jack in first, before following.

Being approached suddenly by Lyntael, Eternalis tilted his head slightly as Lyntael made a tentative poke on his body, which responded by making a strange squishing noise and undulating about her finger. "Er, thanks?" said Eternalis, slightly confused by the gesture. Somewhere behind them, a very brief sound of teeth gnashing could be heard.

"No, it's fine," said Harke, raising his hand in response to Rogan's apology. It might have been barely a minute, but after he had vetoed Aurora's suggestion and Lyntael's subsequent request for the Beach Street network, he was already disliking the person in front of him more and more. Accepting that there were plenty of people who only saw the sentient companion-programs as tools was still somewhat difficult, but he realized that it took many different kinds of people to make up the world, and this instance wasn't even particularly bad. Shortly after, the question about his PET housing two Navis instead of one came up. "Ah, about that, bit of a long story, heh. Still, I can probably try to multitask operating and talking, yeah," he said, drawing the PET closer to him so he could glance down at it and operate as smoothly as possible. He was confident that the two didn't need his input; after all, they had each other.

Next to the PET, the datasheet staring up at him was a brief on hand weapons, which made him frown slightly, as this wasn't exactly within what he had been expecting. Looking towards his side, he saw Karen cradling her chin, having inadvertently immersed herself in thought over the applications of Navis in physical bodies and the research elements involved in their implementation. The sheet that had been handed to her was on the table, evidently still unread.

"Sis, hey, snap out of it," he said, elbowing his sister slightly.

Karen jumped slightly in her seat as she was startled out of her train of thought. "Huh? What? Oh!" she emoted, as she realized where she was. Laughing nervously, she apologized. "Sorry! Kind of spaced out there; your Navi kind of took me for a loop there." Then, spotting the datasheet in front of her, she took it and began parsing it herself. "Hm..." Almost immediately, its content caused her expression to change into one that was much more serious-looking.

With his sister now fully recovered into business-mode, Harke sighed as he began to read through the document, though he was quickly interrupted by a movement out of the corner of his eye--Aurora was waving to him. He looked over in her direction and raised his eyebrows, showing that she had caught his attention. Aurora, in response, changed her gesture to one that beckoned him closer, which he proceeded to oblige.

As soon as he was closer to the table, Aurora began to speak. "Harke, we're going to be operating in reduced-operation mode. Eternalis is just going to hang back for the moment, and provide support, while I take over primary operation. You'll be sending much fewer chips to me, since the basic network isn't as dangerous as Rogue-layer, but I'll ping you if we need more help."

Surprise came over Harke's expression, followed by concern. "Any reason why?"

Aurora crossed her arms. "I'm worried for Lyntael since she said she wasn't designed for combat, so I want to see her fight for myself. With that in mind, I have a lot more options in primary operation mode--though I also want to test my own strength. Eternalis already agreed to it, since it's a good change of pace for once."

Both of them turned towards Eternalis, who was off to the side, still by Lyntael. The blue slime Navi noticed their gaze, and Harke sent him a questioning gaze. The Navi's response was to flash them a thumbs up. The operator laughed slightly, and turned back to Aurora. "Alright, if you think you can handle it. I'll need to focus on things on my end here, but don't overestimate yourself."

"Don't worry, I know my limits," grinned Aurora, as she turned to join Eternalis. Harke sat back up. I don't think she does... he thought, recalling the most recent incident, as he returned his focus to Rogan, and the task at hand.

"Alright, I think we can start now?" he said.


"We can head out now. Sharo Net main road, then," said Aurora, as she strolled back towards the other two Navis.

"Got it. Let's have a good run, everyone," said Eternalis, vanishing in a beam of light as the jack-in sequence was initiated. Aurora's figure vanished as well, but not before her eyes glared up at the operator on the opposite side of the table.

[furl=9036041,1,10003689][>> Circuit Sisters - Sharo Net.][/furl]
As much as Harke might be taking a well justified dislike to Rogan's attitude, the man himself wasn't fazed. He was becoming more used to dealing with people who bought into the whole navigator companionship farce, amongst everyday people, and it occasionally felt that the deeper he went with following after the darker corners of his occupation, the more that hardness shone alight on everyone else by contrast. He knew, for example, that none of the contacts that could pose a legitimate risk to his life would ever hesitate over a program, or give its destruction even a first thought, let alone a second... but they were also the sort of people who didn't hesitate much on taking human life either, if it suited the needs of the moment, and it drew more attention to the way most other people treated the things like people in just about every way.

The young man in front of him... boy really, as he was beginning to view Harke, was very caught up in the artificial behaviours of his own programs, but at least Karen seemed more thoughtful. A small twitch of his eyebrow noted the sibling phrase tossed between them and he tucked it away. If they were brother and sister, that might, at least in part, explain why Harke was here. It wasn't a large matter to be concerned about though.

"I can tell we have a difference of philosophy about the programs. I can accept that and I'll do you the polite courtesy of not trying to change your opinion. For my part, I'll say just that only the very young and very old can afford misplaced sentimentality, and I'm sure you'll grow out of yours sooner or later." Despite the words, his tone was soft and relatively friendly; like a man talking to a good friend with an eccentricity, rather than any attempt at debate or scolding. He had reached down to pick up his PET again and tap a few commands quickly to sync up. Lyntael had begun moving back towards his side of the table once the other tow navis had jacked in, making the motions of returning to her PET on foot. When Rogan had spoken to Harke, however, she had paused where she was and looked up at him once more, frowning and with a set to her shoulders.

"That's not fair, Rogan! You know that most people—"
"Hush," Her words stopped as he reached out an idle finger to tap the tiny girl lightly on the head without looking at her. If Karen was still watching, she'd see the small signs of contact that were just a bit too naturally responsive compared to the norm; the way her hair pressed down from the finger tap, and the way her body shuddered slightly and she took a step back from it. It wasn't a violent tap or poke, just a very gentle one, really, but she showed ever sign of having felt it and had recoiled. Rogan continued after only a moment. "I have business to discuss now, and you should be following the others. In you go, Lyntael." Anyone watching would see her small fists clench in a moment of frustration, though hidden behind her back from Rogan himself. He wasn't looking anyway. A second later, she glanced towards the PET that he set on the table and took the remaining steps towards it. When her foot touched the flat of the display screen, her form went still for a moment, then dissolved away.

"So, to business then." Rogan directed his words more towards Karen than Harke at this point, but glanced between them and the papers he'd produced every so often.

"What you have in front of you is the analysis of weapons seen in the hands of lower level members of a group I've been investigating. These are weapons that, by all accounts, they should not rightly have any kind of access to. They are too advance, too high quality... too... cutting edge, really. I know that they were produce somewhere in Sharo, but beyond that, they've been made very hard to trace. I've reached a number of dead ends, and I'm looking at other methods of tracking down this chain. Quietly." Resting on the table now, the Ezarith siblings would be able to see that Rogan's PET was a sleek black design, but that it bore a very unusual-looking probic extension. Currently, the probe had as series of small bar lights either solid or blinking, in a few different colours, and only someone who had any idea what the piece of technology did would really know what they might mean. While he spoke, though, one of the lights went from green to orange, and began a slow dimming and brightening pulse. Rogan flicked an eye to it, but gave no further acknowledgement. His hands flipped through a few more pages in the file absently.

"As I understand, Reverus Ezarith is in the business of navi weapons research and development, based here in Sharo. As I understand, it's not exactly the most public or widespread knowledge. I contacted him because several of the individuals in this group that I am researching, as well has being outfitted with inappropriately high spec weapons themselves, also operate navigators with similarly out of place tech at their disposal. I'm confident of the connection, and so if one source is not making itself available to me, I'm now seeking the other."

He handed another sheet across to the two; this one was much more clearly related to navi customisation and weapons augments, and was followed by a second page detailing observations of stand-alone net-based weapons observed in the same locales. the information was incomplete; observations and imaging scans taken quickly or covertly, partial traces and other bits of leg work that painted something of a picture, but not an answer on its own, at least not to an outsider.

"So, what can you tell me?" Green eyes shifted between Karen and Harke as he folded his hands on the table in front of himself and gave them each a chance to examine the documents more closely.

((Lyntael Jacking in, to => Sharo Net))
Harke hung his shoulders in obvious discontent as Rogan explained his stance on operation and sent Lyntael on his way. However, as he was distracted slightly by Rogan's interaction with his Navi, he noticed the strangely responsive response that the Navi's holographic figure had to the operator's nudging.

However, any thought on the matter was pushed to the back of his mind as soon as Rogan began talking about the papers in front of him. Indeed, at first glance, they detailed some disassembly of real-life weapons, but upon closer inspection, some terms seemed somewhat off. His father's name came into the conversation, with something concerning inappropriately advanced weaponry being provided to people who shouldn't have them.

The sheet that was presented to them after that interested him much more, as the terms in the paper's header were much more familiar to him. Techniques for manipulation of system integrity, recognizable excerpts of disassembled exploit modules, and even an internal name or two for the exploits used, possibly left in from an oversight. All of these were integrated in the pursuit of incorporating them into equippable "service-modules", as these Navi-weapons were called in the business.

"Well, we'll confirm that I can recognize the modules used in these weapons. Even so, what exactly do you want us to say? Techniques like these being discovered independently isn't unheard of, even after we air-gap our research behind lock and key like any sane operation of this kind," explained Harke, interlocking his fingers together on his lap with an intense expression on his face.

Next to him, Karen raised her eyes from the paper she had been handed. The piercing sight from her black irises matched Harke's as she followed up on his counter-interrogation. "In addition, we haven't been informed of any reason why we should even disclose anything to your party. All we've been informed of by the old man was that we had someone to meet in his stead. So who exactly are your people, and why do you need this information?" she said, laying down the sheet onto the table.
There was at least a small part of Rogan that was vaguely surprised at the sharp switch in the young man; perhaps he hadn't given him enough credit. The somewhat childish reaction to his gentle barbs about the navigators and attaching too much to them was an unexpected juxtaposition alongside the way his focus shifted and engaged with the actual work they had, and indeed the resistance that they both immediately pushed back with. He nodded, raising one hand in a placating gesture between them.

"I'm no one of any real consequence. I don't represent an organisation and I'm most certainly not aligned with any of the individuals you might need to avoid dealings with. Don't worry. When it is called for, I go by the alias Nightwisp and I am, in truth, nothing more. Just a shadow that you won't remember in the morning. Tonight, though..." He brought his hands together, letting the relaxed grin return as his eyes flicked between the two of them. The boy, he noticed, occasionally fiddled with his PET and played with chips; it was a wonder he was paying attention at all, really.

"Tonight, I am simply hoping to conduct an exchange that is of mutual benefit. this group... they have operations in many places, and they appear to have funding and resources beyond any means that they ought to have. I am interested in learning what their goals are, but before I can do that, I must understand more about them. That includes a better understanding of their connections and supply lines." He quieted as a group of other patrons bustled close, then turned and ambled away again. At least two of them were singing in thick, drunk Sharoan accents. He let his attention seem like it was distracted briefly by the interruption, but cut his gaze back to Karen quickly, in the hopes of getting a better look at her features when she wasn't watching him back. The sharper of the two, perhaps, but they both seemed to have a reason for being here, to some extent.

"The weapons and augments are one of the trails I follow; I haven't even been able to work out, however, whether they are supplied by theft, leaking, mutual agreement or exchange of funds. I believe you can help me fill in more of the missing pieces here, and I think you'll both find that it's in your best interest to work with me on this, if you think about it." Briefly, he looked away, then rolled his shoulders and glanced at his PET to see how things were faring. Lyntael was looking every bit as overwhelmed as she usually did, but she hadn't been severely harmed yet. After a few moments to let the thoughts settle he met each of their eyes again.

"Let me rephrase that. I'm looking into this group, and they are, let us say, not the most paragon of community role models. I don't know what they're doing, but I don't imagine that it benefits anyone other than themselves, and I also know that it's drawn the express interest of certain Families based in this country, despite the organisation basing itself overseas. It is not a small operation." He paused, then turned one hand over, showing his palm and partially gesturing to the two Ezarith siblings.

"Now, in investigating this group's unusual access to armaments, I have been led to you. I am no-one of real consequence, and I am sure that anyone of true importance who wished to could easily follow the same threads, and draw similar connections... and I am sure you would much rather help me understand how benign or overt this connection is... than to later have to deal with someone much less congenial who might simply assume that this group received their resources in a complicit fashion." Rogan shrugged, then closed the folder in front of him and passed it wholesale across the table to rest between them.

"So, it's like I said; you are under no obligation to work with me and complete the picture here, but I think you'll find it mutually beneficial." He tilted his head slightly and raised an eyebrow, still grinning in a relaxed fashion. He doubted that Ezarith was complicit in supplying tech and secrets to the group, but whatever the case they'd surely want it resolved — if they were being stolen from, they'd want the culprit stopped; if they had a leak, they'd want it plugged. He watched the pair.

While Rogan continued to extol his reasons for obtaining the information out of the Ezarith siblings, their reactions were somewhat varied. Harke's face looked a mix of doubtfulness and confusion, his eyebrow raised as he leaned forward, giving the man at least the benefit of lending him an ear. Karen seemed to not even extend him that courtesy as she leaned back into her seat, covering her mouth to suppress her amusement, though her stifled smile still clearly showed through the expression visible on the rest of her face.

In the end, Harke turned to his sister with the same doubtful expression he had been stuck with for the past minute. The woman's response was adjust herself in her seat to pick up the sheet that she had laid onto the table, giving it a quick re-skim.

"Mister... Nightwisp, was it," repeated Karen, almost letting out a chuckle, as she turned back towards Rogan. "You've been talking about this supposed group for the past couple of minutes, and I haven't heard any names except for yours. It's hard to be concerned when I haven't heard anything to be concerned about yet, and all I've seen tonight are a few loose papers and a prettyface renegade with some smooth words." She propped up her head with her hand on her forehead as she maintained eye contact, her eyes practically exuding a sense of condescension.

Harke's expression soured at his sister's theatrical display, and he turned back to Rogan. Unclasping his hands, he held them up slightly as a gesture of slight acquiescence. "It's not that we're doubting you right now--"

"Oh no, I'm totally doubting him," interrupted Karen, not bothering to hide her amusement now as she started to laugh.

The younger brother shot her a sidelong glance, causing Karen to calm herself down, before gesturing him to move on. Harke sighed before proceeding. "--But you've got to understand, again, that we keep our research under tight lock and key. We take pride in it, helping Sharoan Navis stay safe with our work. I can understand that you probably reached out to us because we're the most prominent name in the business, but we're finding it hard to believe this has anything to do with us, unless you have something more concrete that proves otherwise."
As he'd suspected, the woman, Karen, was easily the more piercing of the two, and Rogan let his own expression lightly mirror her feigned amusement with a hint of a grin on his own lips. The moment passed and seriousness returned.

"Your compliments are flattering, Karen, but on the subject of names and information not disclosed, well, all you two have given me are some first names that may or may not be real, and your word that you actually represent the family you're meant to. You've told me nothing of your actual affiliation with Reverus, or the Ezarith family, your relationship to them or their work, nor have you given me any sign that you are legitimate. I take on good faith that you are because you match some descriptions... Nothing more... but suppose that my communication were leaked, and the actual representatives waylaid or misdirected. Physical disguises or look-alikes close enough to match the basic descriptions I was given would not be too hard to achieve. Please make no mistake, Karen, there is a level of seriousness and covert desire that does not put such suggestions out of the realm of possibility." Rogan sat back, looking between them both, then stretched, giving them a chance to make their credentials if they actually chose to do so.

"If we're done posturing... It is rather like I said. You are under no obligation to share or work with me. That is your decision, your gamble, to make. I can pursue other leads if I must. Can you afford to walk away from this at the risk of what it may mean? I had hoped that upon seeing some of the things in that file, and seeing examples of what appear most certainly to be your tech... or clear derivatives there of, at least... in the hands of individuals who are, most decidedly, not making Sharoan navis safe in this network... that you would want answers as much as I need them."

Internally Rogan wanted to sigh, but he had known it was going to come to this at some point... here he was, pleading the case of 'keeping navis safe', and playing into the whole emotional investiture nonsense. It seemed like one of the only ways to move people like this, though, and he wasn't going to baulk at taking the most efficient path just because it was inane.

If either of them flipped through the folder some more, the other documents contained more of the same, similar to the first few sheets he'd shown. A mixture of real-world facts and photo images, showing some kind of deliberately obfuscated organisation base, with clean stills of weapons to capture designs and serials where possible... mixed in with what were obviously digital, navigator-side reports and image captures displaying navigators with versions of the augments Harke had mentioned, and a few distance views of larger-scale stand-alones. As much as the picture of what was being observed wasn't complete, there was far too much familiarity and similarity in the clean images that were there, for it to feel comfortably like chance coincidence of parallel development. It could still be, absolutely, if either of them could think of any other researchers that were pushing such similar lines... but trusting that it was would be a very uncomfortable gamble.

"I'll be honest with you both... I do not believe that the Ezarith family is willingly complicit in any of this, If I did I would have brought a lot more leverage. But if I wasn't confident that there was some kind of link then I wouldn't be here at all. Tell me, do either of you know much regarding the... plight, and ever-growing problem with disused and discarded navigators, abandoned to the networks? Ah, before you answer, one moment..." With the hook for thought set, Rogan raised a hand and stood, then smoothly excused himself and walked back to the bar, giving the two a few moments to discuss quickly amongst themselves and think about the direction he'd pointed them in. He got the bar keeper, eventually, to give him a shot glass of water, with a single ice cube in it, then made his slow way back to the table and took his seat again opposite them, passing the 'drink' slowly back and forth between his hands and offering them both a calm smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Psh, legitimacy," scoffed Karen, though her words didn't match her actions as she drew out her ID keycard and flashed it for Rogan to see; the keycard clearly had her face printed prominently above the word "Karen" in bold on the front, along with the Ezarith family emblem as the official identifier of their laboratory. "There, happy? Not like you can verify it yourself anyway..." she said, trailing off towards the end as she tucked it back into her pocket.

Meanwhile, Harke patted himself down, his brow furrowing further as he repeated the act. "Ah, think I left my keycard at home..." he muttered.

"Ah, whatever, it's not important," said Karen, waving him off. She was clearly irritated by this point, while Harke's mind was much more focused on the file in front of him. His statement earlier was entirely truthful; it was entirely possible that security vulnerabilities used in Navi weapons research could be discovered independently. However, that was exactly the lip service he was taught to give in this kind of situation--the situation where, in reality, it was almost certain that the techniques and findings he was perusing were lifted from their lab's research, despite it being rather old. At least, old enough to be part of the work he did before he moved to Electopia with his father.

There was a mention of "abandoned Navis" that perked Harke's interest, but before he could comment, Rogan had already excused himself to the bar, giving the young man a chance to exhale from all the built-up tension. He could hear a little giggle from his side, and felt a pat on his back.

"Hey, you did good, Har," said Karen, showing a warm smile, which was a welcome change from the disgusted face she had pulled with their temporarily absent contact.


Karen reclined in her chair, looking up at the lamps hanging from the ceiling. "Guess he doesn't know how things work around here... Leaks down the line aren't even our responsibility until the eggheads up top tell us to. Then it's our problem. Specifically yours, since you're the family's registered Netbattler now. Eternalis has gotten pretty strong lately, hasn't he? Heh, you'll make Mom proud, I'm sure," she mused. "Still though, he actually doesn't sound like he's lying. Either he's a good actor, or we're going to hear about this pain in the ass later."

Harke's eyes stared down at the PET on the table. It was true, he had inherited the job of "internal logistics" from his mother, which mostly involved handling incidents like these as a Netbattler. With his father shifting the focus of his research and moving to Electopia, the threats had been nonexistent recently, but that might change soon. Looking at the PET's screen, he saw Eternalis, Aurora and Sparky walking together with Lyntael, discussing something. A thought connected to his mind--what if this "Lyntael" was an abandoned Navi that their contact had appropriated for his own use? It would explain his apparent lack of care for her. He filed away the thought for later. "He said something about abandoned Navis around the end there... I remember finding a small colony in Sharo Rogue when I was operating Eternalis and Aurora there. Might have something to do with it."

"Hm? Is that so? That's pretty interesting--" said Karen, before she abruptly stopped, and craned her head over the seats. Her brow creased as she stood up abruptly. "Is he getting a drink? Fuck this, I'm getting one. You're driving us back."

"Wha--Hey!" exclaimed Harke, as he was stepped over. Watching Karen powerwalk towards the bar, he was left alone, when he heard a quick few beeps from his PET. A text window had appeared on it--a message from Aurora. Reading its contents, his forehead creased for a moment, trying to parse the request, before he noticed that Rogan had sat himself at the table once more. Behind the man, over at the bar, he could see Karen animatedly waving at the barkeep and yelling something in thickly-accented Sharoan. The gesture from Rogan was met with a pair of raised hands and a polite smile from Harke, who mistook it as an invitation.

"Er, sorry, I'll pass, have to drive her back home," he said. An awkward pause stood before Harke continued. "Um, while my sister's off getting her drink, a little question about your Navi, does she have any Support Programs? That is, if she's being left to her own devices, I'd recommend that she get one if she doesn't already, since they're very helpful in providing backup offenses when operating sans battlechips," he explained, going off of what Aurora had requested of him. He'd noticed that while he had been somewhat periodically providing Aurora with a chip here or there, Rogan had been entirely hands-off with his PET, suggesting that he wasn't exactly doing the same.

"I'm back!"

Before he could get an answer back, however, his sister came back with an uproarious declaration, her mood looking significantly improved. The bottle labeled "Stolichnaya" in her hands might have had something to do with it. "Alright, now we're talking!" yelled out Karen, as she set down the bottle of vodka onto the table roughly, though the bottle seemed tough enough that her unwarranted force in doing so didn't seem to damage it. In her other hand, she held a small glass tumbler, which was already filled up. Walking over Harke the same was she exited, she plopped herself down on the seat and downed the shot in one gulp.

"Haa! Man, that hits the spot. Things were getting way too stuffy to meet in a fucking bar without getting in a few shots," she exclaimed, setting down the tumbler on the table. The wide grin showed that she was in her element now, having obtained what she was really looking forward to for the night.

"Okay! What was that about abandoned Navis? Never heard of it, gimme the straight dirt," she inquired roughly, hints of Sharoan accent leaking through. To her side, Harke simply nodded, a tired-looking smile hinting that he was aware of what was to come from the older of the two, while hoping his earlier question wouldn't go unanswered.
One of the main reason's that Rogan had stepped away to get his drink at that particular moment had been the cursory glance at Karen's Id card; he had been well aware that he wouldn't be meeting with Reverus in person, and had expected a couple of lower grade employees entrusted with just the exact documents and information that was on the table and little else... what he had not been expecting was that the person sent to meet him was, by all accounts, blood family of the man. He tried to think quickly, while palming the shot glass of water, what other family he knew of the man to have, but his research had been necessarily quick and cursory. Still, whatever their relation, it was enough to reassure him that Reverus' intent had been on the level, even if the representatives were cagey. So it was that Rogan was himself a deal more relaxed and less inclined to sell intimidation by the time he returned. He allowed himself a small smirk and the edge of a grin as he passed Karen on her own way to procure what he wagered would be real alcohol, rather than a show of it.

Back at the table, Rogan could tell that thoughts had been wandering, though only slightly along the lines of the hook he'd set. Still, close enough. He shrugged and passed the shot glass back and forth in his hands while paring the occasional glance for his PET.

"I've considered it. It's a difficult situation, though..." there was no harm talking about this now, he decided, and if anything, something of an admission might relax them to a more trusting position as well. "I've thought about it, but I've no intention of making an investment like that on her for now. the work I do is often in something of a grey space, and often further, it crossed quite broadly into the scope of activities that aren't precisely legal... I walk a delicate line between powers that could decide I'm expendable and more trouble than I'm worth, if I do the wrong thing, and—" it was at about this point that Karen returned and Rogan paused while she reclaimed her seat. He had been about to toast the woman politely and raised his glass along with one eyebrow, but she was already taking the first shot hard and he settled back again.

"It relates, in fact, at this particular time..." He sipped from his own shot glass lightly, swirling the ice cube around even though it as just water. One of the nice things about vodka bars, really; much easier to pretend to drink in them.

"All cards down, as I was saying, I often investigate and do research on things and in places that aren't particularly legal, and I find myself both in the employ of, and tacitly working against some very powerful people, in the market of brokering information. There is a Family who spread the majority of their influence in this country, who have employed me in the past to gather information on others, I resist formal association; I like my freedom... but it puts me in a delicate and often dangerous position. There are things they have cautioned me not to look into, but a blind dog is cannon fodder, and I need to know as much as I can to survive. So I investigate anyway, and I leave no trace that I have done so." He sipped again and then turned his eyes to Harke more directly.

"So, often when I am working, I cannot spare the attention to assist Lyntael, and I need to rely on her to be able to do as I require and take care of herself at the same time. In many cases, failure from her may lead to me being compromised, and more, if she were captured or isolated from me during this work, it would be sufficient to trace back to me directly. She's evidence that I am loathe to risk exposing. So I don't plan to accompany her with any supports that will themselves be more points of potential evidence." Here he rolled his shoulders and shook his head.

"As far as I can tell, she is actually quite capable of looking after herself; it's the calibre of her human behaviour emulations that are the problem. She puts on many affectations that hinder her work; fear and panic, mostly, crying and cowering, that sort of thing... and I've no way to simply disable all of that unnecessary emulation when it's important that she function... so instead I have to bring the charade around to a point where it no longer hinders her." Rogan paused, sipping from his lass again as he realised he'd ambled onto a tangent that was only partly related to the question. He still believed the words that he was saying, by and large. They were his conviction... but a part of it felt just a little bit like he was presenting a story, like when he pretended to be law enforcement, or under cover... somehow explaining Lyntael's problems felt just that little bit disingenuous in his mouth, and the thought bothered him.

"Regardless, right now, what I've learned is that the group that I am watching is doing something that involves unoperated navigators." He glanced across to his PET and, after a moment of frowning, put out a hand to click the channel to mute on his and, so that Lyntael wouldn't be able to hear him even if she listened. It was a reaction that felt important in the moment, just as it had when he'd resisted telling her about the nastier parts of what he'd learned before, but he still struggled to justify to himself why. It was already done, though, so he left it.

"You may or not be aware, but the issue of unoperated navigators is a growing one, year by year. It's something like the puppies for birthdays problem, in a way, but deep down a lot of people understand that they are just programs, and not humans, so in the end it's even more prevalent. People upgrade, or get a new navi that's better then their old one. Parents want to get their children the fanciest new model with the coolest new functions... and quietly along the way the old one gets discarded. Left in the old PET and forgotten about, thrown away, or palmed off to junk shops. It happens everywhere, every day, and people who like to think of themselves as good people just try not to think about it too closely."

"Navigators don't age, of course, and so ever there are more of them, left abandoned on the net with no owner. They're still advanced AIs of course, and sources of potential use and power, and in many cases they can be deleted without consequence or crime, and their data taken and used by someone else seeking easy upgrades. It's all fair game, really; most people don't kick up a fuss because they understand that, at base, it's all just recyclable data. Some communities of unoperated programs have clustered together similarly and defend themselves either with unity or secrecy... However... some 'good souls' have taken it upon themselves to organise and protect abandoned programs as well, creating sanctuaries that guard them from being preyed upon. One such sanctuary operates here in Sharo, in fact, though it's a much guarded secret by any who know of it."

He paused to swirl his ice cube again, letting it melt slowly. In part he was watching the two to gauge their reactions. Part of him was expecting the 'navis are people too' knee-jerk response, but there was a chance that Karen, at least, was more sensible than that... depending on how many shots she drank. After a pause, Rogan continued, tilting his head slightly as he watched them both.

"It's from these sources of protection that some have realised that a great many unprotected navigators have been disappearing in increasing numbers recently, everywhere where this group have been seen in operation. The data was hard to see, because no-one really tracks unoperated programs to being with, and they do go missing all the time anyway, to other navis, or viruses, or any number of other hazards... but it is happening. Now, I don't know exactly why they would be specifically seeking abandoned navis for their experiments. One would think that if they wished to experiment and research in the manner they seem to be, that it would make far more sense just to use in-house code, or something of that nature..." He shrugged his shoulders and shaking his head at the oddness of the situation before continuing.

"Regardless, what I've been able to learn is that they're doing something that seems to involve all many of stretching and forcing of these programs to see how much they can do to them before they stop working, and other similar things... taking things out, putting them in, stripping down, building up. Everything you'd expect from reasonably thorough R&D, really. If we were talking about human experimentation, it would be some very nightmarish grades of torture and abuse, but of course we're only talking about programs, so I'm really not entirely sure why they're being so secretive about it in the first place." He gestured with one hand, waving the problem aside.

"Point is, I don't believe that the Ezarith family has anything to do with any of that, but the signs of things that may have come from your own research are there. I want to learn more about this group safely, and if you have indeed got a leak of some kind, then helping you fix it might be just the kind of traction I need to learn what I want to about them, safely. If my contacts with that Family get wind of what I'm doing and don't like it, I could very well be killed. This group, it would seem, also possess enough resources to at least attempt to make a problem like me disappear if they discover it. I'm coming to you because I'm trying to be careful... that is where I stand, Karen." He fixed her with a serious eye, letting his hands clasp together in front of him. After a moment he let the mood lighten by a hair and cast a small grin towards Harke instead.

"So I'm focusing on making Lyntael herself more able to care for herself, rather than giving her extra programs that will be even weaker and even more of a potential liability. I'm sure you understand the reasoning. Of course, if you're so very convinced that such things are valuable, then I'd be perfectly happen to work out an exchange while our navis train... say, yours take the convertible fragments while mine takes the direct funds for the busting. No?" He raised an eyebrow with the suggestion, amused. Harke would, of course, back out from such a ludicrous suggestion, which would only serve to make his point, but it was still fun to suggest, in its way.

While Rogan explained the situation of the abandoned Navis to the two siblings, their reactions were relatively mixed. Karen appeared to be more interested in how thirsty she was rather than his explanation, pouring out a couple more shots before he was finished. When he was done speaking, her face was noticeably more flushed than when he started.

Harke, on the other hand, had his arms crossed and brow furrowed, only breaking his pose once to tap on the PET in front of him and insert a chip. Processing his words one at a time, his thoughts went along with the flow. There was a strange dissonance between his insistence on being untraceable and not assisting the Navi he owned with stronger programs, which would arguably help in that sense.

"Human behavior emulation" led to a raised eyebrow from him, suggesting to him that it was a lot more to do with Rogan not knowing how Navis worked than anything else. The Hikari AI model used for the creation of a Navi's core was essentially a black box of secrets, but one of the constants that was certain was that the "human behavior" that the model provided could not be reproduced with even the most advanced behavioral models to date. Oftentimes, the AI model would perform actions that clearly deviated off of its usual deterministic logic, actions that wouldn't look out of place on a human, yet would look completely alien on what was essentially a computer program. It wasn't something that could simply be "disabled", it was irrevocably embedded in the core of how Navis worked as a whole.

The issue of unoperated Navigators wasn't something that was unknown to Harke, but they were rarely ever seen, and for good reasons that Rogan had outlined. Essentially, any unoperated Navi was fair game for roaming Navis to delete, since they had no jack-out protection and often held a bounty of upgrades--though the usual recourse was to leave them alone. The sanctuary that he had seen during his Navis' previous venture into Sharo Net came to mind.

His next explanations made Harke's forehead crease noticeably more, though he was certainly expecting it from how the conversation was going. The off-hand comment about being unaware of why this third party was being secretive about their "experimentation" made Harke's fist tighten a little behind his arm, but he made no further comment.

The last reiteration about him insisting on keeping his Navi running solo caused him to further grit his teeth, before an idea came to his head. His face considerably softened, and a smirk appeared on his face. "Well, I don't see why not."

"Heh? Really? You're buying frags of all things?" sneered Karen from his side.

Harke rolled his shoulders slightly, looking to the side. "I've been meaning to get her stronger to get her and Sparky up to par with Eternalis. They're surprisingly hard to find," he said, turning back to Rogan. "All your fragments for Aurora's zenny payout for this busting run, I don't think that's an unfair deal. If you find them so useless, you should have a reasonable cache already, you can sell me that too. On the condition that your zenny goes solely to upgrading your Navi." The last clause came to him on the spur of the moment--he had thought that the person in front of him was the kind of person to profit solely off of the transaction. Not that he had any means to enforce the clause, but he had to at least try to get it out.

Karen raised an eyebrow at the last condition, before rolling her eyes. "Heh, it's your money," she murmured to herself, before turning to stare at the tumbler in her hand through half-lidded eyes. She paused for a moment, before continuing. "Anyhow, that's a good explanation. I guess we'll be on the lookout for this leak then, once we go back through our supply line. So, thanks, I guess." She then set it on the table on top of the papers that she had been reading before, and stretched out slightly. She then sighed slightly, before reestablishing eye contact with Rogan.

"Well, Mr. Nightwisp, anything else you'd like to tell us? This 'helping us fix the leak' thing isn't going to happen until we actually confirm things, by the way. Maybe things'll turn up, maybe they won't. I don't even know what you can do in the first place--certainly not Netbattling, by the looks of things." The last sentence ended with a bit of a scoff as she poured out another shot.
Rogan finished his small glass and crunched the remaining ice between his teeth, fixing Karen with patient look and a raised eyebrow. When he put the glass down again, he let a small smile tug at one side of his mouth.

"No indeed, I do not netbattle, Karen. I do things that are actually useful for protecting sensitive information and tracing leaks and compromises within organisations. I only recently came into possession of Lyntael, and her existence is entirely auxiliary to my normal skill set and occupation. If you can't think about what those might be and how they relate to your situation then I might suggest that you've 'relaxed' a little bit too much, a little too early in the night." His eyes darted to her bottle meaningfully for a moment, then to where she had rested her glass on the documents, and finally back up to fix her with an extra glare, before turning to Harke.

Responding to Karen fist had been easier, and he'd used it to mask his surprise at the young man's acceptance of his offer. It might have been pride or stubbornness that led him to it, or perhaps just a need to be contrary while in that youthful masculine way... either way though, he wasn't about to pass it up if the boy was actually accepting.

"I'd would agree to that, if you're willing. Let's settle for letting them exchange what they find for now, and if you're still willing we can work out a deal for the rest later. Any sums that Lyntael earns for herself are counted as funds for improving her capabilities already. I'm not going to waste funds I need for other things on her, but I'd count anything she gains here in trade as part of that, so, certainly." The navis themselves could make the trades, but her reached over to his side to tilt the screen towards him and send a brief, silent message instructing Lyntael of the deal. He didn't unmute the communication channel, as some frustratingly sentimental part of him was still hesitant to talk about his deeper business in where the girl could hear. He rationalised it as being a thing that would affect her already lacklustre performance, but as annoying as it was he couldn't fully deny the other sentiments. After a moment he brushed the thoughts away and gave himself a small, mental shake out, returning his attention to the two people across the table from him.

"As for your other question... I think it's rather the reverse. I've put my cards on the table for both of you, but in truth, you've both given me nothing in exchange so far. We are attempting to foster good will here, and a small amount of mutual trust, if possible. It's your turn to talk to me, I think, whichever on of you is sober enough to do so." He glanced at Karen again, then reluctantly focused most of his attention on the boy instead. Harke was barely an adult, perhaps, but at this moment he would rather hear from him.

"What I've shown you is an incomplete picture, and I need to know more about what they're doing, hopefully why, and how else they might be planning to go about it. In there you've got some data reports of augments and alterations applied to navigator programs, and the results of a few of their tests. Some sheets are for experiments that were pushed to fragmentation, internal collapse or other forms of critical failure. I can only read the report for what was done, but I don't have the knowledge to put together the picture of what the goal was, because I lack the understanding of exactly what some of those alterations were geared to do. I would like both of you to look at these more closely, and with your expertise in these matters see if you can understand what they were aiming to achieve with these failures." The documents he was referring to were contained in the same file, a few sheets down if they'd reached them already. Rogan had sourced these ones himself, and Lyntael had had no contact with the information, for which he was strangely grateful. It was a tangent of a tangent, even so, but it was something that they had clearly worked on, so it mattered, at least a little.

"I know that this is only a very small part of what they're doing, and the greater concern for me is what their organisation is doing here, in the real world... but there's a relation, and if it's something I can work with, I need to know. As well as what they may have been trying to achieve, I'm hoping you can look at this and see what their next steps might be, and what they may need, sot hat I can follow those signs more closely." Rogan's own expression was earnest enough, but it was also calm and businesslike — and didn't reflect at all the content of what he was directing them to read; at this point it might not surprise either of them, though, since he had made clear that he didn't really consider the victims in this picture as anything more than lines of code.

"Hah! You're not going to tell me how much I've had! Compared to me, you might as well have been drinking water," laughed Karen, as she slapped her knee with a boisterous laugh, proving that she was, indeed, much more 'relaxed' than she was previously. She caught the moment when Rogan eyed her bottle, and smirked to herself. Lowering her voice, she added in a slightly more serious tone, "I know your kind of people, the kind of people that do 'penetration testing' services. I don't really mind if you're going to offer those services, really, but I'd have to check with the big guy in the back first. Procedures, you know." To her side, Harke breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Karen's more reasoned side return. "Thanks for the business, I'll have the zenny transferred," he said.

Unfortunately, Karen wasn't quite done yet, as she was getting slightly more comfortable with another shot in her tumbler. "Well, unless you've already broken in, in which case you'd be hired right now!" she laughed, downing the shot in one go once again before slamming the tumbler on the table. "Anyway, I saw you eyeing my bottle, so if we're going to do negotiations we might as well be on equal ground. Here, pour yourself another one, lightweight," she provoked, while shoving the bottle over to the other end of the table.

With his expectations slightly brought down, the other half of the duo couldn't really even spare a sideways glance at his sister now, and only scratched his cheek slightly. Listening to Rogan's explanation of what he wanted from them seemed more reasonable now that he actually laid out his intentions. "Well, if it's just our expertise on the documents, I can do that," he said, stealing a glance at Karen, who returned it with a roll of her shoulders, indicating that she had full intention of simply delegating the technical part of it to him. His eyes rolled, and they returned to the documents.

"Let's have a look..." he said, now seriously shuffling through the documents. Patterns in the testing procedure emerged in what he saw, utilizing a myriad of clever, but admittedly rather crude methods of determining exploits in the Navigator container. His expression crumpled at the needlessly violent parts, where the 'researchers' outlined in the documents seemed to have a bit more fun than was necessary for determining certain outcomes of their exploits. Things like 'psychological reaction levels satisfactory', tacked onto a report for a severely injured Navi, seemed relatively sterile at first glance, but upon closer inspection of how the tests were unnecessarily repeated, for instance, clearly indicated instances of sadism. Some unsavory phrases were muttered under his breath as he went through the papers.

Finally, after a good minute or so of parsing through what he could understand, he nodded to himself. "Mm, I can see the relative pattern of what they're trying to do," he declared. "In over half of these, they're trying to use a forced hard-memory disclosure attack. In layman's terms, it basically causes the memories of the targeted Navi to be able to be unwillingly extracted and decrypted by certain means. Navis' memories are surprisingly quite secure in terms of being able to extract information from them, since the nature of the Hikari Navi-AI model makes them closer to human memories than simple data. It takes an extremely specialized Navi with a trained skillset to be able to even attempt to extract anything from most Navis, and it takes a long time, even with today's high-throughput computers, to train that kind of skill. This is their attempt to convert that skill into something more easily mass-produced."

He picked up a small stack of papers that he had separated from the rest, and pointed out some logs that were shown very sparingly throughout. "Seems like they're making progress, though with very randomly scrambled results. Their next step is to likely find some kind of weak link in the neural memory decryption model. To do this, they'll likely want to find Navis whose memories are entirely security-hardened to experiment on, which are very rare, since it's an extremely complicated process that doesn't work a lot of the time, and usually only reserved for Navis that require high security clearance. That should be their next target, and I assume yours."

Harke breathed out slightly. "Sorry if that was a bit longwinded, but that was probably the short gist of it without getting too technical. Is that enough information for you to work with?" he asked.
Tactically, Rogan ignored the bottle that Karen ended up offering him; she'd probably misinterpreted his glare at her placing the drink on important documents, but he had to admit he was sometimes more concerned with that than was normal in the present day; the concept that a hard copy might not have a digital version somewhere wasn't a thought that tended to occur to people, he'd noticed. Oh well.

"No thank you. I don't drink while I'm working. Maybe later, Karen." Despite himself, he let his lips curl with the edges of a grin and winked at her. "And I can test your facility if you want, but I don't normally do that kind of thing without a good reason. Maybe you'd prefer it if I just took some photographs for you..." He arched an eyebrow at her, then, with a small shake of his head, returned to the actual business at hand.

Watching Harke's face was interesting, as he read through the information that was relevant. Rogan knew the broad strokes of what he was going over, without any deeper understanding; he knew, for example, that whatever they'd been doing, the experiments often were repeated or increased in severity until the program collapse,d fragmented or otherwise failed completely, and he could guess by the expressions on the young man's face what parts he was reading as he went through it all.

He waited all the same, and eventually the young man came up with some answers and descriptions and Rogan nodded occasionally as he explained some of the details. It made a certain amount of sense. Chances were some of the other activities, while not directly related to the process Harke was talking about, might have been conducted in efforts to trigger things or bring them to the surface and facilitate extraction. The pieces fit. He flipped through his own copy of the papers while Harke spoke, eyes tracing some of the details again. A part of him was glad that there were no image scans to go with any of it; that would have required network activity anyway, of course, and he certainly hadn't been about to send Lyntael in to get recordings or shots when she was as unreliable as she was.

The idea that there were sections of information inside most navigators that were made that couldn't simply be traced back and decrypted seemed like an odd step backwards to him, but he knew that outside of the odd independent designer, or which there were very few of any calibre, the base model used for the essential core of most custom navis was deep trade secret. It briefly occurred to Rogan that even if this groups interests were as benign as trying to break that particular enigma box for themselves, that would still be something valuable enough for other people to resort to dark tactics for. Given everything else he'd seen, there was more to it than that, but the thought was an interesting one, that something of that grade, which many would pay much for, seemed only to be one part, or an aside, to other things they were doing.

Of course, he turned it over in his mind, if the next step was to experiment on a higher grade of secured memory, and they weren't going to be able to get those from picking up discarded programs that no-one would miss, that would need to be both a large, and a very delicate, cautious step for them. Part of their pursuit of military-grade augmentations and weaponry, both physical and digital, might even be related to their preparations to acquire such programs. That was a thought.

"That does help. It creates many questions, but some of those are questions I can chase down reliable answers for safely enough. correct me if I'm wrong, but there's a certain hastiness to what they're doing, yes? If I were conducting experiments like this, I would take my time and destroy as many cast-off programs that no-one would ever notice or miss, as I needed to, until I was certain I'd refined what I was doing properly, before trying to move onto a more dangerous or tougher target. But if your description is accurate, then these results make it look like they're bounding ahead as quickly as they can, chasing research paths that seem to go somewhere without any of the exhaustive all-cases work that I'd expect of legitimate science. I couldn't tell whether that was from necessity, external pressure, or just plain some kind of childish eagerness to experiment... unless you have an idea? Regardless, if this part of their work is based here in Sharo for now, and they may try to acquire higher security targets some time soon... from what you see here, and from the similarity between some of their other work and your own, it wouldn't seem far fetched that your organisation may become a potential target for them. I presume you have got some more highly secured navigators at your disposal? Do let me know if any of them go missing."

In the back of his mind, a few memories, in an act of treachery, reminded him of the kinds of things the other navi had said to Lyntael when it had attacked her. Without meaning to, he thought about how interested a group like this might be to get their hand on Lyntael herself, and her unique architecture. Before he could stop the reaction, his eyes flicked across and down to the PET beside him, and he stilled himself and stilled his expression before the shudder could come to the surface. Now was not the time for misplaced sentimentality. If Harke, or Karen, had been paying close attention to the man, they might notice that he'd grown briefly more severe and colder, from the relaxed set of his body before; a controlled reaction to an emotion he was choosing not to show. After a moment, Rogan scrubbed a hand through his hair and breathed out.

"At any rate, thank you. This gives me another lead or two to work with." In an act that was almost symbolic in demonstration, Rogan closed the folder in front of him and slid it to the side of his position. His posture and features relaxed again.

"I don't suppose either of you might have any idea why certain Sharo-based 'Families' might be taking enough of an interest in this group to chase their activities and hire contract workers to investigate them all the way over in Netopia? It makes the matter look very.... Big." After setting the folder deliberately aside as he had done, Rogan did reach out and accept the bottle from Karen's control this time, pouring himself a shot and beginning to sip it slowly. The 'work' part of the discussion was over now, as far as he was concerned, and anything else they chatted about now would just be speculation.