Light in the Storm: Skirting Silence

((From => The Edge of the Woods))

It was the evening of his third day in the Okuden Valley when Rogan finalised his infiltration plans for his mission. He could see the sun setting over the edge of the trees from the window of his small, one bed lodgings in the park grounds near the foot of the mountain. He had to admit, as a location for respite and relaxation it was very picturesque. His cabin was one of many available for rent in the camp grounds and was deliberately sparse of modern comforts; a single cot bed and basic facilities, a small kitchenette with the bare minimum of resources and that was it. the desk under the room's window was bare save for a small reading lamp, two fantasy novels, and a thick full-page notebook that lay open about a quarter filled, with the silver pen lying across the words filling half of the exposed page. Beyond that, his lap top lay on the end of the bed, and a small shoulder bag hung off the back of the chair under the desk, containing a document wallet, three spare pens, a charge cable, and a pack of energy-stim tablets, water soluble, with the first sheet half gone. When booking the room, he'd also purchased several postcards, a pack of aspirin and a keychain.

Lyntael's PET was in his coat pocket, which was also spread on the bed underneath his lap top and, for a wonder, the girl had actually spent some of the time exploring the new room, and watching the outside world from the window. She was still quiet, never speaking to him unless he spoke first, but she seemed more neutral now and less perpetually upset. Rogan shook his head and got his thoughts back on track.

The details of his cover were simple, but he had been meticulous in accounting for the truth and realism of it even so- he was an aspiring, would-be writer, who had come out to the valley for a get away, to find inspiration and quietude. He'd spent a little bit more time than the park owner had been comfortable with chatting with far too much enthusiasm and animation about his plans and ideas, and the difficulty of trying to make it as a writer in the world and, once he was certain the other man would refuse, had even offered to read him some of his poetry attempts, before finally retreating to his hired cabin. Along with making it clear how important the break of solitude was going to be for him, he had been relatively assured of not being bothered again.

The target of his true intentions was a camping and hiking supply store a short way out of the park, towards where the hiking trail began at the base of the mountain, and the past couple of days had been informative in that regard. Several evening strolls along the edge of the park, and a hike or two past the shop and into the wilderness surrounding the area had let him subtly gather all the information he needed about the building's external security, and a brief inquiry inside on the second morning about the conditions on the mountain had let him scope as much as he needed of the inside. The security was... within reason, for a store of its nature, but given the relative safety of the area it was still pushing it in terms of visual surveillance. Inside was another matter — he'd seen the hallmarks of three separate security systems, each of types he recognised as running instant alert trip line protocols and all of which would most certainly be hooked up to a private net... and yet nothing at all to signal actual alarms or other deterrents. The interior of the shop was monitored to an excessive degree, but they clearly weren't actually concerned about petty theft or smash and grabs.

His initial look around the shop, under the guise of briefly inspecting the wet-weather gear and asking a question or two at the counter, hadn't shown him exactly where the entrance to the supposed facility underground was located, but he had a fair idea anyway. His hiking on the mountain had revealed a couple of minor signs that there was something partially underground, partially worked into the mountain — subtle ventilation outlets, mostly. A necessity, but always a give away. He'd only seen a couple, and only because he'd been looking for the signs. Given how well hidden they were, he wagered there were many that he'd missed in his walks, and that the facility Varda had asked him to scout was quite large, under the surface.

The rest of his time so far had been spent planning, and tailoring up the necessary scripts and programs he needed for the outing from his library of templates. whatever was down there was well shielded and seamlessly masked from network signals and the like, but he supposed that was a given from the outset: you couldn't hide a place like that just by disguising it in the real world, and expect it to stay hidden just on that alone. Even so, one tool he used often had proved quite useful; a wide range geologist's thermograph program had revealed the layout of the facility beneath the mountain, and also showed him that, despite its size, it seemed only skeleton crewed at most. Cautiously, he'd paused during one of his hikes to loiter by a blind spot near one of the ventilation outlets to run a wire and take an electrographic reading as well, and though he hadn't dared to stand still for long, he'd left a button that could send back to his lap top, for a real-time over-view. The signal itself was masked, just in case, and he'd removed the button again after one day.

The facility seemed to operate on a low-profile power conservative mode, with minimal lighting and virtually no heating, except for the specific parts of the facility that saw the most use. The small handful of staff seemed to keep normal daylight hours, though none of them had exited the facility in the three days he'd been present. Instead they all slept in a section of the facility that was patently a quarters for the purpose. One person alone spent far more of the day and night elsewhere and awake, and if he had been a gambling man, Rogan would have guessed that the one busy individual was the target he'd been told about, one Lance Fitzpatrick. He was, by all accounts a man who had gained a great many accreditations and qualifications in the sciences, as much a mechanist as a technologist who has taken degrees in everything from theoretical data structures, to advanced engineering. He had also never had any traceable record of employment, and to all outward appearances had done nothing with his life after getting his qualifications. Effectively, he dropped off the map outside of his scholastic achievements, although in light of the circumstances that didn't surprise Rogan overly much. His own history looked rather similar to the casual eye, after all.

Something in the facility, in one particular area where Lance was spending most of his time, was being the most major draw on power and generator of heat. A second location, frequently visited, had virtually no readings for either, and if he was hazarding another guess, that would be where all the hard copies of whatever he was doing would be. Provided he was keeping hard copies, of course, but the behaviour seemed consistent at least. The main issue was timing, given how little the scientists seemed to rest from his work, but his luck was in on that score. He might only sleep a few hours each night, but at least he did seem to do it at a time when everyone else was asleep as well. If he was fortunate, the only person awake at that point would be whoever was overseeing the facility's internal security, and he had plans in motion already for making sure no alarms were raised there. Rogan glanced at his wrist. Nothing to do now but wait and keep his act on. He stretched then retrieved his coat and slipped it on. Next, he slung his shoulder bag on and pulled the charge cable out of it, plugging his lap top in charge while he was out. He reached for the door, but a brief thought made him pull his PET out of the pocket.

"Lyntael, I'm heading out briefly." The girl herself was where she had been up until now; standing on the inner sill of the window, with her hands against the glass looking out, but she turned her head towards him as she spoke. For now her expression was as though he had distracted her from some deeper thoughts, and she blinked. He hefted the PET visibly in his hand and her eyes jumped down to it from where they had been tracing his face.

"I'd... rather stay here, please." Softly spoken an hesitant, still tinged with sadness in some way, but not upset or tearful. He supposed that was good. As much as his story was a cover, the few days out here with nothing to do but watch nature go by seemed to have done Lyntael some good. He nodded and set the PET on the edge of the desk rather than slipping it back in his pocket and Lyntael turned back to the window.
Outside, Rogan crossed the camping grounds at a casual walk, hands in his pockets. There was a chill wind blowing and as the sun was sinking, he could see stormy clouds gathering above It painted a brilliant orange glow across the tree tops, hemmed in by the grey swirls and eddies, with the scent of rain on the air. As he walked away from the small building, Rogan didn't see Lyntael's eyes flick to him for a few moments, then back to the fleeting view.

He had settled back into his assumed persona by the time he reached the small cafe-turned-bistro at the edge of the camp grounds; it was Lucas Wright who walked through the doors, lost in thought until he reached the front counter, and started when he was addressed by the server. Before long he'd asked for table, and ordered something light, then pulled a smaller notebook out of his shoulder bag, took a pen from his shirt pocket and begun to scribble away. Anyone trying to read what he was writing over his shoulder would have a hard time making anything at all out of the heavily slanted, tightly packed handwriting, though if they did get a good look, they might gather that he was writing something quite racy about a huntress and a band of mercenaries. His food came, though he didn't appear to notice it for a couple of minutes, then ate quickly once he did, asked for a cup of tea, and kept writing. When the tea was empty too, he stood and tucked his notebook away, clicked his pen and put it back in his shirt. Paying with cash, He offered a distracted grin and thanks to the man at the counter, before stepping out again.

The sun was all the way down now, and he glanced at his watch. Still a while. He took his time wandering back towards his cabin, nodding amiably to the couple of individuals still moving around the camp grounds, though most failed to notice him. The clouds had crowded in overhead and the scent of rain was sharper. The last of the fading light was lending a faint greenish tint to the low-hanging clouds, and Rogan caught himself wondering if the storm would break into hail. At least it would keep any late night wanderers inside, if it did.

Lyntael was still out when he stepped in through the door, though she had moved over to curl up on the bed instead now. She was nestled against the power adapter for his lap top and the smallest hint of a smile tugged at one corner of his lip for how oddly cute it seemed, before he caught himself and smothered it. It was strange though. She'd complained of the room being too cold at night, and usually retreated to her PET once the sun went down; the internal net space maintained a stable virtually simulated temperature, but when she was out as a hologram, she claimed to feel whatever temperature the space she was in actually was. According to Lyntael, Rogan spent all him time in places that were freezing cold and she'd be more worried for his health, if he actually felt it at all. Personally, Rogan was of the opinion that there might be something out of line with whatever processes she used to detect the temperature. Another thing that she didn't have any control over, though, he supposed; otherwise she wouldn't have chosen to curl up against the warm adapter like that while he wasn't in the room.

She sat up immediately upon hearing the door and looked towards Rogan, though, as always in the past weeks, he was still acutely aware of the lack of what had been her usual smile upon seeing him. She blinked a few times then stood up, looking up at him as he hung his bag over the back of the chair. Her expression was mostly neutral even after she had taken a moment to rub her eyes and scrub at her face. She looked as though she was waiting for him to say something, but there was time yet before they had to set out, so he just moved the lap top to the desk and sat on the bed to begin untying his shoes.

"It's tonight, isn't it?" She had stayed where she was, and was watching him still, hands clasped behind her back.
"Yes." He pulled one shoe off and undid the other.
"I'm... a part of your plans?"
"You are." The other shoe came off and was set beside the first, and Rogan shifted to stretch out on the bed properly, putting his hands behind his head. Lyntael moved out of his way, sliding off the end of the bed then making her way back towards the desk. He watched her with one eyes as she stopped at the base of the chain, then turned her head back towards him for a moment.

"More breaking in, and stealing things? For criminals?" She looked away again after she spoke, then crouched and jumped, seeming to catch some sort of updraught of wind that carried her to the seat of the chair. Normally, Rogan might have objected to the term 'breaking in', since 'breaking' was no part of anything he did, but tonight he just sighed.

"Yes, Lyntael. It is what I do." She sized up the next jump, then leapt again, landing on the surface of the desk now, on the open pages of his larger notebook. No more questions right away, but instead she walked back to the edge of the desk top and sat, legs folded and hands in her lap, watching him. He felt compelled to clarify for some reason, under her gaze. "Though, it's just copying things and taking pictures tonight. Taking nothing away and leaving no trace." Small as her hologram was, across the room from him now, he still saw her eyebrows rise at his explanation.

"Oh... That's... not as bad." She lifted one hand to put an elbow on one knee and rest her chin. It still surprised Rogan that a netnavi, a being made purely of data who existed more or less completely in a digital world, could still be designed to act with such a naive view on the value and importance of information. He noticed her eyes cast downwards and hear the sound of a soft sigh escape her. "I don't know if I'll be any use."

"It won't be difficult. I won't need you to do much."
"Oh..." His answer hadn't seemed to reassure her at all; if anything her behaviour shifted to become more withdrawn. Inwardly he murmured a curse at Eric, but he had learned that doing so aloud only caused worse reactions from the tiny program, most of the time. While he was pondering this, she spoke again. "I'll do my best. I promise."

"Good." Silence was normally a comfort to Rogan; noisy crowds distracted him, and over-talkative people annoyed him. Normally, when he was alone, except for Lyntael, the quiet was just calm... but lately... Rogan shifted on the bed. Talking had been awkward, and the silences uncomfortable. He couldn't even explain why or how to himself, but there it was. Talking to Lyntael had never been awkward before — speech was just an interface to the program, but talking to it in a normal manner was most effective. Lately, though, 'talking normally' to her had been inexplicably difficult, just as she had been short and untalkative back. It had left the rare few exchanges they had needed to have blunt and stilted... like this one had just been. In one sense, he reasoned, he'd been giving Lyntael space and time to set herself right, and there hadn't been anything important to talk to her about, but he'd been aware of the absence of all the little bits of doting and pointed questions she normally asked... aware that those day to day things had made up the major part of his more normal conversations since she'd been given to her, and without them he barely spoke to anyone, about anything, unless it was work related.

He knew all that already, of course; it wasn't like it was any different than the time before Eric had saddled him with the girl... but somehow it was, and it was sitting uncomfortably about his shoulders more than ever, since he'd admitted to her what her behaviour was making him feel. He'd been putting it out of his mind on the grounds of giving her time, but he was very much beginning to hope that she'd have herself rectified before much longer. Was it a win for Eric, he wondered, if he'd caught himself wanting the old Lyntael back instead? Probably.

"I'm going to sleep for now, Lyntael. We'll begin later tonight." He kept his eyes open long enough to see her nod and begin to stand up, before closing them.

"Do you want me to wake you?"
"No need."
"... Alright." In the past she had shown a disposition for being closer to him when he slept, but where she had been on the end of the bed before was about as far as she could go from the PET, in its place on the desk. He wondered briefly if she'd ask him to move it closer, but in the short time between him closing his eyes and drifting to sleep, the request never came.

About two hours later, Rogan opened his eyes again and sat up; short snatches of sleep was all he ever took anyway, and his body would generally wake him up after that long, whether he had any sort of alarm or not. The night had deepened, and the rain had started to fall; the room was mostly dark and only a very small amount of light came in through the window, but he could hear the steady hammer of the drops against the roof and all around outside as well. It didn't sound like solid hail after all, but he doubted it would make a difference in terms of strangers being adventurous in the night. Aside from the rain the room was silent and his eyes couldn't pick out any sign of Lyntael on the desk or elsewhere. Standing, he stretched out and rolled his neck and shoulders, then walked over to examine the PET; he didn't pick it up right away, but gently tapped it to flick the display through its settings. He found her swiftly, when the view displayed the side room in her internal space; partially curled up inside that silly ribbon outline again, sleeping soundly. About to call her name, something made him hesitate and instead he just watched her.

Her body was only slightly curled, back against the wall with her arms crossed over one another in front of her and bent part way, creating a small curl that her head was tucked into. One leg was bent upwards at the knee, with the other not too far behind, but short as her skirt was it still covered her properly from this angle. Since giving her outfit permissions, she's modified her own visual base slightly, but only in one very minor way — replacing her distinctly adult undergarments with more appropriate ones. It had struck him as surprising, when he'd noticed the first time; certainly she had complained about the situation in the past, but to make a change that would actively decrease the amount of visually personifying behaviours she'd be making as a result seemed to go against what Eric had apparently intended her to do. Even if it was complaining about something, surely being in a position to do so was more emotive and human-simulating than having the issue fixed and leaving her without that justified outlet for expression.

Lyntael shifted, stirring in her sleep and giving a soft shudder that grew into a shiver. Her body curled up more and her bottom arm lifted from where it lay to wrap back about her shoulder. The interior data space did look cold, he supposed, even though it was meant to simulate a stable temperature, for whatever that meant in digital terms. He scrubbed one hand over his face then through his hair. All it really signified was another way that her program was forced to behave for the sake of realism. It really was no different from the way he exercised great attention to detail when maintaining a cover. the past three days he had, for the most part, behaved day and night as the persona he was representing as his cover identity. any time that he wasn't working directly on something, he was 'Lucas', even when he knew absolutely that there as no-one around to see or observe him at all. That was why she cried when she thought he couldn't see or hear her, or slept when she knew he wasn't going to call on her. No other reason. He took a long breath and blew it out again slowly, then stepped back away from the PET.

"Lyntael." He spoke clearly enough that he was sure she'd hear. "It's time to begin the last preparations. Are you ready to work?" No answer. Despite himself Rogan rolled his eyes then picked up his PET and tapped the input mic a couple of times.

"Lyntael. Awake please." When he looked again she was picking herself up and straightening her clothes. She took a moment more to rub at one eye, then clasped her hands behind her back to look up towards him. He raised an eyebrow, then tried again. "Are you ready? It's almost time." She only nodded in response, but Rogan left it at that. For now, he glanced at his watch, then opened his lap top, running through some final checks and details.

"When we go in, Lyntael, I will be locating the entrance to my target's base of operations and infiltrating it. I have all of the contingencies worked out up until the point that I am inside, and their security past that point is minimal. All I will need from you is the timed diverting of the monitoring system, and I've already prepared the splices for you. I can't do it myself without risking some slight exposure in between, which is why you'll be doing it after I insert you into their inner network. Do you understand?"

"I- Yes, sir." The slight hitch went studiously ignored as Rogan continued.
"You will not have to face any other navigators; as far as I can discern the network should be closed. It's also quite sterile, from what I can tell, so I don't expect you will have to encounter any viral presence either. There is little difficulty in what I need of you tonight, but it remains imperative that we both go completely undetected. That is primary, this time, nothing is more important."
"Yes sir, I understand."
"Good. We've a little over an hour before leaving here. The timing will be precise. There is a window in, and a window out again, set up to give me sufficient time to gather what I must."
"It's raining. You'll leave water in the store." She spoke quietly, but Rogan stared at his computer screen unseeing as her words hit him. Of course he would. He didn't have any wet weather gear in his bag. The thought hadn't even crossed his mind yet. He cursed softly under his breath, then stood again, weighing his options. They were... thin. It was too late in the night to acquire anything, but Lyntael was right. What to do?

A decision a moment later saw him walking quickly through to the small bathroom and beginning to unclip the shower curtain from its rail over the bath. At least it wasn't anything too obnoxious; just a green and brown pastel tree print pattern. He wouldn't have had much choice even if it had been though. There was enough material to make a full mantle wrap about hi shoulders and upper torso, pulling a peak of it up through the loop to make something of a hood, and then clipping one of the rings to another at the cross over point. Not a terrible poncho, in the end. It would do for a temporary cover, at least. He considered making some alterations to get it to sit better, but damaging the curtain was a detail he would rather not leave behind. It would be alright, he was going to move quickly anyway. It never occurred to Rogan to thank his navi for pointing out the detail he'd missed, even after he'd sorted out the solution.

Eventually, it was time to leave. Rogan slipped his bag over one shoulder; it was empty now, but he'd need something to stuff the rain cover into once he reached the store; leaving it outside wouldn't do. Next came the make-shift poncho itself, and last of all his PET, slipped into his coat pocket for now. Rogan stood with his hand on the door, looking at his watch, then, when it ticked over, stepped outside.

It wasn't just rain, as it turned out; flecks of white in the darkness revealed that it was an icy sleet that was pelting the cap grounds. Even with his cover, though, Rogan moved quickly, light on his toes and sticking mostly to the paths and solid rocks where he could, keeping his footwear as dry as possible. He had a total of twelve minutes to find the entrance to the facility within the store and get inside. One of the first steps he had taken upon arriving three days ago was to set up a device along the walking trail just beyond the camp grounds' borders. It looked like a recording device, from the outside, and bore a home-made label, written on paper and applied with tape, marking it as 'wildlife density survey - Okuden', and while it was indeed recording, every hour it sent out a small pulse that took a thermal read of the area for a large radius, recoding what wildlife it mapped. The pulse also happened, by chance, to scramble most video recording devices and close circuit cameras for about a minute. Every twelve hours, then, it 'compiled' its research, which caused another scramble for twenty-four minutes while it did so. He'd left it operating there for three days, now, without incident; if they had noticed at all, then they had written it off as harmless. Even if not, it gave him a three day buffer that would make discerning any details about his activities more or less impossible.

That twenty-four minute window had begun just before he opened his door and it didn't take Rogan long to reach the awning shelter of the camping supply store. As he stepped under, he shook the makeshift rain coat towards the outside and whisked it off, stuffing it quickly into his shoulder bag before it could drip on anything, then dried his shoes quickly on the mat. Getting in only took a minute more, and a short bit of tinkering with his probe to make sure the external system wasn't reporting after he had opened the lock, before he was walking briskly through the darkened store itself, being careful not to disturb any of the racks or displays. What he was looking for would be here somewhere... probably in the back area, though. With meticulous care he unfastened the bolt on the counter's gate and stepped behind, closing it again after him, then walked through to the back room. He was cautious as he lifted his feet over and around the small amount of miscellaneous stock that had been left lying; he wasn't sure how much the in store cameras cold see behind the counter, but nothing could afford to be out of place when they came back on. the back room itself was small and cramped, and almost completely dark due to a lack of any external window. Rogan pulled a small eye piece from his other coat pocket and put it over his left eye; in a moment the room jumped into proper definition, green but visible.

There was no immediate tell for what he was looking for, but an indirect one gave it away: on the far side of the folding table in the middle of the room, a space of floor was clear and unobstructed, with what looked like several rolls of pricing tape scrunched tot he side in an unceremonious pile. Carefully, he picked his way over to the spot and looked more closely. The wall in the back room was of more modern construction than the wooden finish of the main store, and though it was all panelled a careful eye picked out the seam of the panel here as just that slight bit different. Tracing a finger around it revealed the access trigger and then, shortly after, a recessed flight of stairs as the panel split and slid away in two directions. Too easy. Rogan pulled up his PET and extended the probe, scanning for the facility's closed net and preparing to force an emulation link.

"Lyntael, it's time. I'm sending you in now, are you ready?"
"Yes, sir." Strangely, she sounded more determined now than she had in... well, in what felt like a long time now. He shook the thought away. No time for errant musings now, it was game time. The link solidified a moment later and he sent Lyntael through, then turned to close the concealed hatchway behind him, making his way down the stairs. In the darkness, the predatory smile returned to his lips.

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

Rogan's teeth were still clenched tight as he checked that Lyntael was back and retracted the PET's probe. Of all the times for her to act up. It was that navi, though; he knew. It made a certain sense really, of course that navi belonged to his target. Why not? It was perfect... He didn't need to speak it aloud to hear the bitterness dripping from his own thoughts.

He was tucked into a corner of one of the smaller lab rooms now, standing in the dark with one corner of his coat pulled up over his mouth. As much as he'd carefully mapped out Lance's sleep patterns, the man had still surprised him with a mid-rest excursion. It had been a near thing, but no-one else in the facility was likely to come into contact with him now, and he still had about six minutes left of the time window. He had everything he needed, technically speaking, but not getting a look at the man's private device was galling him. He couldn't just take it though, not when the goal was to leave no-one even knowing he'd been there. It was infuriating. If Lyntael had just been able to... He cut the thought off and shook his head. There would be time for that later.

Despite his earlier set up ensuring that no electronic trace of his passage would remain, Rogan was still cautious and stealthy as he thrust the PET back into his pocket resettled his shoulder bag and slipped out of the lab. He hadn't even taken the time to glance any of the material he'd copied, and more than to be reasonably certain it was what he needed. There was a good chance a lot of the documents he's scanned wouldn't be relevant, but he had no doubt they'd all prove interesting reading material one way or the other. Varda would be satisfied, of that much he was sure. His footsteps made no sound as he back-tracked through the hidden complex, moving through the darkened halls with the aid of his eye piece. There were various sounds still, all about, but none of the ones that would trigger a response from the man; years of doing this work had trained his instincts for recognising which sounds were dangerous, and which ones were not. It wasn't long before he was closing the hidden door again, and methodically putting everything back in place in the same order he'd moved it, until it was exactly as it had been found.

His thoughts drifted off focus for a moment as he let himself out from behind the counter and shut the gate behind him, re-latching it. The words he'd hissed at Lyntael, in the crisis; they came back to him now. It was perfectly clear what he'd meant and why he'd said it. He couldn't leave the girl behind in the hostile net, that was lunacy; she'd have been discovered, and there was no way she would fail to reveal everything she knew about him in short order. The most important part of tonight's mission was that he leave no trace and be undetected, and leaving a navi in their network to be seized simply wasn't on the cards. That was the reason. Obviously that was the reason; it didn't really need thinking about at all. So why was it on his mind? The words flashed back in his head, the way he'd said them, the sense in his gut as the tiny girl had her melt-down in front of him. Had he actually been thinking about mission security at all, when he'd hissed those words to her? Had he really? The question hounded him from the store and out into the rain.

Still three minutes, as he crossed the park back towards his lodging. Making sure the external shop was in order, and just as he'd come to it, hadn't taken long. He was a careful and methodical worker, and hadn't disturbed anything in the first place. Lyntael was crying. He'd only glanced at the PET to check his time threshold, but even so, he'd caught sight of the girl, curled up on herself, pretty much where the link had dropped her, shaking and sobbing. She'd returned to a semblance of proper command following for a brief moment, when it had been important, but he wasn't surprised to see her in that state again now. Why couldn't she just... he stopped and corrected himself. It wasn't exactly her fault that she was designed to display like this. He corrected himself again. It wasn't as though there was any kind of human being to be at fault or not, in the first place. The patterns of thought repeating on themselves had always simply been the way he looked at the situation, without need for re-statement. Now they felt forced.

He shook his head as he let himself into his room and closed the door behind, locking it. Done, and clean. Rogan sighed, slipping off his coat and hanging it over the chair, and tossing his PET onto the bed. Despite himself, he ended up glaring at it across the space when he dropping into the chair himself a moment later. He knew why it felt forced, of course; going over it over and again wasn't going to help, but he couldn't seem to stop it while it was being such a frustration. He pulled out his lap top and opened it to begin transferring documents, but his eyes continued to stare at the PET.

She'd promised that she would be better; get back to normal and stop causing all these problems. He grit his teeth, uncomfortable even now to admit it, even in his own head. Stop making him attach feelings to her that didn't belong. For a while it had seemed like she had. Everything had been going smoothly, but then it had all fallen down again, as though the improvement had, itself, been an act. An affectation that she couldn't maintain. There was always another layer to the code, it seemed, and every time he believed he had the limits understood, it would happen again, and he'd catch himself attaching concepts to her that only applied to actual, real humans... worry about her being 'abandoned', or 'tortured', concern for her comfort... and he couldn't even begin to pretend that he hadn't often felt protective of her decency, which had started on day one and perhaps made the least sense of all. She hadn't come out yet, though she would know they were back and safe; hadn't said anything at all. She would probably cry until she slept, then brood when she woke. He tore his eyes away from the PET and turned them back to the other screen. He growled under his breath, more at himself than anything else then threw himself into the work.
Silence reigned in the small cabin, save only the intermittent click of keystrokes, until morning had broken and the sunlight was creeping again. Rogan was still working when Lyntael quietly slipped out of the PET, moving across to the window to watch the sun rise above the tree line. At first he simply noted her presence, but it wasn't long until the silence that had been focused and busy before, swiftly became stifling. Something else that didn't make sense which he couldn't shake off. He pushed on without speaking; he was well aware that it was all in his head, no matter how it seemed, and he wasn't done going through everything yet. Even when she'd been absent, he hadn't been able to keep the thoughts of Lyntael's situation completely out of his head.

Some of the information he was combing had brought him to mind of the conversation he'd had with Leslie several weeks ago; he'd described something as fascinating, while the woman herself had been horrified. Then he had chided her in good humour: now, he had found his mind contemplating the things he was going over, with the thought of Lyntael in place of the various stolen or otherwise collected navigators that were being used. It had made the material... more difficult, which in turn had just left the man more irate and annoyed at himself.

"Rogan..." He sighed softly and closed the screen on his lap top, setting it aside. Lyntael hadn't looked away from the window, but he could see her face across the room, in the reflection of the glass. He didn't speak back, waiting for her instead. It took another long pause before she continued.

"Last night... I tried so hard, but I still couldn't do what you needed." Her hands had crept up to rub her own arms, hugging herself slowly and Rogan shook his head.

"Being angry at you would be as pointless and foolish as a grown man shouting at a video game. I am disappointed that I didn't get everything I wanted, but no more." Now she did turn around, looking at him directly. It was no surprise that her eyes were red again, but her brow pushed down over her eyes in serious expression and she shook her head.

"Your head says that. But it's not how you feel. You're angry at me, Rogan, I know you are. I wish you weren't, and you wish you weren't, but we want it for different reasons." Before he could catch himself, Rogan bristled slightly. Nothing showed, outwardly, but the soft-spoken words prickled him.

"You don't want anything. That's a human emotion." It was a weak answer, given how many times they'd been over it, but he gave it anyway, features calm and with one eyebrow raised. Lyntael just shook her head again. He had been expecting another awkward apology, but the girl seemed much firmer than he had predicted she would.

"What you said, last night... I was so scared, Rogan, and I thought, I really believed, that you were going to leave me. But then you said that, and I—" She paused, closing her eyes for a few moments. "Thank you, Rogan. It's what I really needed to hear." He'd known this bit, at least, would come up. Lyntael didn't need to know that the same concern had been nagging at him all night; his answer was easy and calmly chiding, delivered with an off-handed coolness that he didn't even need to practice any more.

"Of course I wouldn't leave you, Lyntael; You're evidence, and you'd lead anyone who found you right back to me. I couldn't possibly count on that navi being careless and destroying you on his own before anyone else saw, so of course leaving you there was never an option." She flinched as he spoke, fists clenching about her arms tightly, but she stood straight again right away and looked at him more closely.

"You're lying." Damn her. The only person who could see through his act that easily was Eric, but he tried again anyway. Without realising it, his fingers had tightened where he'd folded his arms, even though he kept his voice smooth.

"You can say what you like, Lyntael, those are the reasons, and nothing more."
"But you're lying, I can tell. Maybe no-one else watches you closely enough, but I do." Carefully, Rogan stopped himself from clenching his teeth.
"And what of it? What shall I say? Alright, fine: when I spoke as I did, it came with feelings that I know are not valid in any way, that I know are misplaced, and which certainly don't change the fact that the statement itself was based in a far more practical truth? Do you win some kind of prize for making me admit that? What good does it do?" He was snapping at her, the edges of his voice growing terse, but the words were out before he could smooth them. Lyntael looked like she had started to cry again, and he wondered his he'd spoken too harshly, before crushing the thought. When she scrubbed at her face, though, the girl was smiling softly and it gave him pause.

"I'm... I'm glad. I needed to see you properly, but now I know it's true. I know you won't leave me, or abandon me, so... I'm glad, really." She wiped her eyes more carefully while Rogan watched on, unsure how to respond, then turned back to watch the sunrise. He continued to look, wondering if there was anything else he ought to say, but nothing came. It was several more minutes before he managed to return to his work.

((To => Yet Another Run Down Hotel))