Light in the Storm, Interlude: Chasing Echoes

Lyntael stepped back from the inner terminal she'd just finished with. Small, nervous snaps cracked in her hair and her hands trembled as she continued to hold them out in front of her. She was okay. It was close, but she was making it, and Rogan was covered. Any slip up and he'd be exposed in the middle of an illegal compound surrounded by people with more guns than qualms using them, but as long as she kept it together, he'd be fin. Her heart was making her chest ache with its beat.

Rogan would be moving out into the hall now. He was making for one of the general computer workstation rooms. She had covered the cameras on the halls he'd need to pass through to get there. It was okay. She looked at the terminal in front of her again, happily running its loop through the select cameras, and clenched her fists, flexing them a few times and willing her leg to move. She had to keep going. After a moment more, she turned and jumped down the steps that had led to this point, rejoining the primary security line.

There hadn't been any other navigators yet, and Rogan had promised her that there shouldn't be any, but he'd still provided her with a cover story just in case... which meant it was still a possibility. She had all the details memorised, but... with a shake of her head, Lyntael tried to shove the thought away and ran swiftly instead, the balls of her feet lighting up panels as she crossed them and leaving a fading glow trail behind.

The lighting was better in this section of the network; it was more intended to have actual traffic than other places. There were proper hallways and corridors, though they still looked out over unformed void beyond in many cases. The main security system only had a couple of connection points between its different sub-systems, and she had a lot of ground to cover to get to where Rogan needed her next... Her path took her around in a broad, curving circle, ignoring several other branches and small rises identical to the one she'd just been working at before. Eventually, however, the marker she'd been seeking came into sight. A pair of inward facing arrows above a transit pad on the inner side of the main line. As she jumped on, and the transit took her, the sensation of direction and the feeling of the emulated link flickered out and away.

A brief feeling of panic took hold as she felt it go, and her vision cleared on the far side of the transit, but Rogan had warned her it would happen, if she made a grid switch while he wasn't able to actively maintain the emulation. It was okay. She just had to get to where he would be, and he would be patching through anew emulation before his own dive. Reassuring herself only quelled the panic a little bit, but she shoved the rest down and looked around.

This area looked positively civilised. The transit pad was at the back of a small room, with decoration to give it the feeling of an office environment; plaster walls and ceilings, and a thin carpeted floor, all in white. A sense of quiet filled the area – not silence, of the deafening sort she'd encountered before, but quiet. There was a background sensation of quiet office sounds, just at the edge of hearing. It was probably there to make the place feel more alive, but it mostly set Lyntael on edge as she moved forward.

The transit room led immediately out into a larger space, open and circular, with a descending ramp that spiralled down and inwards. Each level was slightly smaller than the one above, but she could look down and see it dropping away for dozens of floors even so. Doorways branched off the outer walls all around every floor and Lyntael wallowed, putting a hand to her chest. It was okay. She knew where she was going, and Rogan would be there.

Running quickly, she counted the branches in her head as she spiralled down three levels. every few moments, her eyes darted out across the yawning space in the centre, to the other layers and levels, and the occasional automated prog drifting along from one area to another. It was unnerving seeing them moving about, and knowing that any of them might have seen her... that recording that was simply not a part of their job, and so they didn't... and that she and Rogan both were relying on that. She still found herself ducking for cover and hiding whenever one of them was close. Almost there.

====

Rogan adjusted his glasses again as she strode through the hallways. His posture was upright and alert, his step measured, quick and precise, moving with a sense of academic purpose. The white coat hid most of what he was wearing underneath, at least at a glance, but so far he'd been lucky enough not to run into anyone in the halls.

His path took him through a few runs and down a flight of stairs, leading from disposable-made building flats, down into a more reinforced stone level of the compound. The shift from aluminium-bracketed plywood frames to dressed cinder blocks didn't do much to change the aesthetic overall, but there was always a sense of heightened danger once you were below ground. Getting out in a hurry was usually harder. unconsciously, he resisted the urge to slip a hand into his lab coat's pocket and touch his PET.

It was an amusing consideration. Once, it would have been a stand alone probe that he kept hidden, able to perform a variety of needful functions in a situation like this... but very identifiable as espionage technology if discovered. Now everything it could do was safely concealed inside the PET and was mostly invisible unless he was using a particular tool, or it was taken apart and examined. And no-one questioned him having it because everyone had one, more or less. Even from a practical stand point, he had to admit, he really ought to have had one already, and it was pure pride that had held him back. Rogan set the thoughts aside as he approached the lab he was aiming for. It was a long room, full of square cubicle work stations that weren't reserved for any particular family member. They were just used for the plethora of generic tasks that nay number of personnel might need to carry out at any time, which made them perfect for his needs now.

A few glances looked up towards him as he entered the room; other technicians in various states of overworked and overtired. Rogan scanned the room without making eye contact, more focused on selecting a workstation for himself. He moved through the room towards one that was part way along one row and was roughly equidistant from everyone else in the room. It wasn't even suspicious – it was just what everyone always did. It was almost enough to make him laugh. No-one paid him any further attention as he settled down and put his shoulder back on the desk beside the keyboard. Just in case anyone was listening, he briefly tapped on the keyboard, mimicing keystrokes, a pause, and then more keystrokes. The sound of someone logging in was almost conditioned into the ear as a universal thing, these days. He didn't have a log in, of course, but that was easily solved.

Rogan pulled out his PET and glanced at the screen. The emulation had been broken due to a network shift. A moment of fear spiked into his chest as he read the warning, but he smoothed it away a moment later without concern. This was understood already. He just had to trust that Lyntael would be where she needed to be so he could reestablish, and more importantly so she could mask what he was actually doing. He began working with another of the PET's tools.

==
The office-facade corridors gave way to gradually more esoteric designs as Lyntael's bare feet dashed through the quiet network. The halls started to look less like corporate offices and more mechanical. off-white became military grey, and seconds of the panelling gave way to deliberately ancient-looking aesthetics – gears and cogs, brass tubing and iron grates. She skidded to a halt in one junction and looked around, turning in a circle on herself as she searched for a sign or symbol that she recognised. Her heart rate picked up. Where was it? Which way?

Hisses of steam and the occasional heavy clank of metal on metal had begun to fill up the quiet space. At last, her eyes found the string of numbers she was looking for, almost hidden in amongst the meaningless technobabble scattered between the faux machinery. She turned and followed the right passage, trying to regain the count of time in her head. Rogan would be almost there now. She was going to be slow. The awareness that she had of her disconnect – unable to even feel an emulation tether, was gnawing at her. She'd promised herself that she'd be strong, and sure, but it was hard to ignore where she was, and the danger of the situation. At any moment, someone might catch her, and Rogan was nowhere at all to save her.

((Branch, Lyntael in => Sharo Rogue Network))
((Branch Back => Sharo Rogue Network))
--------

Rogan probed carefully, but with as much haste as he dared, using what partial passkeys he'd been able to crib from other sources to cut down the time he needed to derive a proper authentication. His features remained impassive and serious, matching the calm, scholarly appearance and good computing posture the rest of his current image displayed, but his mind raced, flitting between one option and the next until he found the way forward.

For a moment his eye darted down to see a warning light light up on his PET, but he only let it distract him for a moment. Seconds counted in his mind as he worked. At last, after what felt like far too long – his watch told him it had only been thirty-eight seconds – he found what he needed. It took precious extra seconds to record and store the log details on the PET, and more to undo each step of his incursion, but it was necessary.

Lyntael's voice in his ear made his eyes dart down to the PET screen again, but everything looked to be fine. She'd said she was hurt, though the screen only showed extremely minimal damage. Was that going to impact her ability? Rogan tried to banish the thought from his mind. He needed to trust her if any of this was to work. He quickly worked to back-track his efforts and set a handful of self-clearing markers to automatically purge the remaining traces of the previous log in on this terminal, the next time anyone else logged into it. It was the best he could arrange in this situation.

With a small contented exhalation of breath, Rogan stood from his position and smoothly slipped the chair back in, pausing to adjust his lab coat with small, precise gestures. With an extra small button press, he signalled to Lyntael that he was clear and ready to move to the next step. It wasn't that he didn't trust Lyntael. Not her intention, anyway. Just her capability. He was past scolding himself for using that sort of mental language for the program; the facts of how she functioned were as they were. Rogan blinked and pushed the thoughts aside again, pulling his focus back on track as he shouldered his bag and strode from the computer lab with a purposeful step. If the PET didn't really report any damage at all, what way was she actually hurt? She would have said if she was simply scared or frightened. Would she now, though, tonight? She was trying to prove she could do as he needed. Maybe she'd rather report injury than fear, at this point? A crease of irritation flashed across his brow as he left the room and resumed his mental count. Now was not the time for invasive thoughts.

His deliberate stride took him deeper into the complex and down another flight of stairs. He maintained an expression that was alert and sharp, if somewhat lost in thought as he walked. she's mentioned a virus incursion, not simply errant glitches in the system itself. That might be a worry if it raised any kind of alarm. Anything that put people more on alert at this early stage was a danger.

Before long he was walking through seconds of the facility's underground that general technicians likely had no business being. A few more turns brought him past a sealed door that was marked as one of what he knew to be four record rooms. Exactly what was where was only properly recorded in full by a select few per installation. There would be guesswork involved here, and the more he had to check, the higher the risk. One technician code accessing a single record room would not be noticed. The same code accessing three or four in quick succession would almost certainly raise flags. There was no solution, though. He paused briefly, rifling in his shoulder bag for a clip board while he stood in front of the door, counting.

“I'm here, sir! Just... a couple of seconds! Okay, first record room is safe!” Lyntael's voice reached his ear after several more painful seconds of loitering in the hallway, before Rogan finished fussing with his bag and calmly entered his newly purloined ident with a gloved hand. The door unlocked and he slipped inside.

Inside, Rogan immediately began to search the physical records for the information he needed. The first few cabinets were disappointing, the next, frustrating. Wrong room, almost certainly. His checks through the remaining stores grew more hurried, but they contained similar and related documents, very far from the matter he was seeking.

“Sir, I don't know how long we have now. I... I lost track, in the fight before. But I know that the maintenance programs will find the damage soon. I'm sorry sir, I tried, I really did, but the viruses—”

“Hush, Lyntael. Do not focus on your mistakes now. Focus on making no more. How long is this room secure?” There was a pause after his low murmur.
“On mark, fourteen seconds, sir.... Mark.”
“Move to the next. I do not require any further cover here.”
“Yes, sir.” Rogan checked the last cabinet quickly, casting his eyes over more simple accounting papers, then closed the drawer and stepped from the room.

The next document room proved equally frustrating, containing mostly records of the most recent past projects for the nearest related family branches, each with their due date for destruction. Rogan's exterior persona didn't change as he moved between the halls in the underground complex, but he was aware that this was becoming increasingly risky. If someone decided the key pass was suspicious, there was no way it could be linked to him, but just the suspicion alone might lead to caution and questions. He didn't know how many other independents they were currently employing the services of, and that was a dangerous knowledge gap that he simply couldn't fill in.

At Lyntael's hurried word, he let himself into the third document room, internally forcing himself not to grit his teeth. The first cabinet was promising, if not what he needed. The next was similar. Despite himself, Rogan allowed a small sigh of relief to escape his lips as he scanned through the next. This was it. Intelligence on the same group they'd had him looking into, and notes on how to prevent it impacting their interests in the short term. Rogan slipped his bag down and flipped it open, pulling out a his document camera.

“Lyntael. Another thirty seconds here.” With practiced, methodical motions, Rogan swiftly began to slip out pages of documents, snapping each in turn with the aligning strut keeping it legible for the frame. His hands worked independently to get the task done, scanning through and capturing two or three pages a second until he reached the end of the documents that were related. There would be time to look at them later.

When it was done, the pages were all back in their files in the order he'd found them and the drawer clicked shut. The camera dropped back into its place in his bag, and Rogan lifted it back to his shoulder again, making for the door.

“One more task. Hallway?” He paused with his hand on the handle.
“Clear, sir.” Lyntael sounded short of breath again, but the strains of fear and worry didn't sound like anything more than her own nerves. She'd tell him if there were any deeper problems. He pushed the handle and strode out. The last task was the most precarious, naturally. There was no-one he could pass as that wold have the proper right to be where he was going, but he'd taken every other measure he could. End of this hall, left, second right, then down again. Three test labs, and his was the one on the left. He moved with purpose, flipping open the clip board he was holding in one hand and scanning the notes within as he went. It saved having to really give any kind of notice to any of the other occasional bodies he passed on his way. Even at this level of physical espionage, it was miraculous what a sense of belonging could let you get away with.

“Sir, one lady is still in the test lab, according to the camera.” Lyntael's voice had an edge of panic to it now. Rogan didn't slow his pace yet. Instead, he creased his brow and flicked one page of the notes over, then back again, and mumbled to himself in mock confusion. Under his breath he spoke.

“Understood. Find out who. Check the entry log. Then try for a page error.”
“O-Okay.” He had to trust her for now. Other options would be more dangerous and harder to cover up. For now, he had to just give the girl a chance. He slowed his pace slightly, but walked on towards his destination.

====

Lyntael stepped back from the terminal she was examining, sparks cracking in her hair as she tried to stop herself from fidgeting. Where did she need to go to do this? She knew that. With another breath she turned and looked about the network space. Rogan's emulation felt distant and faint, but at least it hadn't broken altogether. It was something. She swallowed and started to run.

The space was an efficient network, but that only meant that it was full of short-hop transits and blind links, for a navigator. This layer had been build looking like someone's best impression of sci-fi, if it had been build entirely out of brass clockwork, and the constant whirr and click of gears moving and shifting provided a sense of background noise that muffled the gentle harmonic chimes of her feet hitting the panels as she passed through different halls. The door security system for the three deepest test labs was... Her ind raced through the bits and pieces of network architecture she'd learned in advance. She ran past one transit, then stopped and returned to it, jumping through in a rush of light.

Her vision cleared in a tiny room with three narrow chutes splitting off in different directions, almost like slides, except that instead of walls and floors, they were each a mass of churning gears and cogs, liable to grind anything that fell into them. Why!? Each one had a thin brass rail fitted to the ceiling, a few inches proud of the ceiling plates themselves. They stood out, so, probably part of the system? She guessed? No time, especially if she'd have to climb down one of them by hand. Her eyes darted and found the passageway designates, eventually lighting on the one that matched the lab door she needed to access. She took a step and jumped out to the rail, grabbing on with both hands tightly and trying not to look at the grinding gears below and all around her.

For a moment, it felt like her hands passed through, and her heart shuddered, before an odd sense of drifting caught up with her and a tingling sensation came over her fingertips. It was accompanied by a feeling of rapid movement. When she opened her eyes, Lyntael found herself moving down and forward at speed, through the chute of spinning cogs. The brass bar shimmered above her, and it felt like the rest of her body had no real weight while it drew her along. Moments later, it brought her out to a terminal platform, surrounded on all asides by more of the inter-meshing mechanisms. She hung just a foot above the floor of the slim platform, and deliberately trying to pull her hand from the bar let her drop with sudden gravity to the panels. The sound of mechanism was no longer comforting when it churned all around her, but Lyntael tried to shut it out and focus on the terminal in front of her.

Actually accessing it was no difficulty for her, though she had to focus hard to keep sparks from escaping her skin and interfering with the system. The logs for the door were straight forward when she reached them, and she let out a short sigh as she read through. After a few more moments, she had a name and identity profile for the only person who had entered but not yet left. Good. She memorised it and turned back to the chute that rose up from her platform. Hopefully it would carry her up with the same speed it had taken her down. She could only wonder who had decided this was a good design.

When she jumped and caught the bar again, the same tingling sensation flooded her fingers and sure enough, it whisked her upward through the gears. By the time Lyntael reached the transit back, she was glad to be clear of that particular door system. The ones on the outside of the complex had been much less intimidating.

Back in the over-arching security system network, Lyntael started to run once more. She'd seen several more maintenance progs moving back and forth in the recent minutes, but there would be no getting used to the idea that they simply wouldn't see her if she wasn't interfering with their work. Before long, the faint chimes of her footfalls became the only sound again. One short hop transit, then another, and she was running on crystalline glass, tinted and shaded in various hues that refracted on themselves into opacity. It was disorienting if she didn't keep her eyes clearly on the actual path. Branches would be easy to miss, in this sort of architecture, she supposed. It was like a hall of mirrors. There was no other sound up here either, save her own foot falls which sent their echoes reverberating through the glass again and again.

Once or twice she missed the turn she needed to take, grit teeth and desperate frustration growing she she searched for the access room she was looking for. To many seconds, when Rogan needed this done now. He couldn't wait and loiter in the halls waiting on her; it was too risky. Eventually, she found it: a large chamber with a set of access stations forming a semi-circle opposite the mostly disguised passage in. Empty. Good. She dashed to the nearest one and began working at the keys quickly. It sparked, then went blank and the girl jumped back, wincing. Static crackled in her hair and shone in small ripples under her skin. Calm down. She had to calm down.

One breath, then another, as Lyntael focused on pushing the nervous charge away. One second. One more. Try again. This time, she moved to a different station and began searching for what she needed. There. First set up the battery error warning, then set up the false call, then send it. Her fingers worked quickly as she counted the seconds in her head.

===
Rogan slowed his pace further as he approached the corner that would lead to the stairs down to the test labs he needed. No word form Lyntael yet. He let his feet drift to a stop and pushed a concerned look across his feature, flicking through the various paper on his clip board again. The expression turned to one of mild irritation and he half turned as though to head back the way he had come. There were only so many seconds he could stretch. He had not intention of going down the stairs until he knew there was no-one else down there. Lyntael was on her own for now, though, and unless he came through in the next few seconds, he'd have to create a different diversion of his own. That would be difficult to cover without raising more suspicion. Rogan went over his options, assessing which of his back up plans would work best in the present situation.

“It's done, sir! She's received the page. It won't show up in error until she checks it upstairs. She's leaving now.” Lyntael's voice came to his ear sounding hurried and desperate, and Rogan let the lifted pages on his clip board fall down again, the expression of relief on his face only partially feigned for the role.

As he began to walk forward again, a woman in a long grey coat rounded the corner with an agitated look on her face, her steps quick and short. Rogan glanced up from his notes as he passed her, nodding his head, though the gesture was perfunctory and didn't raise his eyes enough to actually make eye contact. The woman made an equally shallow gesture of acknowledgement, and Rogan felt confident that her attention was elsewhere enough that she hadn't even really seen him at all.

Down the stairs, he found the three lab entrances, just as he'd expected, and quickly moved to the left hand one. Good fortune this time; the woman hadn't actually signed out of the lab for what she likely supposed was a quick distraction. He let himself in and got to work.

===

Lyntael stood back towards the centre of the room, taking long breaths and holding her hands in front of her as she forced her heart rate to slow down again. It was all done. She just had to hold position here for another thirty seconds or so, while Rogan got what he needed, and then they could both leave.

“Privet! Ya ne uznayu tebya... Eta laboratoriya ogranichena.” A voice made Lyntael start and her breath caught. She turned to face a female navi, taller than her and with a much more enviously adult build, dressed in a black bodysuit with grey navi armour. Her mind darted quickly for the words she'd heard as she tried to pick the meaning out of them. She new a few words, just in case, but she couldn't actually speak Sharoan at all, unlike Rogan. They'd picked her cover identity with that in mind... she just had to work with it.

“Ah, what's it to you?” She tilted her head and put her hands on her hips, leaning forward with as much of an impetuous sneer as she could. “I'm a new transfer, or didn't you get the memo? StarburstLexi. No?” In her chest, her heart felt like it was going to tear itself free, and she could feel energy beginning to spark and dance beneath her skin. She couldn't stay calm like this. What could she do? Threaten, maybe? The other navi was watching her, unimpressed, but seemed to be checking something else as her eyes flickered and scanned back and forth.

“My Op's flying over tomorrow, to start fixing up the mess you saps have left here. I shipped in express, ahead of her. Just checking out the place ahead of time. Just don't get in my way or you'll wish you hadn't.” She rolled her shoulders once as her hair sparked and her skin crackled. It was terribly heavy-handed, she knew. Surely there was no way the other navi would buy it, or be intimidated. To her surprise, though, the other navi grimaced and took a step back, raising one hand in a palm out gesture.

“As you wish.” She sounded more put out than afraid, but there was definitely caution all the same, and was actually speaking in a langugae Lyntael could understand. “A word of warning to you, yes? Do not expect to get much respect here until you are speaking the mother tongue properly.” She let out a disparaging snort and folded her arms. “Udalit'sya, suka. Enjoy your 'inspection'.”

Lyntael just shrugged – it was the most nonchalant gesture she could force herself to make, then turned to wander about the chamber in a distracted manner. She tried to force her charge down and get herself under control, but it was a gradual process. The other woman waited for a moment, then sighed and walking into the crystal-floor chamber properly, doing some work of her own on one of the side consoles, before casting another dirty look towards Lyntael and striding out again with a distinctly haughty air. Lyntael let out a breath and then quietly gasped a few more while her hands trembled. A handful of tense moments later, Rogan's voice came to her ear.

“Time to go, Lyntael.”
“Yes, sir. There was another navi, sir. I used the story you gave me, and she seemed to accept it.”
“Good. Back to cameras now, Lyntael.” Her body still hadn't calmed down, but there was no time to wait for it. She needed to get out of this area, where other navis could find her, and back to the automated circuits, and quickly. She took a long breath and let it out slowly with her fists clenched to stop them shaking, then ran from the room.
The seconds ticked by as Rogan worked, one hand darting across the keys of the active terminal while the other worked some of the more questionable upgrades on his PET, his eyes flicking between the two displays. He had what he was after now, it was just a matter of finishing the clean up. A few more seconds... done. At last, he stood back, tapping off the last commands and letting the terminal reset itself as he dropped his own device into his lab coat pocket.

“Time to go, Lyntael.” He was already moving to the door as her voice came back to his ear in a panic. She was trying to keep it calm, but it was clear her encounter had her badly shaken. Still, it sounded like she'd managed to do as was necessary. He slipped from the lab and let the door re-pressurise behind him. “Good. Back to cameras now, Lyntael.” The misled researcher wouldn't be away long, and it would be better for him if they didn't pass again; he moved as quickly as he dared, maintaining a brisk, over-worked pace.

As he turned into the corridor at the top of the stairs, Rogan caught sight of the woman rounding the far corner, just from the corner of his eye. He didn't allow himself to look in her direction properly, and kept walking, but the feeling of being scrutinised bored its way into the back of his neck and made his hackles rise as he moved away. Not good. There was time yet; he just needed to get out cleanly. A man dressed in darker clothes stepped into the hallway behind him; armed, a security person. Nothing about Rogan's pace or behaviour changed, but again he felt himself being looked at from behind. As he turned right, towards the stairs up to ground level, he caught sight of the black-clad man moving down the corridor in the same direction as him. When he turned the corner he lightened his step and listened carefully; sure enough, the pace of footfalls quickened as they got closer to the corner.

His eyes scanned the hall he was in, and his thoughts raced across as much of the floor plan as he knew. There was a break room close by. Not optimal, but it would do. He made his way in that direction, careful not to speed up as he felt the eyes of his tail marking him every corner. Just past one turn off, Rogan ducked into the expected break room and became a flurry of movement the moment he confirmed it was empty. One hand pulled his glasses off and dragged the curly brown hair piece off while he lifted his shoulder bag to shrug swiftly out of his lab coat as well. Moving steadily across the room towards the far exit, he pulled the false collar out of his shirt top and dusted the contacts out of his eyes with a wince. The excess garments were wrapped into a bundle and slipped into his bag, along with his gloves, before he turned the front flap over and shortened the strap to grip it by the handle instead; with the flap turned over it was a pale green instead of grey, and looked far scruffier carried at his waist in one hand. He grabbed a coffee mug off the side board of the room's sink and tousled his hair as he stepped out of the far door.

The quick change had taken about nine seconds and as he stepped back in the hall, Rogan's posture slouched to a tired, lazy discomfort and his expression dropped to that of someone very much done with the late shifts. He took a few steps back from the door, then began to amble forward again, just as the security guard stepped out, looking around swiftly.

“Aie, there some kind of midnight snack rush I missed? What's with all the running?” Rogan affected an exhausted tone, and looked towards the guard while barely keeping his eyes open. They were a little red from the quick contact removal, so that probably helped. The guard just glared back at him.

“Which way?” It came out snapped and hurried and Rogan waved down the hallway with his coffee mug.

“Curly-mop just rushed out like he was late for something. Nearly spilled my drink.” He shook his head and sipped from the mug with a shrug. It was 'enhanced' with something alcoholic, but he swallowed the cold coffee anyway, then let a thoughtful expression dawn on him. “Funny. Didn't recognise the guy... must be late. Or early...” He murmured with another uncaring shrug and the guard cursed, then began to jog down the hall. Rogan watched him go for a moment, then continued his pretended path, back into the break room he'd just exited. He pulled a second pair of gloves from another pocket and swiftly wiped down the mug, leaving it where he found it on the side board.

“Second Southern exit. Check for any additional recording devices in the bathroom nearest it.”
“They wouldn't—”
“Just check.”
“Yes, sir. You're clear from here to there.”

Rogan let himself move quickly as he retraced his steps part way and made for the stairs up. His current appearance might suggest a more work-worn posture, but he didn't want to delay, and 'eager to go home' wasn't too unbelievable. If the guard found nothing, he might be lucky. Many would be too proud to make a formal report about something that had all the hallmarks of late-night false alarm. He couldn't rely on that, but at the very least, it wouldn't go anywhere or lead them anywhere if they did search into it.

He didn't encounter anyone else as he made his way out, getting a mildly indignant all clear form Lyntael before he ducked into the bathroom nearest his exit point. A few moments later, he was doing up his maintenance worker coverall once more and his soft cotton gloves were replaced with heavier, wire-handling work gloves. He fixed the strap on his bag and lengthened it again, settling it on one shoulder, rather than across his chest, then moved back to the door.

“Working on the door sensor, sir. Almost... Okay, it's down for seven seconds, go!” He moved without taking the time to acknowledge Lyntael, making long, efficient strides to the exit and passing through complicated weight and heat sensor before letting himself back out into the snowy air outside.
The freezing wind had an icy bite to it as it whipped at his coveralls and pressed the fabric against his body as he stepped out and descended the handful of steps to the hard-packed snow of the exterior compound, but Rogan didn't feel it. His eyes scanned the area with a quick glance that only slightly turned his head and he took his bearings. Lyntael would be transferring back to the outer security net now. There would be another disconnect, and he paused at the base of the steps to make a show of puffing into his gloved hands at the cold. After a few seconds he shrugged and pulled out his PET, flicked across its screens as though looking up his next maintenance job. A slow count in his head ticked through, before he extended the probe and started the emulation again.

“I'm, here, sir!” Lyntael's voice met his ear immediately, out of breath and hurried. He nodded absently at his supposed job-list, then pulled the probe in again. “I've got a clear section coming up, sir. Just... Okay! Ready!” Rogan slipped the device back into his pocket then began to trudge across the courtyard, letting his posture reflect the signs of fatigue and a long night. He passed a pair of patrolling security enforcers on his way to the outer fence, but his instincts prickled as he could the sound of a heavier boot crunch on the ice and a scuff of steps turning. turning to look was fine, as long as they shrugged it off...

“Aie, have you been called out to that section? It was all clear.” Rogan suppressed the urge to wince and stopped to half turn and look back over his shoulder.

“Indeed. Something about the camera in 5G. Just going to check it. Then home at last.” He shrugged and turned to continue, but his ears caught the sound of both footsteps moving to follow him. A problem. He'd picked a storage shed that was more or less where he had been heading, just in case, but he'd have to go all the way through with it now, and the longer he spent around the guards, the more likely they'd remember his features. He'd already removed most elements of his disguise as well, so anything they remembered was likely to be his actual features. Not good.

“We just finished a round, friend, let us come with you. Might be a clever intruder.” The two guards fell into step behind Rogan as he shrugged and trudged on. There was a good chance this was just hazing, maybe a bit of bullying. The only sensible thing to do for now was play his part until they got bored and left him alone.

“Suit yourselves. It is boring work.” What details had he seen when he looked at them? The two were large, bulky figures, most likely given the job detail as much because they looked intimidating, as for their actual skill. Each was armed with a small side arm, openly worn, though they probably had secondary weapons hidden as well. On the opposite hip, they each had a contact taser – the type that fired a piercing dart with a tether. The things weren't meant to be lethal, but in the wrong hands they could very easily be used to kill just as effectively, or more so, than any hand gun. What else. One of them, the smaller one, had a long knife strapped to his boot. It didn't match anything else – probably a permitted personal effect. The one on his left was a little shorter, not quite as heavy-seeming. Letting the other one speak, but watching just as close. What else. Their vests covered neck to waist, under their clothes, but he could see the outline of the fit – a bit short on the bigger guy, and open arm gaps, broad enough not to restrict. What else. Hip flasks, tucked away almost out of sight, on both of them. The larger guy had a fairly large one. What else. The smaller one looked like he'd had a broken nose in the past, and the old remains of a scar on his right cheek. The big guy hadn't taken his left hand off his belt the entire time they walked.

Rogan planned rapidly in his mind as he drew close to the supply shed he'd mentioned. Hopefully Lyntael had listened to what he had said to them and was doing what he needed of her. When he reached the door, her lifted the lock in one hand, then shuffled about in his pockets for a few seconds. The guards stood back, but he could feel them watching him. Not finding his 'keys', Rogan pulled his shoulder bag around and opened a side pocket to rummage, turning so his body obscured the lock. He was quick with his tools; quick enough that a quick curse about the lock being stuck was enough to cover the work. Hopefully.

“You are new to the family, aren't you, techy? Forget your insurance policy back in your crib, huh?” As Rogan opened the door and stepped in, he scanned the room, finding the camera and moving between the shelves toward it. The space was small that there wouldn't be a lot of room once they were all inside, and the guards seemed intent upon entering behind him.

“I do my job. It doesn't need weapons. If you do your jobs, I don't need weapons either. I should have a weapon, you say? You say you are not doing your jobs properly?” Rogan didn't look at either of them as he answered, instead pulling a small step ladder off the bottom shelf of one rack and setting it up underneath the camera. He was rewarded by a rough pair of laughs that sounded deeply sinister. It was hard to guess whether they were trying it on to be intimidating, or if they just meant it. This definitely felt like some kind of deliberate hazing so far.

“Huh. He has a clever mouth, this one. All his techy smarts make him think he's wittier than us knuckle bruisers.” There came a creak as one of them leaned on a shelf and it complained beneath him.

“Fix your camera, techy, then we will see where your smarts get you.” The other one didn't sound like he was laughing now, and had just closed the door. Well then. He made a small effort at appearing to check the camera. He had to hope that Lyntael had already had the whole room covered by the time he entered. Knocking them both out would be okay, as long as they started the poor behaviour first. They wouldn't report it, certainly.

“So... Should I expect old college rules here? A tanned hide and a run through the snow? Or are you both so desperately without women that you wanted a private room at the end of a shift, hmm?” Rogan kept his voice light and tired; he was being a good sport about this, but with a decent helping of insult. He began to climb down, putting tools back into his bag. No immediate angry reply or laughing joke. His hackles rose again. He was less than two feet from either of them in the small, crowded shed, but there had been a shift in the feeling of their bodies.

“You speak very good Sharoan for a Netopian spy, you know.” Rogan moved on instinct. He thrust the ladder under his arm and back unto the mid section of the one behind him, but released it as soon as he felt it impact. Instead his feet were already moving to the side, ducking under the grabbing fist of the second guard. Time passed in slim fractions of seconds as he twisted, hands loose and ready for their reactions. They were well trained enough; the one he'd hit first was pulling his taser even in the same motion as his body curled around the gut impact. Rogan slipped back alongside him, his left hand gripping the guard's wrist and guiding the weapon as it lifted up. he moved it away from his body, under his other arm and gripped harder, holding it still as the device discharged. The dart struck the shelves behind the second guard before he had come to his feet properly, and he let out a disjointed cry. Rogan pulled the man's wrist forward, dragging his upper body with him for just long enough to drive the heel of his other palm up against his chin. The man staggered back, dazed, and half toppled a second shelf. The dropped taser continued to crackle as the dart discharged itself on the shelf, but the shocked guard had staggered free, pulling his side arm with a curse. Rogan lunged back across the small space again, low down. The gun was out, beginning to train to him, but not fast enough. He was in close enough to get his hand to the weapon and twist it upwards until the man's fingers were pulled free of the trigger. A sharp pull back let him knock one of his opponent's legs from under him, and press his face and neck back against the still sparking shelf. A few moments of inarticulate sounds later, Rogan pulled him back again and the man slumped, mostly unconscious.

This was a mess. He looked at the two downed figures and the disordered room, calculating.

“Rogan! Rogan, are you alright!? They... they knew! Rogan, what are we going to do!? I... the room, Rogan, it's... I couldn't get it done fast enough!” Lyntael's voice was a panicked jumble in his ear, but he shut it out for the moment. Nothing else for it. Damn it.

Both of them would be out cold for at least a few minutes. He moved with the same cold efficiency he'd responded with before; meticulous and precise. While Lyntael gasped and panicked in his ear, Rogan quickly and carefully slipped each guards' gloves off and bundled them neatly into the belt on one and on a shelf by the other. Next, he relieved each guard of their flasks, and with some coaxing, carefully drained the majority of both down their unresponsive throats. Lyntael was asking him what to do. He moved back to the camera and jumped up to push the lens towards the ceiling.

“Fix this room, Lyntael. Some footage is lost. Damaged. Arrange that. No-one was recorded coming in at all, and it only recovers after the camera is upturned. Do it quickly.”

He moved back to the guards and retrieved the dropped taser, coiling back the tethered dart and resetting it. Despite himself, he grimaced. He had been on the receiving end of one of these a couple of times. The sensation was one of the most horrid he could recall, and not something he'd wish on another person. He took the device and pulled the smaller guard into an upright position, leaning his back against the wall, then lifted one arm and pressed it in under his armpit. A quick check to make sure he wasn't touching anything conductive and held the guard only by one insulated glove, then he pushed the button.

The man's eyes flew open as the dart buried through the soft, thin armpit flesh and stuck directly into his rib-cage near the heart. Rogan held the button down as he convulsed in uneven spasms. Lyntael shrieked in his ear, but he didn't relent. After a few more moment, the uncontrolled limb twitches stilled again, and only small involuntary muscle twitches continued. Rogan checked for a heart beat, and once he was sure there wasn't one, he stood and drew the tether back across the room, discarding the device roughly near the other guard's hands.

To complete the picture, he retrieved the fire arm from the smaller guard and returned to the larger one. The first shot, her put into the upper left side of his chest, where it was stopped by his vest. The next was lower and more on the guard's side, but still being absorbed by the protective garment. The final two shots went into the gap under the arm, deliberate heart shots that would be cushioned and stopped by the bullet vest before they could pass through or out of the body properly.

“What are you doing!? How... Rogan— you... they're dead, Rogan, you killed them!! How could you... why... why did you do that!? Rogan! How could you? Why did you do that!?” He didn't need to see Lyntael to hear that she was in shocked, horrified tears as she shouted at him.

“I need to fix this scene, Lyntael. How long until the room is clear on your end?” His voice was the same hard, cold tone that it usually was when he worked. Unlike the girl in his ear, his own heart beat had barely climbed at all in the past two minutes. Lyntael didn't answer, but instead shouted and cried more of the same horror-filled questions and demands. Rogan cut her off.

“Lyntael. Listen to me. We are in danger. Do as I say.”
“Those men are dead now, Rogan! They're dead!! Why did you do that!?”
“If I had not stopped them, I would be dead instead, Lyntael. This is not a game.”
“You didn't have to kill them! They were unconscious! They... they're dead. I can't... I don't know how you... I... you didn't have to do that...”
“Yes, Lyntael, I did. You heard what was said. The marked me. If that information gets passed on, I am as good as dead. I had no choice.”
“You hate those words!! You've always hated those words!! You hate people who use them as an excuse!!” This time she screamed back at him with more force and volume than he'd ever heard from her, but that wasn't what made Rogan stop and blink. Part way through organising the room to match with the story he was constructing, he paused still and frowned. He did hate those words. Everything he did revolved around never being faced with them again. When had she learned that?

“Lyntael... Please listen to me. I made a mistake. I don't know what mistake I made, but I made one. They knew, somehow, because I got something wrong. I did have a choice; I chose to continue living, and these two other lives is the price I have to pay for my mistake and that choice today.” He drew a long breath and let it out again, then got back to arranging the scene. “Hate me for that in whatever way you need to for now, but please do as I say. We have maybe two minutes before I need to be over that fence. I don't have time for you to judge me right now. Do it later.”

Lyntael didn't answer, but her tearful raving stopped as well. The line was silent while he finished the room. when it was done, he stood at the door and read the scene with a clear eye. They had come in to slack off. Averted the camera, broke it a bit by mistake. They were resting. They'd removed their gloves to have a drink. They'd gotten drunk, and stupid. They'd started to alpha male at each other. Stupid dares with the tasers. One stuck the other badly, then wouldn't stop. Too drunk to realise he was killing his mate. The other had pulled on him, hand unsteady, fighting through the shock because his life depended on it. Stopped him with a few shots, but was already in the late stages of a a heart attack. Stupid, avoidable... believable. Only prints on the weapons were theirs. Time to go.

He paused at the door, but just as he was bout to speak, a quiet voice reached him.
“Wait. It's... It's almost ready. Just wait.” There were still tears in the words, and it sounded like she was speaking through clenched teeth, and struggling to breathe. His ear caught the edge of a wet sniffle as she spoke.

“Go. Now. To your left, two sections down. Halfway between, then straight out. Go.” Rogan slipped out of the door and began moving. She sounded angry and hurt at the same time. He could picture her face in his mind as he listened to the words, even without looking. Tear-streaked and red, with her eyes glaring at him so green it almost hurt, her jaw hard as she tried to keep her voice even. She would be keeping it together, but her hands would be shaking, or perhaps, she'd have her fists clenched tight just to try to keep them still. She was never going to forgive him for this. He shoved the last thought away hard and forced his mind back to his work. They were almost out.

By the time he reached the point Lyntael had mentioned, Rogan had already switched his gloves to the ones her needed for the fence. The process was easy, almost thoughtless, as he lined up and stepped back, then made the vault with the same neat precision he'd come over the fence with the first time. She had to understand, surely. She had known, going in; if he was caught, he would likely be killed. She knew that. He hadn't let anyone down; he had only done what was necessary. The thoughts wouldn't stop, even as he moved away from the compound, and out through the trees. At the edge of the outer net, he stopped to recall Lyntael properly, bringing her back to the PET at last through the emulation. A cursory check of her statistics showed the girl to be unharmed and well. He was beginning to hate how meaningless the base statistic report for his navi was. The normal rush that came with completing a difficult infiltration was absent as he made his way back through the trees in silence.
The sound of the engine was uncomfortably loud as Rogan drove away from the scene of his latest excursion. On the seat beside him, his shoulder bag contained most of what he would need to keep himself safe from Varda's 'offers', he hoped, as well as files that he expected would shed more light on exactly what was going on between the Sharoan mafia and this other organisation. The alcove in the dashboard was empty.

His eyes flicked to the space where Lyntael would be, then down to the device sitting on top of his bag in the passenger seat. He would need to check Lyntael's work when he could. He had needed to trust her at the time, and he knew she was capable of doing the clean up and edits he'd told her to, but... He focused back on the road in front of him. Where had the mistake been? How had he tipped them off, with enough surety to accuse? It couldn't have been any action or gesture. They'd have stopped him sooner if they'd seen him working the lock. It had to be something he'd said... some turn of phrase perhaps... He'd have to go over everything later and work out what it was, so he wouldn't make the same mistake again.

There hadn't been any other sensible option. He knew that. It never felt acceptable. In the moment, he always did what he had to, but he always felt dark and disgusting for it afterwards. But there really hadn't been any other options. Not once he was made. They'd have killed him at best, interrogated and tortured him, then killed him, at worst... and even if he'd just disabled the pair and left, being made that cleanly was a death sentence in and of itself. Leaving no mouths capable of sharing information was the only way to move forward and keep his hide intact. It never felt okay... deep down, he hoped that it never would, and the day he felt okay with it was the day he had to find anew line of work. He believed that, and by whatever grace might be left in the world for him, he meant to stick to that... No, it never felt acceptable... but... it had also never felt this bad, this slimy and disgusting. He'd never hated himself as much as a small part of him writhing in his gut did right now. Why?

His eyes darted back to the PET and he gripped the wheel tighter as he looked back to the road. It had all been going so well.

====

Lyntael had managed to hold herself together until Rogan had finally pulled her back home, but arriving back in her PET, along with the shock and pain of the transition had been the end to her fortitude. Tears streaming, she had run to her room without any real conscious thought for why and thrown herself onto her bed. She had no real concept of how long ago that had been as she lay, curled up and crying uncontrollably into her pillow. The muscles all through her core hurt from the repeated convulsions, and her throat was sore; each breath was punctuated with wet moans, muffled by her bedding simply because she couldn't stop herself.

She didn't want to believe it. She wanted it to be... just her thoughts preying on her. The next time he spoke, she'd remember it different, and realise that none of that had really happened. She knew it was real, knew there was no undoing what had been done, knew that he had done that, cold and ruthless, in front of her, but she still wanted it to be different, and so the painful tears kept flowing.

Eric had warned her, hadn't he? So had Rogan. They'd both said it, time and again. His life was dangerous. She knew that Rogan was... knew that he was hard, and dangerous himself. She had known, hadn't she? But it hadn't been real. It had never been real. Just a distant kind of danger. A sneaky, clever kind of danger. A cool and in control kind of danger. A dashing, alluring danger. Like a secret agent or a spy from a movie. It wasn't real, not like this. It was never... never like this. This was wrong. It had all gone wrong.

She tried to catch her breath but choked on more sobs. Every time she looked up or tried to clear her eyes, they only watered again, drawing her to blot them and sink her head back into the comforting softness of her pillow. It was all wrong. She knew Rogan did things that were illegal, and she had never liked that... but he never hurt anyone. He was always better than that. He didn't hurt people. He just worked in information, that was all. It was illegal, but... but no-one got hurt! Rogan hated the idea of hurting people. He really did! He hurt her often enough, or caused her to be hurt, a treacherous thought whispered amidst her shock and grief. That was different though, wasn't it? He just... he didn't see, and didn't understand, with her. He told himself something, and made himself believe it, that was all.

She was sure of that. Her thoughts began to crumble underneath themselves as she cried herself out. She was sure that he never meant to hurt her, because she just didn't realise, and didn't understand. He didn't see, and couldn't, and she was working on that... but if he knew how much he hurt her, then he wouldn't do it. He wouldn't. And she knew that... She knew that because she knew he hated hurting anyone, and wouldn't hurt other people. She knew that... so why? How could he? He'd been cold the entire time... No pity, no remorse, no hesitation at all. He'd just done it, cold, while they were stunned and unconscious, helpless. Had it even upset him? For a moment?

Lyntael rolled off her bed, still hugging her pillow to her midsection, and paced in her room. After a few lengths up and down, her steps carried her back out into the living area, but her thoughts wouldn't still. Eric had always been worried to her about the mask that Rogan wore for his work, but she had thought she knew better. She had been sure; she knew the real Rogan, knew who he was underneath. She had thought she knew better than anyone else, could see him better than anyone else. She thought she understood the inner secrets of a man who spent his life hiding those things from people trained to see them. She thought she knew the real Rogan, but the Rogan she knew would never do that. So where did that leave her? As she paced the living area, she tumbled into the couch and curled up again, pulling her legs up to her chest. Was she really just some stupid little girl, clueless and ignorant while everyone around her just tried to smile and act encouraging? Those that could be bothered to, at least? If that Rogan, the one that didn't care, really did know what he was doing to her... would he actually stop? Did he understand perfectly well, but didn't care anyway? Was that the reality? She sniffed hard and shook her head against her pillow. She didn't want to believe that.

Rogan had trusted her with this. It had been more dangerous than anything they'd done together in the past. He'd warned her. It had been important. So important. And he'd been trusting her. She had done her best. She really had been doing her very best, fear and all. She'd tried so hard, and then it had all fallen apart. What had she done wrong? It had all been going so well.
It was snowing hard by the time Rogan's vehicle was passing through something resembling a more civilised township. The entire infiltration had taken less than ten minutes, followed by a silent half hour of driving that felt like it took a week. In the past, when he'd had to silence someone for his own preservation, the discomfort of it had lingered underneath his more professional exterior for several days, but the necessity of it, and the truth of his own danger was usually enough to move beyond it fairly swiftly. That wasn't what was preying on his mind as he drove this time. His eyes moved to the empty space on the dashboard again, and back to the road.

It was ridiculous that this was what was bothering him, and he knew it. Lyntael's voice as she reacted to his actions – the disbelieving, horrified screaming – came back to him in bits and pieces, over and over. He knew, in his own mind, that it made no sense to be bothered by it; no matter how realistic and clever her emulation, there was nothing behind it that was actually scarred or hurt. She would be compelled to the behaviour, and beyond that, she would need all of the things a person needed to 'recover', but he knew that she was still just a program underneath. He knew that. Every day, reminding himself of that got harder, and dealing sensibly with his own urges to respond to it grew more difficult, but that didn't change any of the underlying facts, especially not when his life might be on the line.

His car pulled into the hotel he was staying at and Rogan got out, bundling his normal clothes into bag and shouldering it as he slipped Lyntael's PET into his pocket. He made his way back out from the driveway of the hotel building and walked down about five city blocks until he settled on a different lodging and booked a room. It was a cheap place, probably only doing passable business at the best of time. The stairs to the second floor didn't seem like they'd seen maintenance in years, if he had to guess. The locks were old and poorly fitted as well; the key jammed briefly as he let himself into the room, before relenting with a creak.

A single bed, a night stand, a desk and a bathroom. Plaster board walls and a carpet marked by many cigarette burns. Rogan sights and dropped his bag on the desk and pulled out the chair to get to work. He hesitated after opening his laptop. Knowing the truth didn't help much, if he still felt internally like she wouldn't forgive him. He had to do something, didn't he? Program or not, he still had to fix things, so that they could both keep working. What was he meant to do, though? It was his job, his work. It was what it was. Lyntael just had to deal with that, one way or another. He shook off the thoughts and began organising his work. He had a lot to do. Reading he would need to focus on, and it wasn't the time for distractions.

His eyes drifted from the screen to his PET; unconsciously he'd taken it out and set it on the desk beside his work, but Lyntael hadn't emerged. He knew she wouldn't, but he still looked in the device's direction. He ought to talk to her. Talk about what happened and sort it out. She was bright enough, and she was reasonable when she was calm. She had to understand at some level. Rogan grimaced and drove his attention back to his work. Later. There was no point trying to talk to her right now.

Gradually he settled into analysing the document copies he'd brought out and crossing their details with what he already knew. A picture was coming together, but it was an increasingly dark one. His eyes flicked to the PET again. It was a good thing he'd kept Lyntael mostly in the dark about what he had learned about the things going on. She knew parts of it already, enough to be upset. He didn't know how much she would have pieced together on her own, but it would be safer all around if she wasn't exposed to any of this. He frowned, looking at the silent device. Especially given her unique design. No, the less said the better. Rogan shook his head again and looked back at his work. The less known. he reached over and pressed one button on the PET.

“Lyntael, I'm going to be doing some serious work for the next few hours. Please don't disturb me unless there is an emergency.” He waited. The girl's usual answer didn't come at first. Several long seconds stretched out, until eventually a single curt response came back to him.

“Fine.” Her voice was quiet, tense, and he couldn't really read the emotion that it was thick with. With a conscious effort, he released the tight clench of his jaw and returned to the documents in front of him.
====
Eventually, the shock wore off, and the extremes of fear and confusion subsided. Her tears stopped, though the urge to cry further remained. Lyntael pulled herself to her feet again, still clutching her pillow and walked through the to the compact kitchen that she'd designed for herself. One hand performing one part of the task at a time, while the other held her pillow tight, eventually saw the kettle filled up and placed on its stand with a click.

She should talk to him. Sort it out. She knew that... but he was going to want to work, first, and go over what he had found. She leaned on the counter, staring at the kettle with a blank expression. It felt like something important had been torn away from her and it ached. She had to talk to him. It was important. She knew what he'd say, mostly, how he'd justify it... but she still needed to hear him; to look him in the eye and hear his answers. The white noise of the kettle beginning to heat filled the room and she slowly, one step at a time, with one hand, started to set about rinsing her mug and scalding it.

She knew that he'd... he'd done what he believed he needed to. She wasn't wrong about him; she had to believe that. He didn't want to hurt people. He'd just... he'd decided it was the only way, in that moment of panic, when it had all gone wrong. His life was in danger, and he'd acted. It wasn't malicious. She did know the real Rogan. She had to believe that. He wasn't just a cold man, pretending at being someone decent just as far as he needed to to get her to behave. It wasn't like that. It wasn't.

He had to understand how she felt, if they talked. He'd rationalise it away, and he'd tell himself he believed otherwise, but he'd understand, at some level. She rocked back and forth, leaning on the counter. He'd be working by now, and she oughtn't interrupt him. A small spark of rare irritation flickered inside the girl, from the pained gap that the night's events had torn in her. Maybe this was worth interrupting his precious work over. It was, wasn't it? She'd just spent the past... she didn't know how long... struggling to console herself because no-one else was there to help her. Just this once, why shouldn't she put herself forward above his work? It was just a talk, after all. It didn't need to take long. She'd just... Slip out and go stand in front of his screen until he answered her properly. He knew she was upset, even if he denied it in the same breath. He would have to take a break and deal with this, like a mature adult.

She pushed herself off the counter and walked back to the living area while the kettle hummed in the background. He always said acted childishly... well... this time she'd step forward, and address the problem, rather than hiding for days. If he pushed her away, then it was him being childish, this time. With a small, determined nod to herself, Lyntael returned her pillow to her room then returned to stand in front of the screen in the living area, and took a breath, planning what she wanted to say. Just as she opened her mouth, the channel flicked on and she froze, startled.

“Lyntael, I'm going to be doing some serious work for the next few hours. Please don't disturb me unless there is an emergency.” She felt her chest tighten, and she took a step back, almost like some force had struck her, as Rogan's voice filtered through the link. Silently, her mouth worked as she fought for a word to respond with. Seconds passed as frustration and irritation battled past her resolution. She could feel tears prickling at the corners of her eyes again, hot and sore. It wasn't fair. Another second slipped by, without her answering. She had to say something. Her normal politeness failed her and she heard her own voice biting off a bitter, angry response. Her hands jumped up to her mouth and she stepped back from the screen further.

No further response came, though she waited. He'd never chastised her for speaking her mind, not really, but it still felt wrong. After another moment she hung her head. Fine. If he was busy, then so was she. At least for a while. If he wanted her for something later, he could just wait until she was ready. She had things she could do, places she could go. Things that were productive, or things that helped people. What could he care, how she spent her time, if he didn't want her to disturb him? The rebellious feelings didn't fade, and a part of Lyntael was desperately uncomfortable with the thoughts running through her mind, but another part of her was relieved to vent them, even if only to herself.

She accessed the net from the internal server and began scanning. That group... the ones that said they were all about making the net a better place, and safer for everyone. She'd been meaning to look into them for a while. So why not now? Rogan wouldn't miss her, after all. Right... They ran a recruitment and information station at a handful of different network hubs. She could do that. It would be safe enough. Setting her shoulders, Lyntael stepped up to the exit pad and began to operate the link emulation.

In the kitchen, the steaming kettle clicked off, boiled and ready, but the cosy little home was already empty.

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((Lyntael, to => A questionable decision))