Light in the Storm, Interlude: Chasing Echoes

((From => Rogan's Sharo Hotel))

From his car, Rogan watched the small spots of moving lights within the perimeter of the compound hidden in the depths of the mountainous Sharo woodland. The dirt track he'd followed had been hard to keep to, between the untamed woodland and the driving snow. It let further west, from this small lay by, and around to a secluded ice fishing lake. A newer road had been placed in, coming from the other direction, a few years ago, and now this old track was gradually returning to nature; it had long since been stricken from Sharo's official transit-way listings.

He manually clicked the wipers on the wind shield to clear them of snow and looked between the trees; the compound was at least a mile away, and it certainly wasn't listed on any map, but that in itself wasn't too unusual. There were dozens of unlisted properties dotted through the wilderness in this country, and only 'most' of them were government run. This one was not. There was a proper road to the place, but only one, and there would be no point in approaching from that direction.

The dull moan of the wind between the trees continued to rise and fall in patterns for several more minutes while Rogan made a final checking pass over his equipment. The shoulder bag in the seat beside him held several select pieces of clothing and accessories, just in case, as well as a few of his more interesting toys, and a laptop bag that contained its own surprises. On the outside it looked like a tool kit, more than anything else. He already had the important information for the work memorised, and nothing in his vehicle today could create any kind of paper trail.

His eyes drifted towards the alcove in the dashboard where a small yellow-clad figure was curled up with her arms around her knees, watching him. Almost nothing. But, as he was finding out more and more often, the things he could do with Lyntael working alongside him amounted to activities that would otherwise take many months longer, or else be impossible entirely without bringing in another person, and even working with Lyntael's difficulties was preferable to that.

“It's 1:45, sir.” Her voice was soft and quiet, and it sounded nervous... frightened. He fixed her with a more direct look. After a few more seconds he swallowed his pride and principles. Safety was more important than clinging to how things 'should' be.

“Lyntael, are you certain you will be able to do as I need? I can hear your voice. If I get caught tonight, I will not likely go to prison. I need to be sure of you.” At another time, he'd have expected a flinch or a wince from the girl, at the mention of just how dangerous their mission stood to be, but there had been a change in her, over the past few days. She seemed much more at peace, and less fragile than any time her could recall since before SciLab. It was partly that which had spurred him to take this opportunity rather than waiting. Lyntael remained still for a moment or two, looking down at her feet, then closed her eyes and drew along breath in, releasing it slowly. she nodded softly, then stood up and squared her shoulders, meeting his gaze once more. the second nod was firmer.

“I am, sir. I know what I have to do to keep you safe. I know what to expect when you send me in. There might be viruses, beyond the air gap, but if any, there shouldn't be many, and they won't be of any dangerous grades. I know where in the internal network map you will need me to be, and I know how to get quickly between those places.” She paused and swallowed, then continued. “There might be other navigators on the network, but none that are there for any official reason. If I am seen or engaged in conversation, I am 'StarburstLexi.exe', navigator of Geraldine Armine, an incumbent transfer from the 2C villa, in Yumland. My terminal was moved across border separately and delivered here ahead of her plane, and I'm just taking a look around on my own before before she arrives in country tomorrow. Ideally I will not be seen.” It still sounded like she was reciting a rote line of text, but he had to trust that she'd be able to give the information more smoothly if she actually needed to. He nodded and glanced in his mirror one more time.

Grey-blue eyes looked back from behind a fine-rimmed set of glasses, under a curly mop of brown hair. The false collar of a polo shirt that didn't actually exist was folded neatly over the top of a green sweater. Good enough. He slipped the glasses off and tucked them into the front of the sweater, then leaned over to pull the strap of the shoulder bag onto his shoulder. Without further words, Lyntael returned to her PET and Rogan scooped it up as well.

Outside, in the dark of night, the wind and the snow bit fiercely, but Rogan didn't really notice it. The door closed behind him and he moved to the boot of the car to pull out the last pieces of his set up. A few seconds out in the blizzard would lend some more credibility to the under layer anyway, and it didn't take him long to slip into the workman's coverall, black fabric and a snap front, just like the maintenance workers in these particular places wore. He shouldered the bag once more, settling it, then began to trudge through the woods towards the distant lights.
The walk through the woods didn't take long, but as he drew closer to the outskirts of the compound, Rogan slowed his pace. There were no blind spots in the outer line, naturally, but his point of entry had turned out to be simple enough. They were confident on their home turf, and as much as the security and defence measures of the compound were steep, they weren't as overwhelming as they could easily have been. He began to circle northward through the trees, cutting a wide arc around until he was able to take his bearing off a distant building on the inside of the tall fence. After another minute of careful walking, he began searching for the camouflaged camera points. There.... and there. Perfect. There were visible cameras on the tops of each of the main poles along the fence line, but they were decoys.

The real camera perimeter was a rig that made a circle about twenty metres out from the fence itself, carefully hidden in the trees themselves. Hard to see by accident and easy to miss even so, unless you knew what you were looking for in advance. Rogan lined himself up between the two concealed devices, still outside their scan range and watched them. The tiny lenses swivelled slowly, covering wide arcs which, he presumed, sufficiently overlapped with each other. Time to fix that. He pulled out his PET and extended the probe.

After a few moments of searching and modulating the device, he began to patch an emulated link through to the closed perimeter net. It was just an isolated loop that fed back to an outer control room for viewing, but he wasn't game enough to try creating a loop, let alone knocking anything out; both would be too visible on way or the other. He tapped on the screen and brought up the terminal's other controls.

“Time to work, Lyntael.” He paused just long enough to hear her short response, then pressed the button to send her in.


Lyntael had spent the last few minutes pacing, sitting on the carpet in the living area, and trying not to fidget through her anxious nerves. However firm and cool she'd managed to sell herself to Rogan, it didn't help that she felt terrified underneath. If she messed up here, Rogan could die. He was actually relying on her for that. It was enough to give her a heart attack. She moved up and down the length of the room, clasping and unclasping her hands and taking long breaths. Nervous energy was stopping her from focusing on any one thing for too long. The whole thing had to be seamless. Why was he trusting her for something this dangerous? A moment later, Rogan's voice came through to her and her steps stopped. The spiky, jagged nerves and fidgets flattened into something more still. Not calm exactly, but a determined sense of the inevitable, now that he was calling her. She stepped up to the exit pad, and breathed out, bracing herself, before the beam of light took hold and tore her through its unstable, torturous link.

On the far end, Lyntael stumbled briefly, gasping in and clamping her teeth shut to prevent any extra sound escaping. On instinct, her arms wrapped about her body, clutching at the all-over pain that lingered for several seconds. It had been bad, this time. Even with Rogan actively controlling the link, it had been terrible. As she looked up and opened her eyes, a sense of darkness met her, only, it wasn't exactly dark, so much as a lack of.. anything, really.

Space yawned in every direction, lacking any kind of internally designed structure made to support a program like her. She was standing on something that felt like panels, but it looked like a green strip of light that ended about a foot beyond and behind her. Ahead, after a gap of about two feet, another green strip started. Her first reaction was that it felt cold beneath her bare feet, but that wasn't right, she realised. She expected it to feel cold, but it didn't feel like anything. It was barely a sense that she was standing, with weight, at all, beyond that, her own brain was struggling to fill in expected tactile responses that weren't really present.

Gradually, as she peering into the expanse, more green strips of light began to identify themselves to her sight. A path progressed in sections ahead of her, curving slightly in one direction, and far off, she could make out the impression of other similar paths moving in different directions. How was she supposed to work with this?

“Lyntael. Status.” Rogan's voice felt like it was filling her; it came, as usual, from a place just above and behind her, but in the void of sensation and the deafening silence, it felt like it was everywhere.

“I'm...” Her voice sounded thin and muted, and the sound died almost as soon as it left her mouth. “I'm in. I think. There's... nothing here. It's not meant for a navigator at all.” She swallowed and looked around again for some sign of something she cold interact with properly. Nothing but emptiness and the thin green pathways, which, she supposed, weren't really pathways at all. Instead, she closed her eyes, trying to ground herself to her connection back to Rogan, and work out from here. Her heart was already beating too quickly. Whatever sense she used to detect Rogan's activity – Lyntael had never really understood it precisely – that, at least, was stable. She cold feel the intermittent maintenance pulse of the emulated link, and where it touched down, she could feel it trace lines before fading out. Maybe that was something she could follow properly.

“Good.” Rogan's voice was quiet and firm, flat and without any hint of emotion. His working voice. It still managed to be a comfort to her. “The only thing that could detect you there would be the maintenance programs. They run an integrity check once every hour, and they will have just finished now, so you will not see any. If you do encounter one, do not interfere with it. It should not notice or detect you as long as you stay out of its way.” She nodded, then swallowed and answered.

“Yes, sir. I'm going to try to find the first camera now, sir.”
“Good. Hurry. I do not have a broad window for some parts of this venture.”

With another silent nod, Lyntael took a step forward, then jumped across the emptiness to the next strip of green light. A momentary feeling of being nowhere at all crossed her senses in a blur of static, before her toes touched down on the far side once more and she bit back a short gasp. It was okay. She just had to find the camera and recalibrate it, somehow. Lyntael set her shoulders and started moving again, taking the next jump with more confidence. It had to be somewhere along one of these lines.
Travelling through the unformed void space, cut with the brief dissonance of being every time she skipped from one light line to the next, made all of Lyntael's senses ring. Every part of her strained for some kind of sensation or feedback as she moved on, and found nothing, except the faint impression of her feet touching something solid, and the sight of the faint green lines. Every few jumps, she stopped and closed her eyes, taking a breath and focusing on the things she actually could feel.

Behind her, the sensation of Rogan's link, tracing back to the place she had appeared. She'd never been sure how to describe this sensation; it didn't tie in with any of her other senses, so much as it was a feeling, but it was a comfort in this place. the faint lines of sense crept out from that point, spreading along to where she stood and branching away from her in every direction. It was barely notable, most of the time, but here in this unformed data space, it was nearly the only thing she had to focus on and she pushed the feeling, stretching the sense further and further from her. Rogan was still waiting; there was nothing to mask, save herself and her own presence, but focused as she was she could feel it settled across her like a thin blanket against the void.

She opened her eyes and moved forward again. It wouldn't be far, said her rational thoughts, but what was distance or space in a place that wasn't made to map them in away she could feel? The only measure here was time itself – how long a signal took to get from one point to another. Three more stops later, she began to feel something at the edge of her sense as she pushed the delta of thin feelers out from her body. It was strange to feel like she was seeing more with her eyes closed. It was definitely something, though. A tick; a heartbeat that was shifting back and forth. The closer she got the more it seemed to shift off to the side of the line of thin green lights. A few jumps later, she found herself stopped. The lines continued forward, but the sense was... in a different direction entirely now.

The girl's eyes travelled to one side and upward, where she could feel the source of energy. Peering harder, she thought she could make out a cluster of dim light. Closing her eyes and reaching towards it confirmed. That was what she needed. There were no light trails leading to it, but the edges of her other sense filtered along a rising connection. Cautiously, she felt past the edge of the narrow light line she was on. the sense of nothingness crept over hr as her hand explored the lack of anything beyond the light, but sure enough, towards the end, she found something solid. A thin connection, barely there at all, but as her fingers slid across it, her other sense answered back; there was a flow of data, coming down to the main line. Okay... she could probably manage that...

Moving up the new path proved harder. It felt... tenuous. Like it wasn't enough to support her weight, as slight as she was. A thought occurred to her that her 'weight' in this situation wasn't physical... and she'd seen read-outs from Eric's screen in the early days to know that her 'code weight', however that translated, was criminally dense and heavy. the 'path' was more like a slim, invisible tightrope that she found herself struggling to climb with her hands as much as walking on with her toes. Every step, the feeling of being nowhere and nothing gnawed at her; her eyes were useless, her touch and balance had barely anything to work on, and there was certainly nothing for for her ears to pick up, beyond the deafening emptiness. It would be easy to forget she had a body at all, in a space like this.

Hand over hand, Lyntael eventually managed to pull herself towards the cluster of energy that the thin connection was sending data from. there was no ledge or platform for her to rest on, though – the tether simply ended in the centre of a bundle that lit up to her other sense. she blinked a few time,s trying to work out if she was seeing something or not, and reached out to touch what she could feel. A moment later, she was looking at a snow-clad forest. The view wasn't her own, and it slowly panned one way, then back again. For the first time that day, a small smile of relief crossed her features. Carefully, she focused again and began working to re-calibrate the camera, bit by bit each pan, coaxing it gradually out of alignment.


Rogan waited, watching the fence line ahead of him in the distance. The wind brushed through the trees and the snow still fell, but he didn't feel them. He was far enough back that even someone who looked out from the fence wouldn't see his silhouette, but by the same token there wasn't a lot he could really see from here either. He had enough to go on, though. The security that walked the perimeter carried torches that doubled as contact tazers. Naturally, they were armed as well, but the torch light let him keep count of their patrol easily enough.

A minute passed, and then another, but Rogan waited, heartbeat slow and breathing steady. As he watched the lights pass a second time, he pulled a pair of gloves out of the interior pocket of his outfit and pulled them on. They were made of a black mesh, with three broad strips of dull black metal across the palms. The lights passed away further.

“It's done! Ready, sir!!” Just as he started to speak, the girl's voice came to his ear, out of breath and sounding taxed. He had been about to hurry her, but she'd managed just in time.
“Good.” He walked forward with a long, fast stride, making a direct line for the fence between the two surveillance cameras. Lyntael's tinkering would have slipped their scanning path enough to open a passage about one metre across directly between them, and Rogan walked through the new blind spot up to the fence at a brisk pace.

He didn't stop when he reached the fence. Instead, his last step grew longer and faster and when his foot left the ground it turned into a jump that let him catch his toe in a link of the fence about halfway up. One hand gripped the fence and his other foot caught on just shy of the top, which fanned outward in a wide barbed 'v', netted with spiralling circles of razor wire. His other hand reached up,grabbing and gripping two on the circles and clutching them together tight against the metal support as he gripped on. With the rest of his momentum, Rogan kicked outward, twisting his body up and over until his feet braced against the v-shaped support bar. The coils of razor wire were pressed flat between either his boots or his gloves, and the bar they were affixed to. He glanced down and around for a brief moment to ensure that none of his clothing had snagged and that he hadn't damaged the wire, then kicked off again and jumped down to land in a crouch on the inside. The wire sprang back and wobbled as he released it, but a cursory back-glance told him it was only bent very mildly from his intrusion.

As he stood, Rogan turned and began to walk along the fence line, pressing buttons on his PET's probe as he did. By the time he moved between two smaller buildings near the perimeter, Lyntael had been reclaimed from the external line. He waited a five count for the muffled sound of her sharp gasps to stop, then sought the next task, tweaking the settings on the probe as he came to a nonchalant stop outside a snow-battered stainless steel door.

“You have one minute, Lyntael. I need at least a thirty second cut, clean.”
“Yes sir.” There was discomfort in the girl's voice, but she sounded firm enough. He patched her in to the isolated camera of the smaller storage building and then immediately began working on the door's lock. It was just a shed, basically, and had a simple camera in one corner on the inside. The door lock was a simple physical one, without any electronic trips.

His mind kept count of the seconds as he pulled the needed tools from his shoulder bag. Guard patrol would be passing back again in two minutes and about thirty seconds. About forty-eight seconds in, the lock clipped open under his tools and Rogan put them away again in a smooth motion, sliding the bolt back. He paused, hand on the door, and glanced at the hinges. They looked well maintained. Plan 'A' for this part would probably be fine.

“Almost, sir, almost! Ah... there, done! Go!” As Rogan pulled the door open and stepped inside, he found himself aware of the stress and tension in her voice. He banished the thought.

Inside the shed, the space was only a few metres across in either direction, filled with shelves and stacks of rolled up wire, or reels of blue and yellow cable. On the bottom shelve of one stand, several well-ordered tool kits for maintenance crew were stored next to spare hard hats. The tool kits were large and a bit bulky, but that served his needs well enough. He pulled one out and opened it up, seconds counting by in his mind.
Lyntael lifted her hands from where she has been working at the small, plain terminal in front of her. As far as she knew, this was the inner network of linked security systems for the compound. The space wasn't as unformed as the outer net; this place was meant for actual program maintenance and occasional navigator inspections, though it was still very bare bones. There was a humming sound in the background all around her, and the occasional magnetic reverb of a signal zipping across one linked pathway or another.

It had taken longer than she'd wanted to reach the control node for the storage shed camera, from the actual input point that Rogan had sent her to – the sprint up the narrow green walkway, edged with signal paths, hadn't been too bad, but even as she'd arrived, a patrolling prog had hummed by on the main circuit. Five seconds of tense crouching behind the terminal bank as its blank, smiling expression moved along had been enough to send her heart rate hammering, and it still hadn't calmed down now, almost a minute later. Rogan has said they wouldn't notice her as long as she didn't get in their way, but she wasn't entirely sure how accurate that was... Rogan's ideas about programs weren't always... well informed... She winced at the uncharitable thought. Normally, progs like that were so friendly and helpful, but she understood that these ones would helpfully inform everyone of her presence and trespass as soon as they knew something was wrong, and they'd mean so well by it.

There wasn't any time for getting hung up on thoughts like that anyway. She tried to calm herself and looked around. No more patrolling programs in sight for now. The network space was comprised of panelled hallways and walkways, but very little was obscured; most of the surfaces, walls and floor, resembled a glass wire-frame, traced through with light lines that carried underlying network signals. A black absence of light stretched out beyond the formed spaces, but from where she was standing, Lyntael could see the transparent structure of most of the isolated network, rising and falling, curving back on itself and looping around in different directions. Each hallway or open walk bore a thick data line alongside the space intended for navigators and other programs to move through, and bright pulses of light darted back and forth through them. Whenever one passed close by, Lyntael felt a sense of the data it contained, but only briefly before it passed her by.

It was kind of pretty, in its complexity, but there wasn't any time to appreciate it. Rogan would be getting ready and she needed to get the grounds he meant to cover under control, and quickly. For a moment she closed her eyes and focused on the emulation link. Back the way she had already come, of course, but beyond that it gave her nothing; she had no way to check on Rogan out in the physical world, like this, but there was no fixing that.

Instead, she ran. Rogan had found some layout designs for her to study, earlier. They wouldn't be exact, but they denoted principles and practices that a network like this would most likely follow, and as her bare feet made the panels hum each contact, she went through the rules in her mind, trying to apply them to the twisting corridors ahead of her. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty... Seconds counted in her mind as her eyes darted. Main circuit, terminating branches, dependant nodes. That way. She turned off and found herself running down a much narrower strip of panels with no enclosing hallway and just void space below. Far down, she could see other passages and light lines crossing past, but they were a long way down, and falling through would not be good for her health. The path was easily broad enough to run without worry, of course, but she still found herself raising a small updraught of wind around herself and to either side, without caring about how it made her skirt flare. There was no-one here, and it felt safer.

Two thirds of the way down the diversion, Lyntael pulled back hard, almost stumbling as she stopped. A prog was moving up the path from the other direction, two panels ahead of it lighting up beneath a scanning light as it hovered along the centre of the path at a steady pace. She glanced back as it approached; running back was an option, finding somewhere to turn off, but the margin was in seconds and there wasn't really enough time to waste... but if it detected her... her eyes canned about, but the surrounding void offered no help. The prog's blankly smiling face drew near and Lyntael stepped back. Her eye fell on the panels lighting up as it moved; three, two, one... In a desperate moment, her eyes fell on the data conduit alongside the pathway and she jumped passing her body over the line of light and grabbing onto it with both hands. An immediate static charge crackled through her, and past where her hands grippe,d the light dimmed and shrank down to a thin, barely visible glow.

Lyntael hung on, clenching her teeth teeth against the increasing buzzing feeling. She wasn't touching the walkway at all, though, at least for the moment. The prog passed by, less than a foot from her with its green light scanning the panels. Her heart lurched and her breath stilled in her throat as it stopped, bobbing in place. It turned in a slow circle, though there was no indication that it could see her as it rotated. Lyntael could feel her hands going numb; the static pressure on the line was diverting down her arms and she was losing sensation. A bolt of light appeared from the far end, racing down the line from the direction she had come, and as it slammed across her hand,s Lyntael's senses blurred out momentarily. A file transfer. the details from and to raced across her mind as a large flood of data diverted. Her other senses caught up a second later as she blinked; a sense of shunted movement. One hand slipping as her arms lost all feeling.

Without thinking any further, Lyntael swung herself back onto the walkway before she fell. She had to redirect the file as well, otherwise... a swift movement from one hand as she released them both saw the light burst settle back onto the line and shoot off. As soon a she took her hands away, the glow returned to a healthy, stable state as well. In a panic, the girl looked around, but the Prog was further behind her now. No, it was still scanning, she realised; the obstruction had moved her instead. As she looked, the prog turned its scanning beam towards the data line.

“MINOR SIGNAL DELAY. NO ANOMALIES FOUND. ADDING ENTRY 4-6-2-1 TO DAILY LOG.” It sounded as bright and jovial as any prog ever did, before turning forward again and continuing on its path. Lyntael rolled over and picked herself up, rubbing her arms. It didn't sound like it thought there was a real problem. She swallowed and put a hand to her chest, willing her heart to slow down, then kept running.


Rogan closed the tool kit and stood up again, hefting it in one hand as she resettled his other bag on the opposite shoulder. A tool belt and several other pieces of appropriate paraphernalia had been added to his black coverall and he stepped towards the door, resting a hand on it. Everything else in the room had been put back where it belongs and as he'd found it. He picked up a tightly bound roll of fence wire and slung it over his shoulder, then hoisted a short step ladder with the free hand as he opened the door.

The snow and frigid winds met him again as he stepped out, but Rogan didn't notice it. Instead he glanced left and right, then closed and re-locked the shed door behind him.
“Are we ready, Lyntael? Cross the open and to the planned entrance.”
“Hahh... almost, Sir. just getting it in place... Have to wait for the guard to move so I can take a clean cut... almost...” She sounded out of breath and... worried about something. She often sounded like she'd been running while doing these jobs. It was strange. He shrugged off the thoughts. “Okay, go!” Lyntael's confirmation sent Rogan striding out into the snow, emerging from behind the maintenance shed with an unhurried trudge. His fence-hopping gloves were safely hidden with his other gear in his shoulder bag, for now, and had been replaced with heavier workman's gloves, which he balled together and rubbed as his breath misted.

He kept to the outskirts of the compound, not far from the fence as he worked his way around towards the entrance he'd chosen. He'd need to cross back across broad open space to get there but it wasn't going to be an issue. Part way along, he caught sight of one of the security patrols coming towards him in the other direction and he stopped in his pacing to straighten up and rest the step ladder so he could knuckle his back with one hand. He waved, flagging the pair of guards.

“Aie, there a tear in the damn fence somewhere around here?” He called out to them as they approached, in a comfortable, colloquial Sharroan. “Guys said some animal had mangled itself in the wire.” He spat on the ground and scuffed a foot over it in the snow. “Can't see anything. Your way?” He glanced at each of the guards once properly but didn't hold eye contact too long, instead looking up and down the undamaged fence line. The pair looked at each other and shrugged.

“Have called it in if there was.” One of them offered in a bored tone. Rogan spat again and swore at the ground, mumbling a handful of colourful Sharo curses under his breath.

“My turn to check my arse, in this bloody weather... ” He hefted the step ladder again, then turned and began to walk inwards, towards the main complex, still muttering as he gave a back-handed wave of thanks to the guards. After a few moments he reached the steps leading up to the side doorway. Inside the complex itself the doors weren't locked or barred, but they had other security measures in place. As he climbed the steps, he set the roll of fencing wire down.

“At the door, Lyntael. Status.”
“I'm almost there, sir.... at the controls now. I can't deceive the scanner here, sir, it does body heat, and it's too... er, that is, I can shut it off for a few seconds, if I just...”
“Don't talk, Lyntael. Act.”
“Yes, sir.” There was that note of hurt again. He shoved the thought away. Rogan stamped his boots and pulled off his working gloves as a means of stretching a few seconds, before Lyntael's voice came back to his ear.
“Ok, go in now, sir, it's off for seven seconds.” Without waiting, Rogan pushed on the door bar and let himself inside. About a foot inside the doorway, a slim metal plate connected to a frame set neatly into the wall, but he walked through without giving it a second glance.

The entry way led into a small junction and Rogan turned left, then continued towards the first doorway on his left again. No-one was in the hall for now, but Rogan maintained his posture and stance regardless. It wasn't until he turned into the doorway and pushed it closed behind him that he stood straight again and began to move more quickly.

One hand pulled a cloth out of his pocket, covering his fingertips as he input a new message to the keypad inside the door; the placard on the outside began to show text marking the room as closed for technical maintenance.

The room itself was a meeting office, one long table in the middle with an assortment of beige folding chairs spread around it. Cabinets on one wall looked like they were used mostly for something to rest the coffee machine and cups on, than actual storage. Rogan set the step ladder up underneath the ceiling projector, then put his tool bag on the desk and opened it up. His hands went to the snaps on his coverall as he started to change.

It occurred to him that he was trusting Lyntael with a lot, but somehow, the way she'd responded, he was less hesitant about it than he had been in the past. She had seemed more sure of herself this time, though he had no real idea what could have spurred the change. She hadn't actually done much training like they'd intended, after all.

With two fingers, her slipped the coloured contacts out of his eyes and clipped the case for them closed, then pulled the glasses from the neck of his sweater and put them on instead.

“Rogan, sir. There's... there are a lot of very large data files being moved around here, sir. I saw them when I was trying to move between the system layers. Going back and forth, all over the terminal network. Most of it looks like it's about money though... what do they do here?” Lyntael's voice was quiet in his ear. She should know better than to get distracted while they were working. The case went into his shoulder bag as he slipped a long white coat over his sweater instead and began roughly folding the stripped coverall.

“Laundering. It's most of what they do. Focus, Lyntael.” He expected a short answer, but a couple of seconds of silence instead tugged at him unexpectedly. He sighed as he pulled other effects out of the bag.

“Nothing of use to me, Lyntael. I only need what I'm here for and nothing else. The less trace that is left, the better.”
“Yes, sir...” Without thinking, he nodded to himself at her response.

Thirty seconds after the grouchy maintenance worker had shuffled into the side office, a white-coated research technician nervously adjusted his glasses as he glanced at himself in the reflection of the white board. His green-covered clipboard was tucked under one arm, and his laptop bag was more comfortably supported with the strap crossing over his body from the opposite shoulder. The toolkit was open on the desk near the ladder, but it had only the tools it was meant to have in it. His outermost layer of clothes and other affectations were roughly folded and hidden away in the shoulder bag he still carried.

“Second hallway in seven, six, five...” Rogan cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, then moved to the far door, opposite the one he'd entered from.
“Ready, sir. You're clean.” She still sounded nervous, he noted, but at least she was meeting her marks. He stepped out into the hall.