Project Aphelion Solo Play #009: The Winter Break

Family drama, Christmas miracles, gods of emergent gameplay, and a strong vibe of ‘I should be writing a book.’ But there’s also a detailed playtest of the combat system! Somehow.


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If you’ve missed it, I’ve built the scenario in the previous episode. In here, we’re coming in hot on some tense grounds of family issues. You’ve been warned.


Scenario 004: The Winter Break

December 24th, 2055

It’s so warm in here, is Tomorrow’s first thought as she exits the terminal into an illuminated parking lot at the international airport. She got used to Denver’s much harsher climate, and the mellow Dallas air suddenly brings back memories. Not all of them good, but… mostly good. She grips the handle of her suitcase, already heading towards the automated taxis.

The trip was rather uneventful. Thanks to her new and pristine SIN from Pueblo, she no longer has to go through offensive and disgraceful checks that met her every time she was flying with her criminal record. No more getting mishandled by damn armed and armored border patrol guards. Adam’s papers were perfectly fine too – whether real or fake, she didn’t ask and barely cared. The papers bore his name as she knew it – and she really doesn’t have the time to wonder if it’s his real name. It’s the one he chose to use, so she is using it as well.

They’ve insisted on not getting picked up at the airport – Tomorrow could imagine a few things more uncomfortable than a stunted, hobbling conversation during a one-hour car ride to her parents’ house, but she still preferred to avoid it. Once they get to the house, her parents will be more at ease on their turf, and the house itself will provide them with ample distractions and topics for conversation. It’s also why she picked an evening flight – no more than an hour or two, and they’ll be going to sleep. There’s only so much damage they can all do to their relationship in two hours.

‘All halls are decked,’ states Wheeler as they enter the cab and put the address in the computer. The neon lights – green and red – blink slowly as the synth remix of an old-timey holiday song plays obtrusively from the speakers. Tomorrow fiddles with the controls until she manages to kill the unbearable cheeriness of the cab’s decor.

‘Just be happy we’re skipping the Nativity play. We’re-‘ she pretends to look at her nonexistent watch ‘-oh no, we’re about two hours too late; shame we couldn’t get the tickets for the earlier flight, Mom.’

‘You’re a despicably deceitful daughter,’ he says with a perfectly straight face.

‘Mhm. The worst. But I’ve seen it every damn year I was in Dallas, and I’d burn that church down if I were forced to listen to those bloody songs once more. They even have the same costumes as fifteen years ago, when I…’ she swallows the rest of the rant, quickly changing the subject: ‘Oh, look, that bridge is new!’

Wheeler chuckles. ‘Whom did you play?’

‘King Herod. I had a beard and a crown, and all.’ She laughs as well. ‘They’ve tried me for Mary but that mostly requires sitting still for, like, an hour, so they finally gave up on me. I’d get bored and start chatting up the shepherds.’

‘There’s literally nothing surprising in this story, but I’ll only believe it when I see the photos.’

‘Oh, you’ll see the photos.’ She rolls her eyes with a deep sigh. ‘I am positive you’ll see all standard-issue family bonding activities, from slightly embarrassing anecdotes to photo albums to cookies to gifts and drinking eggnog in our pajamas. I can imagine Mom specifically researching how proper holidays should look like for the best joy and happiness output. We… well, we don’t really have…’ she stumbles on her words, but nobody is forcing her to continue.

They let the comfortable silence fall between them until Tomorrow is ready.

‘Look, last holidays weren’t good. In fact, they were awful. I literally only got back from prison a couple days before and learned about Chloe, and things were fucking tense. So this is our chance to fix it. Because once we get Chloe back, there will be a different pile of family issues to sort out. She bailed on Mom and Dad too, mostly because of me. So I just need to resolve at least some of it before it piles up and comes crashing down.’ She falls silent again. ‘Thanks for coming with me. I’m sure you had other plans.’

Wheeler shrugs. ‘Nothing that can’t be done when we get back. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere.’

‘Thanks anyway, babe.’

De nada, babe.’

When they finally arrive at Tomorrow’s parents’ house in Denton, after passing the checkpoint of the gated community, she grins and stretches like a bird about to take flight. ‘Put your game face on.’

The evening goes as planned, much to Tomorrow’s contentment. They don’t have all that much time, as it’s past ten in the evening when they move the gift-stuffed suitcases upstairs, to Tomorrow’s old room, still looking like it did when she was sixteen. The general awkwardness of the first meeting was quickly resolved by the recount of the flight. Listening to Wheeler describing the hundred-percent-believable and amusing stories about co-passengers and plane’s crew, Tomorrow feels as if they were on completely different flights – that scene with the dog didn’t really happen, did it? Did she just not notice  it or is Adam spinning the story to let her catch her balance? – but she’s grateful that the attention is not really on her. She smiles and jokes, and her parents are enjoying the conversation – or just playing the part – or just making sure their guests feel welcome – or maybe it doesn’t really matter what’s happening, there’s clearly a lot of trying to be festive, friendly, and family-like.

Tomorrow sends Raven a thought full of gratitude when they all move from the opening act to a more relaxed tea and chat, and before long, it’s already time for good-nights and sleep-wells. Nobody even pretended to offer Adam a separate bedroom, so even the household’s Christian values have decided to take a step back in this battle for Merry Christmas, she realizes with a relief. Maybe it won’t be so bad, after all.


Module 1: The Debate

(As we’ve just finished the Scenario Complications section, I guess I’ll toss some into the scenario. Basically, Scenario rolls Payout worth of dice each interval and when it reaches the Scenario Rating, there might be some complications unfolding. As I’m gonna run this scenario mostly as a narrative and keep the rolling to myself, just trust me with it.)


December 25th, 2055

‘Good morning, dear,’ Tomorrow’s mother is chipper and strangely homemaker-y in the morning, unlike her usual night-owl, overworked-lawyer self. Tomorrow supposes the cup of coffee her mother is finishing is not the first one.

‘Morning, mom. Did you sleep well? I’ve forgotten how quiet it is in here at night. Suburbs have their advantages, I suppose.’ She knows she’s rambling, but unlike with Wheeler, silence with her mother was never easy and comfortable.

‘If not for an alarm clock, one could sleep through an entire morning, that’s true. Coffee’s in the pot if you want any.’ Melissa looks at her empty cup. ‘Probably. But I can make more if we’re out.’

‘No, no, it’s fine.’ Tomorrow pours herself whatever is left in the pot, barely paying attention. ‘So, what’s the plan for today? Singing carols ’round the tree and opening presents?’

‘Oh, yes, I suppose we could do that. If you want, of course. There are gifts under the tree and on the fireplace. I just know you’re not a big fan of caroling.’

‘I’m not,’ she laughs and sips the coffee. Good, real coffee, not her standard triple espresso soycaf. ‘I know you have a party planned, so… do you need any help?’

‘Thank you, I have it all sorted. Remember Hannah’s, that restaurant my friend is running? They’re doing catering these days. We are free to relax without any cooking.’ Melissa hesitates for a moment. ‘How about some breakfast, however? Pancakes?’

‘Sure, why not.’

They spend some more time, passing basic pleasantries and platitudes, each carefully staying away from possibly problematic topics. Adam and Harry peek in at some point to grab coffee but as if they’ve planned it, they stay away from the kitchen, busy with their things. Finally, Tomorrow can’t stand it for even a minute longer.

‘Mom? This is very nice, and I appreciate the effort, but we should talk.’

Melissa exhales slowly, turning back from the counter, where she was fiddling with linen napkins. ‘I know, Sarah. But it was pleasant to pretend otherwise for a while, wasn’t it?’

‘Neither of us cares about what’s pleasant, not really,’ states Tomorrow, turning on the coffee machine. ‘Only about what’s true.’

‘Touché. Well, then – there’s little point in pretending. You know what the Church says, and I know what the Pope says – but it still doesn’t sit right with me, darling. You are messing with forces you don’t understand, powers you cannot control, and spirits… Spirits, Sarah. They’re not of this world and they shouldn’t be. Every time I see this… elemental of yours, I worry about you. And your soul.’

‘My soul’s fine, mom. I sold it to the Raven… I’m joking, I’m joking!’ She quickly backtracks as her mother scowls. ‘It’s just science, mom. A different, new kind, but it’s just science. I literally study it at a university, remember? They even have a PhD program there and I hope I make the cut.’

‘I hope you do, Sarah. But you’re obfuscating. People study virtual floral design at universities. That doesn’t make it science, it just means somebody is happy to collect tuition.’

‘Well, that’s… fair. Some people pay for law degrees.’ Tomorrow grins, hoping to capitalize on the oldest family joke.

‘Possibly. I had full funding, I wouldn’t know.’

‘Well, I’m paying for my degree. And it will be worth it. As you’ve mentioned, the Pope says I’m in the clear. They literally have a sacred order of mages in Vatican. I’m not… You know, I could just play the Are you holier than the Pope? card but we’re above empty eristic, I hope.’

‘We are. We’re not in the court.’ Melissa sighs. ‘Sarah, you’re my daughter and I love you, and I will always support you, even if I don’t agree with your choices. But I worry about you. Father Matthew was asking about you lately, you know? It was good to tell him you’re doing fine.’

‘I’m doing more than fine, mom. And I promise you, I’m being careful with magic. I don’t mess with metaplanes. I don’t deal with spirits, at all. Elementals are nothing more than constructs, like drones, only made with mana, not with electronics. I program them, they don’t think for themselves. They’re tools, not… souls.’

‘I know, I did my research. A cookie?’

‘Don’t change the subject, mom.’ Tomorrow obediently nibbles on a spruce-shaped gingerbread. ‘You know. The facts are on my side. Even your Church knows that. They stopped the Satanic Panic some time ago, and they pretend it didn’t happen at all.’

‘Much good it did them…’ muses Melissa, grabbing a cookie too. ‘I suppose it all boils down to the indisputable fact that it makes me uneasy.’

‘And I suppose you know as well as I do that it makes it an opinion that’s inadmissible in the court of law. The point is, you don’t have to like it, mom. Many people don’t. But it’s just… me.’ Tomorrow shrugs. ‘It’s a part of me and it’s not going away. I’ve found my path and I’ve found my guiding star, and all evidence points towards this being good for me. And for our family.’

‘All evidence points to that.’ Melissa smiles, a strangely bittersweet expression on her face. ‘Any chance you switch that Raven of yours for Jesus?’

‘Nope. But if it makes you feel better…’

‘Raven is often the God’s messenger in the Bible, I know. But if you try to sell me on the story of you being the new prophet Elijah, I’ll sign you up for Sunday school again.’

‘And I’ll drop out, again. But deal – I won’t even claim to be St. Benedict, reborn. I promise.’

‘Good. Well. Sarah, I…’ Melissa sighs. ‘I’m happy for you, I really am. I wish your life was easier and less dangerous. I hope you find peace at some point. You’re strong and capable, and thriving in the chaos of this world. And I know your heart is in a good place.’

‘Thank you, mom. Do you think we should let the guys know they can stop eavesdropping?’

‘We’re not,’ says Adam just behind the kitchen door. ‘You two are just hogging all the cookies, like some savages.’

Tomorrow laughs, and when her mother joins her, she feels like a giant weight has been lifted from her soul.


(8 marks scored by the Scenario gave it 1 net mark after five intervals, ending up with a positive Scenario complication of: “The Defense Crew became preoccupied with a non-optional Social Task fitting the Scenario. All Defense Actors commit all their Actions to it unless directly required not to by the situation. They must reach a Challenge equal to magnitude times 10 (so, 10 in this case) in order to be free to work on other Tasks.” I suppose, for all intents and purposes, the non-optional Social Task of the Defense Crew is making sure Tomorrow feels at home, instead of forcing her to prove she’s worth it. This really is the fluffy magic of feel-good Christmas miracle delivered by the gods of emergent gameplay. As far as the scene goes, Tomorrow’s making steady progress through Diplomacy, Sciences, and Sorcery (+1 learning tick for each), and the moment the complication triggers, the scene is basically won. The complication therefore will trigger during the Christmas party.)


Module 2: The Christmas Party

(Due to scenario complications, the three Defense Actors in this scene first need to finish their Social Task of Challenge 10, before they can even do one thing against Tomorrow or her Main Task. I suppose it will be a breeze, actually, and an opportunity for Tomorrow to stretch her legs with skills outside her usual repertoire. Let me just generate the Actors real quick.

Cleveland J. Jackson, age 66, R3, Technical/Scientific, Familiarity 2. Next-door neighbor, target of multiple pranks and mischief. Clearly, despises Tomorrow’s guts, probably knowing damn well how her teenage rebellion and callous egotism ripped the family apart.

Rachel James, age 72, R3, Warfare/Creative, Familiarity 5. Tomorrow’s great-aunt on her father’s side, an opinionated ex-cop.

Felipe S. Thomas, age 48, R3, Social/Investigative, Familiarity 1. Wow, this guy really hates Sarah’s guts. Hostile towards his hosts’ daughter?  He must be one of Mom’s friends.You know what? I am very grateful for this positive complication of those people having a non-optional Social scene of their own, because if they ganged up on Tomorrow, with those base difficulties, taking them out would be basically impossible without magic. And Tomorrow isn’t going to cast spells left and right at her Mom’s Christmas party, is she?)


December 25th, 2055

The guests start arriving at four in the afternoon, bearing gifts of absolutely unnecessary food and holiday spirits; some of them, homemade. Tomorrow calls her friendliest smile forward, deliberately thinking about how she needs to make it better before Chloe comes back, how she needs to rebuild the bridges and fix the relationships, so her sister has it easier, better – but no. She can’t lie to herself. This is not about Chloe. This is about Sarah, and as much as she hates herself for it, she just wants to be accepted. Not that she needs her parents’ acquaintances to love her, of course. What does she care what some old stuck-up thinks of her? Only…

Only when she catches a glimpse of her father, talking proudly about her studies and magical aptitude to Mr. Jackson, the next-door neighbor, she feels a pang of pain. This is about her, and it is about her parents, and Chloe has nothing to do with it. But it still needs to be done.

She puts down the water glass, fixes her not-blue-anymore hair, and resolves to be the perfect daughter. She should be able to con everybody for a couple of hours, right?

She works the crowd for a while, with Adam in tow, building up the persona of a friendly, intelligent, young professional. She doesn’t know all of the people, but her mother is always around to make introductions. Tomorrow can feel the room – they’re not against her, not exactly, but there’s a scent of apprehension. People smile and joke, and wish one another best, but the smiles are guarded, the jokes measured, and all the wishes seem to carry a double meaning. She hates it all but plays her part until it hurts.

I’m better than this shit, she decides after a while, after another empty conversation. She feels like she’s flying upwind but instead of catching it under her wings, she’s just getting pushed down, down, down. The people around are trying to make her feel at home, to the point that makes her think they’ve been ordered to. That Thomas person is the worst – Tomorrow vaguely remembers him as one of her mother’s associates at the law firm – no matter his kind words, he cannot hide the hatred in his eyes. God, Raven – just what stories did he hear about her?

She smiles at him with her most brilliant smile and excuses herself. No point wasting time there. She scouts the crowd, looking for the best person to approach, flipping mentally through the rolodex of basic intel her mother fed her before the party. And there she was…

‘Merry Christmas, Auntie,’ says Tomorrow to the elder lady, enjoying her wine on a sofa. From her straight posture to the sharp – but not unkind – eyes, the ex-detective looks about as focused as always. ‘I’m so happy you could join us.’

‘Good afternoon, Sarah.’ Wrinkles around the great-aunt’s eyes grew since Tomorrow saw her last time – seven years ago? Eight? – but there’s still an the same aura of starch dignity around her. Damn, some people are just… steady, she thinks. ‘It’s nice of you to join us. I’ve heard you’re making progress with your studies?’

Tomorrow nods and they are soon consumed by a discussion about the forensic magic, pulling up diagrams and doing magical decomposing experiments on a piece of candy cane. Only when they laugh too loudly and Melissa sends her daughter a stern glare, Tomorrow realizes she actually enjoys herself. Hugging her great-aunt and promising her to get back to the topic soon, she gets back to her main job of making a good impression.

Adam’s there, wooing some ladies by the fireplace: suave, courteous, and hilarious. Tomorrow grins as the ganger makes the whole group of wine-moms laugh, and he winks at her in response. If she didn’t know him, she’d assume he’s simply enjoying himself; but she’s painfully aware that half of that chit-chat ease is just an effect of a skillsoft chip slotted into his brain. She will have to make it up to him later. Good thing she knows how.

What she also knows is that she’s about to stand now face-to-face with her next-door neighbor, and the man is much worse than Felipe Thomas at hiding his emotions. So she gracefully changes her path, grabs a half-empty plate, and cuts a beeline towards the kitchen, hiding from the man who also looks like he was instructed to make her feel welcome. Sometimes a good impression is all about not making a scene in the middle of a room, and – if they can’t find her, they can’t really achieve their goal now, can they?

She chuckles, and there’s a faint echo of amusement at the back of her head. She wonders – what if she does exactly that? Avoid the two men until the end of the party and deny them the opportunity to talk to her ever again? Absentmindedly, she replaces the hors d’œuvre on the plate and barely notices the woman walking into the kitchen.

‘Sarah! Oh, dear. What are you doing here, all by yourself?’ Hannah, one of her mother’s friend, takes the plate out of Tomorrow’s hands. ‘You know it’s not your job to take care of the food, I have people for that.’

‘Right. I forgot. Hi, Ms. Astley. I’m, well, I’m hiding from Mr. Jackson?’ she tests the ground with some lighthearted honesty.

‘That makes two of us,’ Hannah responds in a whisper. ‘I don’t think he likes me very much. I’ve heard him complaining about the caviar.’

‘The audacity!’ Tomorrow whispers back. ‘It’s all delicious.’ She stuffs a canapé in her mouth and peeks out from the kitchen. ‘Damn. He saw me. Well, it was a pleasure talking to you, Ma’am. I gotta go. You know, make the rounds and ensure the guests are alright.’

‘And ensure Mr. Jackson doesn’t catch up to you.’ Hannah nods and raises her wine glass in a toast. ‘Good luck, dear.’

Why are you like that? she asks herself as she falls in and out of chit-chats. Just bloody focus, find a weak point, and do what you must do instead of wasting time. She catches a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror and, for a moment, fails to recognize herself. Perfectly neutral, elegant dark brown hair look boring and mundane against the memory of her usual bright blue, and Tomorrow suddenly regrets her decision to fit in. She turns away from the mirror, looking at the ongoing party. She doesn’t fit in. She never did, she never will. The only time she was feeling good at this party was that brief moment with her aunt. She’s already tired of this.

She scans the crowd and zeroes in on a smaller group loitering around the coffee table in the living room. They’re in good moods, the spirits have been flowing for a while, and she barely knows them – which is great, because that means they barely know her. She fixes her designer suit, picks up a plate of gingerbread cookies, and sets her mind on conquering their hearts and minds. She’s a bloody magician, not a random family disappointment. Time to use it to her advantage.

A few minutes later, she’s already doing tricks of parlor magic: small, harmless pranks and instant make-overs, and while the levitating, self-peeling oranges are entertaining her tiny crowd, Tomorrow can feel herself relax. By the time Mr. Jackson catches up with her, she already have a group on her side, asking for more shows, and none of the neighbor’s fake well-wishing can spoil her mood anymore.

She manages to go through the evening without any drama, and nobody is more surprised than her, when the guests say their goodbyes. She dramatically falls on the sofa, waves away her mother’s admonishments for using magic, and drags her fingers through her hair, bringing them back to the brilliant turquoise. Wheeler laughs at her for being a middle-class sellout as they get back upstairs, but she doesn’t mind. She can’t help it: she wants her parents to be proud of her. But it’s obvious that she just can’t do it by being mundane.


(Here’s what happened, mechanically. With three Defense Actors, there would be more rolling than I have time for, so I’ve zoomed out a bit – thanks to Aphelion’s modular and fluid ruleset – and simplified the scene. I’ve switched to a simple Offense/Defense initiative, skipped the multiple actions, and treated the Defense Crew as a single unit, using “group play fast resolution rules” – it pooled their dice together and reduced their difficulty, making it easier to keep track of. It works out to an almost identical result. If I wanted, I could play it all ‘zoomed in’, keeping track of initiative, morale and stamina pools, skills etc. but I’m more into the story here than into mechanics here. Should Tomorrow lose this scene, that’d be okay, life goes on. Emergent gameplay.)

1: T: Diplomacy+1, 4v5=2. MT Off 2/7, Def 0/10
D: Social, 5v3=4. MT Off 2/7, Def 4/10

2: T: Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 against Rachel. MT Off 2/7, Def 4/10
R: Investigation, 1v5=0 against Tomorrow; knock-out, Defense forces reduced by 1 Actor until the end of the scene.
D: Social, 4v5=2. MT Off 2/7, Def 6/10

3: T: Stealth+1, 5v7=1 as a Concealment pool, forcing the Defense to use their actions to locate her before they can progress with their task.
D: Investigative,  3v6=1, Concealment reduced to 0

4: T: Sorcery, 5v2=5. MT Off 7/7, Def 6/10.
D: Social, 4v5=2. MT Off 7/7, Def 8/10 -> End of interval, Offense wins.)


Module 3: The Father-Daughter Dance

(Soft, hopefully sweet, not really complicated. Again, an excuse for narrative. Can’t help being a sucker for family reconciliation – I’ve been building towards that through our entire SR campaign; now you have to sit through it. Or not, your call. There’s some action in the next module. It is physically impossible for Tomorrow to lose this scene, as each interval she’ll statistically get 1-2 net marks, ending the matters in 4-5 intervals, so I’ll zoom out the mechanics to the point of a single roll: Tomorrow Diplomacy+1 4v4=2; Dad Diplomacy 1v2=0; guess I won. Stick around for some father-daughter discussions about ethics and trauma.)


December 26th, 2055

‘Dad, it’s five in the morning. On a Saturday. During Christmas. Why are you doing this to people?’

‘You’re not asleep anyway. Get dressed. I’ll see you downstairs.’

Tomorrow groans, but her dad is right. She’s not asleep. She rarely sleeps more than three hours these days, and keeps waking up unreasonably early. This morning – well, it’s still night – she has already spent an hour meditating and chatting with Raven, then another reading a book in bed, enjoying the peace, quiet, and the warm and comforting presence in her bed. Adam complains as she untangles herself from the bed sheets and his embrace, but one look at the clock and he goes back to sleep. Tomorrow wastes no time and fixes her hair and makeup with quick spells.

A couple minutes later, she’s already in the kitchen, setting up the coffee pot. She doesn’t really need it, her body functions perfectly well on three hours of sleep and half a sandwich a day. Whatever the awakened magic did to her body, it kept her warm, fed, rested, and focused – and had her worried about a bill coming in later. No such thing as a free lunch.

She pours her dad a cup and sips her coffee too, sitting at the table across him and reading the news feed on the screen of his commlink.

‘So why did you drag me out of bed?’ she asks after a while.

‘We have things to do and places to see. We’re leaving at nine, but somebody needs to pack up the gear, guns need cleaning…’

‘You just couldn’t sleep and got bored, didn’t you?’

‘Precisely. But I think you’ll survive spending some quality time with your old dad.’

‘I think I will. But we might as well actually do the things. Where do you have those guns?’

She catches the thrown keys mid-air and soon follows her own old-old footsteps towards her dad’s office, to the locked cabinet, to the right shelves. No, she reminds herself. Airsoft this time, not live ammo. She grabs three carbines from the left stand and locks everything up. Her fingers linger on the cool metal door and she cannot shake the sudden feeling of loss. But maybe she can still regain what they lost.

‘Do you still remember what to do?’ asks Harry when Tomorrow puts the guns and cleaning equipment on the dining table. Her mother would scold them – as always – for not doing it in the garage, but the kitchen has much better light and is just more convenient for talking.

‘Sure do, sir.’ She’s already checking the batteries and picking the rods to clean the barrels as she speaks. ‘You taught me well, and I had some practice lately. Not with BB guns, but it’s transferable.’

‘Shame you had to go through it. I’ve always hoped this will be a completely useless skill in your life.’

‘Then why did you teach me?’

‘What else could I teach you?’

Tomorrow looks up from the guns and stares at her father in disbelief.

‘Dad?’

‘I’m sorry, Sarah.’ His voice is steady and plain, as always, not even a sign of hesitation. He must have practiced. ‘I should have been around more when you two were kids.’

‘You were literally fighting in a war.’

‘I was. But I still…’ he sighs and Tomorrow notices how tired he looks. And how much older than she remembers. And he’ll only get older, unlike her. The random genetic expression that caused her and Chloe to be born as elves doesn’t work retroactively. They have what, 20-30 years? And then she’s going to have another two hundred? Three hundred? Nobody really knew, but…

She reaches out and awkwardly pats her father’s hand.

‘I’m pretty sure I’d still make the same stupid choices. Just had to get it out. And what you’ve taught me, saved my life many times. More than you know.’

‘That’s the opposite of good, Sarah. You’re much too young for that.’

‘Older than you when you joined the Rangers.’

‘But you’re not military. You’re too…’

Tomorrow raises an eyebrow, daring him to say what he means.

‘Smart. You’re too smart to be running with a gun through some gang turfs. I’ve seen too many people killed by a single stray bullet.’

‘Me too, honestly. And by VITAS. By magic. By ghouls. By dog-sized spiders. By fucking racist scum that tried to burn down my home and murder my neighbors.’

She expects to be called out on the swearing, but her dad just smiles sadly, and it breaks her heart.

‘You just had to choose the most dangerous of lives, hadn’t you?’

‘Guess it was in the cards for me.’ She gets back to her job, making sure the magazine works as intended. She picks her words carefully. ‘If I didn’t know how to shoot… Well, technically, there would be maybe fewer dead people, but the number would certainly include me.’

‘I’m glad you’re alive. If you need… Did you even talk to anybody about that night? When Unity attacked your building? About the people…’

‘I had to kill?’ she fills in when her dad falters. ‘Well, yes – I talked to friends and stuff.’

‘We have a therapist in the unit, you know,’ he says finally. ‘Not suggesting you go to them, I get that you want to keep that part of your life separate… But I know a lot of our folks who used professional help and it did work for them. It’s hard…’ He raises a hand to stop an incoming interruption. ‘You don’t have to pretend. We’ve hopefully raised you well enough for it to be hard for you to take somebody’s life.’

She just nods, not breaking the eye contact with the table.

‘I just want you to know it’s alright. You did what you had to do. You saved more lives than you took. Innocent lives. You’re alive. Sometimes… Sometimes it’s all that matters. I suppose… What I wanted to say is that I understand. You don’t have to hide it. Not a reason for pride, but we all do what we must.’

Tomorrow stares at the cleaned, polished, and reloaded guns in front of her and pretends not to notice how blurry they are.

‘Thank you, sir,’ she manages after a while. ‘I was worried you’ll see it another way.’

‘I thought so too,’ he admits hesitantly. ‘You did choose this life for yourself. Nobody has forced you – but then, maybe we did. We should have tried harder. Find you help instead of punishments. Not…’

‘Give up on me?’ She shrugs and finally raises her eyes. ‘It’s fine, dad. We can’t change it. I was stupid, you were busy, things went sideways. My fault as much as yours. I’ve made my mess and I paid for it. We all did. There’s nothing left for us other than move on. We’ll patch up the wounds, get Chloe back, patch up some more. I’ll go back to Denver. I’ll visit. We’ll take it one day at a time and save ourselves the hassle of keeping track of past missteps. We all fucked up.’

‘Language.’

‘With all due respect, sir: make me.’

Her dad stares at her for a while without a word and finally shakes his head.

‘I think we have enough examples of how making you do anything spectacularly backfires. And it’s not like you’re wrong.’

‘SNAFU, sir.’

‘SNAFU, Sarah. We good?’

‘We good, dad.’

‘Perfect. Come on, let’s wake up that boyfriend of yours and shoot him up in the arena.’


Module 4: The Deathmatch

(Look at me, all teary-eyed (not really) and about to flex my guns. We’re testing combat mechanics! Gone are the fast and handwave-y rules of the previous scene, we’re going in hot! Declaration stage, Resolution stage, hex grid, action cards, concealment actions, stamina and morale pools, tactics, weapons, armors, consumables, covers… All. The. Jazz. Is this how the game is supposed to be played? Glad I pretended to have you asking. The game can be played however you damn want. All the rules are modular and you can zoom in and out as much as your heart desire. I could resolve this scene in one roll as well: three Actors, each with their dicepool and skills, just see who wins. However, I fancy some action after all that talking, and I’m gonna get myself some action.)


December 26th, 2055

‘The rules are simple: last person standing wins. Sarah, no magic and no cheating. Adam, don’t ever trust her if she offers you an alliance, you’ll be shot as soon as you turn around. Maybe earlier.’

‘Buuut daaaaad!’ moans Tomorrow for the sake of an argument. ‘You two are so much stronger than I… You’re a Ranger, he’s great with guns, and I’m just a fragile little flower! Look, I already broke a fingernail!’

‘Not buying.’

‘Fine,’ she huffs and grabs a gun, runs a quick check, even though she cleaned it all meticulously this morning. It wouldn’t be above her dad to sabotage enemy’s gear before the battle. Now that she thinks about it, it wouldn’t be above any of the three of them. ‘But I’m telling mom you two are chickens.’

‘I can live with that,’ declares Wheeler, making sure his weapon is fully functional. ‘Beats being shot by lightning.’

‘I’d never…! Okay, fair, I probably would. But it’s mostly harmless.’

The faces of both men speak volumes about their opinion on her assessment. Tomorrow shrugs and adjusts the carbine’s sling. ‘I’ll see you on the other side of the barrel.’ She stick out her tongue and changes into a raven, somersaulting in front of them. And then she’s gone between the buildings of the arena, picking her starting spot. She won’t use magic to win – but that doesn’t mean they can tell her what to do.

‘Did she just… Flip us a bird?’ asks Harry as the two men in dark camo suits are left alone in the quickly encroaching twilight.

‘Seems so.’

‘Riiiight. Want to team up?’

‘And get shot the moment I turn away, or maybe earlier? No, thank you, sir. I think I know where she learned her tactics.’

‘Wise choice. Now, go in there and shoot up my daughter.’

Wheeler’s cold smile doesn’t leave any doubts. ‘Other side of the barrel,’ he says, already heading towards the far side of the arena, his steps light and steady on the sand. Practiced, just like his grip on the weapon. Harry shakes his head, watching the younger man leave. Of all people in the wide world, she had to pick a damn ganger. At least an officer and at least from an international gun cartel, not some random adrenaline junkie lowlife, but Harry’s not entirely convinced if it makes the situation any better. Not that she told her parents about it, of course. But what kind of a father would he be if he didn’t use his law enforcement network to run a proper background check on his daughter’s boyfriend?

Probably the kind of father who didn’t have two estranged daughters, he thinks bitterly and reloads his gun. Time to go shoot up the kids. Maybe that’ll make them a better family.


(Let’s go! I got a hex map but I’m not going to post it because I couldn’t find one in the public domain that I liked. All three people are equipped with the same things: training R1 armor (Resistance 1 and Armor 1) and R1 nonlethal guns (Clout 1, Rate of Fire 1), and while they all pretend that there’s a flag to be captured, this is a deathmatch and the only objective is to get rid of the other Actors. I could play the scene pretending to have three players and make the best choices for each – or I can simulate the AI by assigning them SOPs and behaviors. I’m gonna go with the second. So:
Harry, R3 Warfare/Investigative, Wingman, Aggressive Control, 2 PA, 2 MA, SP 6, MP 6, Ini 3
Wheeler, R3 Social/Warfare, Support, Aggressive Defense, 2 PA, 2 MA, SP 6, MP 6, Ini 3
Tomorrow, using her attributes and skills and doing what I tell her (but technically Balanced Offense, I know myself). 2 PA, 2 MA, SP 8, MP 8, Ini 4

It’s a Combat scene, so the basic interval changes from a minute to 6 seconds. Normally, the damage from a rifle would be around 4+marks, but those are BB guns, so I’ll drop this to 0+marks. Rate of Fire 1 means only one Fire! action can be used per interval for each weapon, no multiple shots or combining actions. Taking Cover is a Tactics card that lets you hunker down and get extra Resistance, halved it you lean out to shoot that interval. Using social cards is permitted, but each requires sustaining for 10 intervals (a minute, default social interval) after taking effect – with the notable exception  of Command, which is a combat-appropriate skill. Normally, the combat lasts until somebody’s knocked out, ie. out of Stamina and with enough Stamina Drain to make regaining it impossible. As this is just a sparring and I don’t want to roll for too long, we’re only fighting until somebody’s Stamina or Morale drops to 0, which counts as incapacitation and losing. They’re not there to kill or even wound one another.

Now, a note on initiative. When using zoomed-in rules, each interval is split between declaration and resolution stage. In the first, Actors play action cards and declare their plans, from slowest to fastest. In the resolution stage, all rolls are made and actions resolved, from fastest actor to slowest. It allows for tactics and planning, lets faster people counteract the slower, and generally makes life interesting, introducing elements of counterplay, action denial, and area manipulation. There’s also a split for Mental and Physical Initiative, but as it happens, they’re all equal in all Actors, so I’m lumping that together.)


Turn 1
Declaration
Wheeler: 1 PA Stealth, 1 PA Lookout, 2 MA (combined) Take Aim
Harry: 1 PA Take Cover, 1 PA Lookout, 2 MA (comb) Take Aim
Tomorrow: 2 MA (comb) IT to set up an overlay bot. 2 PA (combined) Stealth to set up Concealment. 

Resolution
Tomorrow: IT+1 4v6=1, all PA have 1 extra point of Clout. Stealth+1 5v5=4 points of Concealment. SP 7 MP 7.
Harry: Take Cover 3v3=3 points of Resistance against getting shot. Lookout 2v4=1, reduces T’s Conc to 3, spots Wheeler. Take Aim 3v3=2, 2 Clout for next Fire! task. SP 4 MP 5
Wheeler: Concealment autofailed because of Harry. Lookout 3v6=3, spots Harry aiming at him, T’s Conc fails to 0. Take Aim at Harry, 2v4=0 no free Clout. SP 4 MP 5

Turn 2
Declaration
Wheeler: Move. MA sustain Take Aim. MA IT overlay bot. PA Take cover. PA Fire at Harry.
Harry: PA Fire at Wheeler. MA Intimidation at Wheeler. PA Take a breath. 
Tomorrow: Move. PA Agility, get high ground. 2 MA Tactics Take Aim at Harry. PA Concealment.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Moved to a new location as other locked in a stand-off. Agility+1 5v4=3 climbing onto a roof, 3 Res vs Awareness tasks. Tactics+1 4v6=1 point of Clout. Stealth 5v3=4 points of Concealment. SP5 MP6
Harry: Fire 3v3=1, soaked by Wheeler’s armor. Intimidation 2v4=1, -1 Wheeler’s MP. Take breath +1 MP and SP. SP 3 MP 5
Wheeler: Moved towards cover. Overlay bot 1v5=1 clout for PA. Take Cover 2v4=1 Res vs shot. Fire! 2v6=2, 1 soaked, -1 Harry’s SP. SP 2, MP 3

Turn 3
Declaration
Wheeler: PA Avoid. MA (comb) Intimidation truce. PA Take a breath
Harry: PA (comb) Take a breath. MA sust. Intimidation 2/10. MA Cold Shoulder. 
Tomorrow: MA Try to learn. PA Fire! at Harry. MA Take Aim at Wheeler. PA Take a breath.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Teaching+1 3v8=0, still counts as skill used, will pick it up later. Marksmanship+1 at Harry 4v5=2, 1 soaked. Tactics 4v6=3 clout vs Wheeler. Take a breath, 1 SP and MP regained. Concealment broken. SP 5 MP 5
Harry: Take a breath 3v6=2. Intimidation sustained. Conditioning 1v6=0 extra Res vs Wheeler’s social task. SP 4 MP 6
Wheeler: Dodge 2v4=2 marks negated from next Fire! Task. Intimidation 3v3=3, -3 Harry’s MP. Take a breath. SP 2 MP 3

Turn 4
Declaration
Wheeler: PA sustained Avoid. Move towards Tomorrow. MA sust Intimidation 2/10. MA Take Aim. PA Take a breath. 
Harry: MA sust Intimidation 3/10. MA Take Aim at Tomorrow. PA Fire!
Tomorrow: Move. MA (comb) run optimizer bot. PA Take cover. PA take a breath. 

Resolution 
Tomorrow: Move out of Harry’s line of sight. IT 4v6=2 Clout for MA. Cover, +3 Res vs Awareness. A breath, +1 SP and MP. SP 5 MP 5
Harry: Intimidation sustained. Lost sight of Tomorrow, so can’t shoot her. Lost a turn. SP 5 MP 3
Wheeler: Avoid sustained. Int sustained. Take Aim 2v5=2 Clout vs Tomorrow. A breath. SP 2 MP 3. 

Turn 5
Declaration 
Wheeler: PA Sustain Avoid. MA sust. Intimidation 3/10. MA Command vs Tomorrow. PA Fire! at Tomorrow.
Harry: Move. MA sust Intimidation 4/10. MA Tactics (Flank) to overcome Tomorrow’s Cover. PA Fire! at Tomorrow. PA Take cover.
Tomorrow: Move. PA Avoid. MA (comb) Take Aim at Wheeler. PA Fire! at Wheeler.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Move out of Cover. PA Dodge+1 5v7=1 ignored mark from future Fire! card. Tactics 4v6=4 Clout vs Wheeler. Marksmanship 4v6=1, negated by Avoid. SP 3 MP 4
Harry: Move towards Tomorrow. Intimidation sustained. Tomorrow’s out of cover. Marksmanship 3v3=2, 1 negated by Avoid, 1 soaked. Cover 3v3=3. SP 3 MP 2
Wheeler: Avoid gone after getting shot. Command 3v3=3, +3 MP against Tomorrow shooting him. Fire! 2v3=1, soaked. SP 1 MP 2

Turn 6
Declaration
Wheeler: PA (comb) Take a Breath. MA sust Intimidation 4/10. MA Command vs Harry.
Harry: MA sust Intimidation 5/10. MA Take Aim at Wheeler. PA Fire! at Wheeler. PA sustain Cover.
Tomorrow: PA Fire! at Wheeler. PA Take a Breath. MA (comb) Command vs Harry to not shoot her.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Marksmanship 4v9=1, negated by soak. Take a breath, +1 SP and MP. Command+1 3v5=2, +2 Res vs Harry shooting her. SP 2 MP 1
Harry: Tactics 3v3=3 Clout vs Wheeler. Fire! 3v3=2, 1 Soaked. Cover sustained. SP 1 MP 1
Wheeler: Take a Breath 2v5=1. Intimidation sustained. Command 3v3=2, +2 Res vs Harry shooting him. SP 2 MP 2

Turn 7
Declaration
Wheeler: PA Take cover. PA Take a Breath. MA sust Intimidation 5/10. MA Command vs Tomorrow.
Harry: PA sustain cover. PA Take a Breath. MA sust Intimidation 6/10.
Tomorrow: PA (comb) Take a Breath. MA (comb) Intimidation vs Harry.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Take a breath 3v3=1. Intimidation+1 3v5=2, -2 MP for Harry. SP 3 MP 1
Harry: MP -1. Incapacitation – out of combat.
Wheeler: Take cover 2v3=2 Res vs getting shot. Take a breath. Intimidation sustained. Command 3v3=2 Res for Tomorrow shooting him. SP 2 MP 2

Turn 8
Declaration
Wheeler: MA sust Intimidation 6/10. MA Take Aim. PA Fire! at Tomorrow. PA Take a Breath.
Tomorrow: Move. PA (comb) Melee Engagement. MA sust Intimidation 2/10.

Resolution
Tomorrow: Charge at Wheeler who told her not to shoot him. Melee engagement: cover ignored, Command Res ignored. Melee+1 3v6=2, 1 soaked by armor. Intimidation sustained. SP 2 MP 1
Wheeler: Actions interrupted by getting elbowed in the face. Turn lost. SP 1 MP 1

Turn 9
Declaration
Wheeler: PA Melee. PA Fire! at Tomorrow. MA sust Intimidation 7/10
Tomorrow: PA Melee. PA Fire! at Wheeler, just in case. MA sust Intimidation 3/10

Resolution
Tomorrow: Melee 3v7=2, 1 soaked, -1 SP for Wheeler. Marksmanship 4v7=2, 1 soaked, -1 SP for Wheeler.
Tomorrow SP 0, Wheeler SP -1.
Both incapacitated, Wheeler somewhat more.


‘I’ll tell mom how you two ganged up on me, you bastards!’ shouts Tomorrow from the roof. ‘She’ll be looking at you sternly!’

‘Keep Grandma out of this, she was a perfectly honorable woman!’ Harry looks out from his cover, taking the measure of the field. Sarah is in a perfect sniper’s position, Wheeler hunched down behind the other building, slowly trying to get to her flank. Harry checks his magazine and considers his options. It’s not like he can start climbing roofs now. ‘Fine! I yield. I’m too old for this. Don’t tell your mother.’

‘Ha! Loser,’ laughs his daughter mercilessly. ‘Wheeler! I can see you behind that barrel. Just so you don’t think I don’t.’

‘Now you don’t.’ The ganger moves a bit and cuts her line of sight. ‘And you know better than to shoot me, birdie.’

A moment of silence on the roof tells Harry his daughter indeed knows better. There’s a whoosh! a second later, and he watches with a surprise as she jumps of the roof, rifle on her back, charges and elbows her boyfriend right in the face. They both fall to the ground, and before Wheeler has a chance to react, he’s getting a knee driven into his ribs, then a bullet point-blank into the solar plexus.

Tomorrow tumbles off her boyfriend, out of breath – but not that out to breath to keep herself from laughing as she’s lying in the mud. Wheeler groans and massages his face.

‘Geez, Tomorrow. You really have no chill, do you?’

‘None whatsoever,’ she admits lightly. ‘Damn, that was fun. We should do it more often.’

‘You can join the next boot camp if you want,’ responds Wheeler so softly that Harry barely manages to hear him. That’s enough, he decides.

‘Well, looks like you two are both out for the count,’ says Harry and helps his daughter up. She’s unharmed, caked with mud – and happy, grinning with the most brilliant smile. Worth the forfeit, he thinks, watching Wheeler gather himself off the ground with a wince.

Definitely worth it all.

‘You two better hit the shower. You’re not getting into my car in that state.’

‘Sir,’ Sarah salutes him mockingly and drags her boyfriend into the arena’s admin buildings. ‘Thanks, dad. That was awesome.’

Harry watches them go, holding hands, stopping only for a moment so Sarah can kiss the spot where her elbow hit just a moment ago. He sighs and resigns himself to being happy for her.


Module 5: The Finale!

(We’ve arrived, finally. This thing had more feels than any of my Christmases past and probably Future. Did the family get reconciled? Did they really move past their differences or is it all just fondant hiding a very ugly cake? I guess we will learn, won’t we? It’s a Finale, so scoring marks towards the Main Task has +4 Resistance, on top of Tomorrow’s +2 from Driven and +1 for one Actor attempting the Main Task. However, she gets to use her normal gear and skills and she gets to call in reinforcements. Both her parents are at Familiarity 8, so the base difficulty to affect them equals 2. As the Main Task is literally affecting them, this base difficulty substitutes for standard difficulty of the Main Task. I’m dropping the Declaration/Resolution phases of initiative. There are two Actors in the Defense:
Melissa (R3 Scientific/Social, Conservative Control, SP 6 MP 6, ini 3) and Harry (R2 Warfare/Investigative, Balanced Offense, SP 4 MP 4, ini 2).
Wheeler has a role of a background cheerleader and uncomfortable witness to a family argument.)


December 27th, 2055

‘Well, this went better than I expected,’ declares Tomorrow when they sit in the living room, drinking afternoon coffee and chatting. ‘I admit what I’ve expected was a glorious symphony of misunderstanding and discordant voices. But I think we’ve actually… Made some progress?’

Her mother calmly lifts a cup to her lips. ‘Of course, dear. Why wouldn’t we?’

‘Previous twenty years of experience.’

‘Well, you always were a rather discordant child.’

Tomorrow narrows her eyes. ‘And you a rather misunderstanding parent.’

‘Sarah, you’re being unfair.’

‘Am I?’ Tomorrow looks her mother in the eyes and feels something akin to regret. She’s not yet sure what is she really regretting. ‘Apologies, Mother. I didn’t mean to implore your parenting style had any flaws. I just mean that we had our fair share of misunderstandings and arguments.’

There’s this mounting pressure in her head and Tomorrow feels this is it, one way or another. She’ll get her argument and will strip down the facade. Can’t fix shit without becoming a part of the problem, right? She focuses and releases a spell, just in case. Not like any of them will notice. A sudden shift in her brain hits her a moment later as the enchantment takes effect.

Steven, invisible to all but her, floats in the astral space nearby, and Tomorrow can barely contain a grin. She wants her parents to be on her side, she wants her family reconciled – but she’ll be damned if she ever again allows them to control her life. Knowing his job, Steven focuses his attention on her mother before she even manages to respond. There’s not using magic directly against her mother – and there’s making sure that the matters are completely, irrevocably, final.

‘That we did,’ agrees Melissa. ‘But you cannot just fault me – us – for it. We gave you everything you needed. I’m sorry it wasn’t exactly what you wanted. We couldn’t expect a child to pick what’s best for her, of course. Although, you were rather insistent on making your own choices since the very beginning. Nothing has changed since.’

‘You know, Sarah, they weren’t all that brilliant…’ ventures her father, rather hesitantly. ‘Nobody’s blaming you, you know – you paid for them dearly – and I’m sure you’re on a much better path now…’

‘And yet, it’s not like you won’t throw those choices in my face at any reasonable opportunity.’ Tomorrow nods, more hurt than angry. ‘It’s okay. I made my bed, I slept in it. Maybe if you didn’t just write me off as the family disappointment, I wouldn’t have to spend five years forcibly hooked up on psychotropic drugs in prison, but you know – who can trust a child to make her choices, right?’

Ah, here’s the anger. Right there. All she needs to do is tap into it…

‘But of course, your reputation took a massive hit. I must have been so hard to have a criminal, heretic magician for a daughter. How could you even show your faces in the society? Well, here I am. I’m trying. I’m working hard to fix it all. I’m even trying to get Chloe back – another daughter that you two have basically written off as lost.’ She shakes her head. ‘Magic is a part of me. I can’t lose it just to make mom feel better about her faith. Just look-‘

Tomorrow waves a hand and her cup levitates itself, then explodes in a burst of golden light, burning and undamaged. ‘I can call lightning from the skies, I can see things outside of this realm, I can…’ With a gesture, she lets the light coalesce into a perfectly golden biscuit and bites into it. ‘It’s just who I am. It’s never going away, mom. I’m not doing it to spite you. I’m just me. And I’m afraid you’ll have to take it or leave it.’

What others cannot see as she’s weaving the magic around them in a display of brilliant light, is Steven. The invisible vortex of arcane symbols is entirely focused on her mother, seeping her anger, her distrust, her stubbornness away. Tomorrow would never stoop so low as to directly influence her mother’s mind with magic – there are things you just don’t do. But making her feel like she has already lost? Oh, yes. After so many years, it’s basically karma.

And her mother right now looks like she realizes she has already lost.

‘Sarah, enough. Don’t speak to your mother like that. She deserves better.’ Her father’s voice is stern and cold, and oh, so well known. ‘Right now, she deserves an apology.’

‘Of course,’ she agrees. ‘I’m sorry, mom. I was out of line. It’s not like it wasn’t dad who told me to obey his rules for as long as I live under his roof, basically kicking me out from under it.’ She smiles, coldly. ‘I have acknowledged my mistakes. I’ve apologized. I’ve made amends. And you still, still make me feel like shit about it. You still make me hide most of my life, because I know you don’t approve. But there’s only so much I can do to get your approval. Life’s messy. My life maybe more than others’. I know…’ she stops herself for a moment, forcing herself to be smart, to not rush in. ‘I know we’re very similar people. Painfully similar. Which is why nobody ever wants to concede. But you know what? This is what I’m doing. I’m conceding. I’m doing my best. I’ve sorted out my life as much as I can. There are parts of it you’ll probably never accept. The question is: will we let it tear us apart? Again, I’d point out.’

She looks at her silent parents and fights back the tears. I’m just angry. I’m not begging them for accepting me. I’m not, I’m not. I’m not. I’m just making them choose. Let’s see how they like the taste.

‘I really didn’t want to do this. We’ve all tried to just patch it up and pretend it’s fixed. But it ain’t. We either do the work and fix it now or-‘ She straightens up and tosses her hair back. ‘Or we’ll have to deal with it when we get Chloe back. And you know damn well how you’ve left things with her. She’ll be happy to see me. But how do you think she’ll react to you rejecting me again?’

Well, now she’s crying. Goddammit. But then, so is her mother, and her father looks so, so broken. Tomorrow looks around and tries to ignore the fact that they did all of that in front of a stranger, well, almost stranger – not family, at least.

‘Mom? Dad?’ she asks quietly after a while, not moving from her spot on the sofa. She can feel Adam’s hand squeezing hers. His fingers burn her skin like fire, and she feels so unbelievably cold, almost frozen.

But it’s all gone when her father reaches out to her and envelops her in an embrace. She stiffens, caught by surprise, but he’s not letting go, so she finally relaxes and lets the tears fall on her father’s shirt. She can hear her mother take a shaky breath, composing yourself.

‘I’m sorry, Sarah,’ says Melissa after a long, long while. ‘I’m… Sorry. You’re right.

I’m what? Tomorrow wants to ask, just to hear it again, but she knows it’s just pettiness. She’s better than that. She can do better. They all can do better – and they must, if they’re ever to make things work.


T1:
Tomorrow: MA Diplomacy+1 against her mother 4v4=2, -2 MP for Melissa. MA Wits’ End activated, 5v7=3, Wit increased by 2. PA (comb) Take a Breath, 3v5=2. SP 8 MP 8, MT 0/7
Steven: MA (comb) Confusion 3v3=2, -2 MP for Melissa. SP 6, MP 5.
Melissa: MA (comb) Diplomacy 2v4=2, -2 MP for Tomorrow. PA (comb) Take a Breath 2v5=2 MP regained. SP 6 MP 3.
Harry: MA Diplomacy 1v4=0, no effect. SP 4 MP 3

T2:
Tomorrow: Wits’ End kicks in, Wit 6, 3 MA. MA Diplomacy for MT 6v9=2. 2 MA (comb) Sorcery+1 5v4=2. PA (comb) Take a Breath, 3v5=2. SP 8, MP 6, MT 4/7
Steven: MA (comb) Confusion 3v3=3, -3 MP for Melissa. SP 6, MP 4.
Melissa: MP 0, forced to Take a Breath. 2 PA (combined) Take a Breath 2v5=2 MP regained. SP 6 MP 2.
Harry: MA Intimidation 3v4=3, -3 MP for Tomorrow. SP 4 MP 2

T3:
Tomorrow: MA Diplomacy against Harry 6v4=4, -4 MP. MA Diplomacy against Melissa 6v4=3, -3 MP. PA (comb) Take a Breath, 3v5=2. MA Diplomacy vs MT 6v9=1. SP 8, MP 2, MT 5/7
Steven: Delaying his actions until the end of the turn.
Melissa: MP 0, forced to Take a Breath. 2 PA (combined) Take a Breath 2v5=0 MP regained. SP 6 MP 0.
Harry: MP 0, forced to Take a Breath. PA Take a Breath, 1 MP regained. SP 6 MP 1.
Steven: MA Confusion 3v4=3, -3 MP for Harry. PA Take a Breath. SP 6, MP 4.

T4:
Tomorrow: PA (comb) Take a Breath, 3v5=1. 3 MA Diplomacy (comb) vs MT 6v7=4. SP 8, MP 2, MT 9/7
Melissa & Harry, out of MP, all they can do is Take a Breath.
Which means that the interval ends with Offense at 9/7 of the Main Task.
Which means that the Finale is won.
And the scenario is won.
And only fake people are crying.
Idk, I care about those people. I made them all up.)


Tomorrow is uncharacteristically quiet in the cab as they drive towards the airport. The good-bye with her parents was a teary, tense affair, but she feels a flicker of hope. She’s not one for things being pleasant. She wants them true. And maybe, just maybe, this was a breakthrough they needed. She can get back to her normal life, where she doesn’t have to hide, doesn’t have to pretend to be somebody she’s not. Which means she needs to do one thing more.

‘Sorry you had to witness all that mess,’ she says turning back towards Wheeler.

He peels his eyes away from the commlink; she can only notice a giant pile of unread messages in his inbox. ‘The only thing I was missing was the popcorn.’

‘You’re a monster.’

‘I love you too.’

‘Yeah, you do.’ She smiles happily, even though her eyes are still a bit tingly. ‘I’m a lucky bird.’

‘You build your own luck. You gotta, with those terrible life choices.’

‘I might be getting better. You’re pretty cool.’

‘And I still have a bruise on my ribs for that.’

‘Oh, do you? Guess I’ll have to kiss it when we get home.’

‘Bah. We have a whole pile of things to do when we get home. Full schedule. Million of meetings. You know. Busy life of a criminal scum.’

‘Count me in, babe.’


Wrap-up

Would you look at the time! I should be writing a book, not playtesting an RPG. If you’ve survived so far, congratulations. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. The scenario is over, Tomorrow can get back to her investigation and research. There’s only a couple of things that need to be sorted out.

Skill learning:
Diplomacy +4
Sciences +1
Sorcery +3
Stealth +2
IT +1
Agility +1
Tactics +1
Teaching +1
Marksmanship +1
Dodge +1
Command +1
Intimidation +1
Melee +1

Payout:
Both Melissa and Harry are now R2 contacts. And Tomorrow probably feels a bit better about herself.

Scenario consequences:
Here comes the doozy! We’re landing on a 3, which would be a negative consequences, but 2 net marks from the finale just let me raise it to 5 and take my ‘no consequences’ result. I’ll take it.


Coming Up Next

Well, it’s high time to get back to dragons, intrigue, and investigations, right? Yes. Yes, it is. I’ll see you on the other side.

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