Project Aphelion Solo Play #011: Ants in our Plans

Hi and welcome to the Project Aphelion solo playtest! This time we’re getting prepared for the first heist of the campaign, we’re making a second character, introducing new mechanics, and showing off how teamwork works! You wanted a proper heist RPG? You’re getting one.


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The Story So Far – At Least From Phase’s Perspective

First, let’s quickly create a second character for this adventure.

Phase is a human ex-ganger, ex-shadowrunner who is currently running a combat biking team, giving the ‘youth at the risk of delinquency’ something cool to do in their free time. She’s affiliated with the Ancients, an all-elven gang/spy network, she’s an Infiltrator with quite a lot of skill in unarmed combat. She’s also a speedster, using her innate magic abilities to pull off things impossible for standard humans. At least in Shadowrun. But let’s be honest, I’m not playing SR, and I doubt I ever will again.
So, Phase is a human infiltrator, and I’m just gonna go quickly through chargen to generate her backstory, attributes, and skills.


Focus: Investigative
Career: Infiltrator
Important Attribute: Fitness
Primary Skills: Dodge (Fitness), Palming (Fitness), Stealth (Fitness), Investigation (Wit)
Attributes: Toughness 4, Fitness 5, Awareness 4, Resolve 2, Logic 3, Wit 4


Origin: Human. Traits: Second Wind (-2 diff in Take a Breath). Adaptable (learning new skill has diff -1 but +1 Resistance). High Maintenance (increases the monthly Necessities step by 1)
Upbringing: Outcast. 1 Opportunity, 3 Outcast Contacts (R1),  Bounce Back Action Card (When Incapacitated, instantly restore Morale and Stamina equal to Resolve. When spent, those points count as Drain.)


Trials of Life:
1, Tier 1: The Life of Crime. First Heist (Fitness). A chance presented itself to strike out on your own and score it big—if you can do it fast enough and avoid triggering an alarm.
5v6=2. Rating 1 Career Gear Pack, 2 Consumables and 1 Opportunity. Improve 2 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1 (Stealth +1, Investigation +1).
Yes, it’s the same as Tomorrow went through – their lifepaths went completely differently after that! But it’s hard to hide that I have a predisposition towards B&E characters.
2, Tier 2: I Know How They Operate (Stealth). You found yourself in the position of an infiltrator playing the long game on behalf of a faction. Your mission is secret enough that you don’t get a backup, so you need to act carefully.
5v5=3. R1 toolkit, personal printer, a R2 Credential, and Faction uniform. Gain +1 Familiarity with a target Faction, and 2 R1 Contacts in that Faction with a Familiarity of +1. You’re considered as an Impersonator in that Faction. Receive 1 R1 Contact in a Faction – that Contact may call on you to play the Mission Impossible Task at any point during the game unless used during character creation. Receive 1 Opportunity.
3, Tier 3: Mission Impossible (Stealth). Someone has a hook on you and forces the matter. You’re forced to work against a Faction you’re a member of, or are infiltrating – it’s up to you to make it out in one piece.
5v5=5. Lose membership, Credentials, and uniform of the Faction and gain those of a Faction sponsoring the betrayal. Receive -1 Fam with the betrayed Faction and +1 Fam with the other. Raise the skill chosen for the Task and 2 primary Skills by 1 up to 3. Receive a Hero Trait.
(spending an Opportunity for another trial)
4, Tier 3: I Am Who I Am (Stealth). You’re used to being independent and free. Not held down by the rigid structures of Factions and contracts, you’re the rarest of people – a master of your own faith.
5v4=3. Raise the Skill used in this Task and 2 non-primary Skills by 1 up to 2. Receive 2 Opportunities. Receive 2 any Contacts at R1 or raise already known Contact’s Rating by 1 up to 2. Receive a Positive Trait rank.
5, Tier 4: Wide Dark Yonder. Life has treated you rather well, and you succeed despite setbacks – thanks to your perseverance, skill, and sometimes sheer coincidence. It’s time to look at new opportunities and make the best of them.
Total marks scored so far: 13. Receive an Advanced Action Card for your Career, and raise any 2 Skills by 1 up to 3. Receive 1 Opportunity and the Adaptable Trait (I already have this one, so I’m netting 1 Opportunity instead).

Polishing off:
Primary Skills: Dodge, Palming 2, Stealth 3, Investigation 3
Secondary Skills: Marksmanship 1, Perception 1
Gear: R1 Infiltrator Career Pack, 2 Consumables, R1 toolkit, R1 personal printer.
Traits: Second Wind, Adaptable, High Maintenance, Hero, Exceptional Talent (Fitness +1)
Opportunities: 5
Contacts: R1 Outcast (Manny Vargas, PI), R1 Outcast (Slash, ganger in Sioux Sector), R2 Outcast (Carver, fixer), R1 Immortal Elf (Jane Foster), R1 Immortal Elf (Harlequin), R2 Ancients (Ice, Phase’s husband. Imagine Buffy’s Spike, just an elf instead of a vampire).
Factions: Immortal Elves (betrayed) Fam -1. Ancients (employer) Fam +1
Action Cards: Bounce Back, Short Circuit AAC
Spending Opportunities: 2 points to buy Exceptional Talent (Awareness +1), 2 points spent to buy Melee 1 and Dodge 1, 1 point spent to buy Gym-kata neutral trait (if all PAs spent on Avoid, add Resistance equal to Fitness against attacks).
Career: All primary skills at R1 or above, 1 AAC known = Infiltrator Career (1) unlocked. Free AAC: Takedown (Must be Concealed and in Melee range to use. Marks >=Toughness, target Stamina reduced to 0)
Final attributes: Toughness 4, Fitness 6, Awareness 5, Resolve 2, Logic 3, Wit 4.
Final skills: Melee 1, Dodge 1, Palming 2, Stealth 3, Marksmanship 1, Perception 1, Investigation 3.

Also, that’s Phase.

Mayu Matsuoka

I mean sure, it’s a Japanese actress Mayu Matsuoka (if you haven’t seen her movie Shoplifters, you’re seriously missing out on good cinema), but I have aphantasia and I cannot imagine how people look like, so this is Phase.


Setup

January 5th, 2056

When Tomorrow arrives at her meeting the next morning – a pitch-black raven standing out against dirty snow, but standing out less than a blue-haired elf – she thinks she’s the first to arrive. The snow cover on the roof is unbroken and nobody even remotely humanoid in sight. Only when she decides to open her eyes to the astral plane, she notices a glowing beacon of green energy standing quietly by the roof entrance, taking advantage of the windbreak. The raven lands on the roof nearby and caws a greeting.

‘Oi, T. One hell of a wind today, right? Flying must’ve been a hassle.’ Phase’s high-grade stealth suit covers her whole body; even up close she’s hard to notice.

Just like Tomorrow, when she turns back to her elf form, also covered in a stealth suit.

‘Same biz.’ Phase laughs quietly. ‘There’s a reason I didn’t trust you from the beginning. You just can’t trust those spooks, sneaking into places, investigating you behind your back… Leave a vent unprotected and they’ll find a way. Worse than cockroaches.’

‘It’s even worse than that. I can change myself into a cockroach.’

‘You’re weird, T.’

‘Guess I am. But at least I don’t glow in astral.’

Phase shrugs. ‘I don’t give a shit about masking my aura. I got mojo and magic people automatically know not to pull any crap with me. Saves me a lot of effort.’

‘I don’t know… Don’t you think it makes you a target?’

The runner’s aura flickers with a happy pink of amusement.

‘Let them come.’


Scenario Generation

Let’s do the heist! A proper, dishonest-to-gods break-in, with the purpose of stealing data, wreaking havoc, and preferably – destroying the R2 facility as bug spirits’ Asset – not necessarily blowing up the building itself, just removing its usefulness for the Faction.

Reducing R2 Asset to R1 constitutes 2 Payouts, reducing it from R1 to zero is another 1 Payout. Add to that 2 Payouts worth of Chloe-connected intel (so Tomorrow has a reason to go) and we’re good to go. Also, this Scenario is going to count against ‘Solve mysteries’ Deed of the Magician’s career.

Payout: 5
Legwork: With two Actors participating, the Legwork Task gets 2 points of Resistance – people never work perfectly together, and it’s a balancing tool stopping you from throwing thirty Actors at a task and generating 60 marks in one interval. If you ever worked in a group project, you know exactly that having more people does not help you finish the job. However, it still lets each of the Actors embrace their strong points: Tomorrow with Sorcery, 5v4=5, and Phase with Stealth, 6v5=6. Rolling like their lives depend on it. Legwork Task completed in 1 interval, with 6 net hits.
Threat Rating: Scenario rolling 5 dice against difficulty lowered by 2 (2 Actors), 5v4=4. Threat Rating equals half the marks scored by the Scenario (2) + Rating of non-Tomorrow-Crew (Phase, +1) + Facility Rating (as it’s specifically the target of the Scenario, +2) + Rating of Defense Crew (+2). This works out to 7, reduced by half the Legwork net marks, so a total of 4.
Scenario Rating: 9, Default Actors R3
Free Modules: 5 + 5 Passages
Free Scenes: 5
Build Points: 9
Scenario Type: Capture the Flag

Module (1+2): Gateway + Hardpoint, placing a Checkpoint scene with R3 sensors as an Investigative/Technical Actor on lookout. Why? Because we’re not getting inside through the main entrance, that’s why. We’re going through air vents, like proper B&E characters. Hardpoint gets automatic Resistance equal to the Treat Rating, so this will be hard enough.
A Passage connects it to Module 3.

Module 3: Operation Module (research station) with an ongoing passive scene of general research by a bunch of extras (1/9 BP) and their R3 supervisor (Scientific/Investigative) (free). The lab is secret and nobody but people on a very short list have access to it (forbidden area, 2/9 BP – spotted person will trigger an alarm, alerting the Guards in Module 4).
A Passages connect it to Modules 4, 5 and 6/7.

Module 4: Social Space (security booth) with a Guard Duty scene. Two R3 Investigation/Warfare Bug Guards (one free, one for BP, 3/9 BP). They will arrive at any other module if the alarm is raised within usual ‘moving through modules’ timescale. It is also a forbidden area (4/9 BP)

Module 5: Support Module (lab) providing Resistance equal to Threat Rating to all Tasks in Module 7. Free R3 Actor (Creative/Scientific) in free Shift Scene. Forbidden (5/9 BP)
A Passage connects it to Module 8/9.

Module 6+7: Hardpoint+Treasury (archive) (7/9 BP). Hardpoint gets a R3 Lock as a Free Actor. Treasury gets a R3 Camera as a Free Actor. Inside, 3 Points of Payout worth of Paydata – basically, free cash. This gives me extra 3 BPs. Forbidden (8/12 BP)

Module 8+9: Hardpoint+Modifier Module (10/12 BP). A free R3 Actor of a lock reduced to R2 (10/13 BP). The Modifier Module has an option of creating a global Stress modifier of 1 if the alarm is raised (11/13 BP), turned on by a R3 Technical/Scientific free Actor working there. Forbidden (12/13 BP).
A Passage connects it to Module 10 (13/13 BP).

Module 10: Control Module with the Finale scene. I need 2 BPs for it (for the module and for its Forbidden quality, but I’m out of points, so I’ll reduce the 2 free Actors is the Treasury to R2 and get my two points there. The Finale gets a free R3 Actor (Creative/Scientific, of all things) and nothing else, because if we mess this shit up, it’ll be impossible to do anyway.

Extra Scene, for which I’m also out of points: Getaway. I’ll reduce the Module 3 supervisor to R2 to pay for it. There are no Reinforcements coming, but if Tomorrow and Phase fail the Getaway scene, there will be retribution from the bug spirits. Quickly. And painfully.

And that’s it! A full blown, proper heist, with locks, cameras, guards, and nefarious purposes. Especially with that creative at the end of the road. A creative bug spirit. That’ll be great.

Yes, I’m a professional graphic designer. Yes, this thing was made in Paint.

‘Not too great, honestly,’ declares Tomorrow as they’re going through the details in Phase’s office.

Their joint legwork went… Actually, great, she realizes. Much better than she expected, never keen on working with other people. Phase clearly knew what she was doing, sneaking around the place as they staked it out, pointing out cameras and sensors – including those Tomorrow haven’t noticed. Between her expertise and Tomorrow’s spirits and divination spells, it didn’t take them long to figure out the security of the lab. And now there was nothing to do but plan how to break it.

‘Not too bad, either.’ Phase grins like she has no care in the world. If Tomorrow didn’t see her absolutely focused on the job just a few hours ago, she’d find that worrying. ‘Bugs rarely have good matrix security and those don’t look like they’re gonna be any different. Their locks are subpar, but they’re definitely packing some nice synergy there. I think we’ll need to disassemble most of their forces there before we can get to the bottom of it.’

‘Don’t want it falling on us while we’re with our hands in their safe, yeah. Been there, done that, took me a while to get rid of that criminal record.’

‘Yeah. Congrats, by the way. Pueblo’s a nice place for business.’

‘I got a young entrepreneur tax break in addition to the new ID.’ Tomorrow nods absentmindedly. ‘What do you think about finding a way to access that security booth through the vents directly? Take out the guards before we do anything else?’

‘We’d have to cut through the bars separating the sections but sure, sounds doable. Then maybe hit that lab they have and make our life easier? I think we might have trouble sneaking past that room with all the workers. And I really want to hit their archive, there might be something worthwhile there.’

‘Agreed. We could just try to go entirely through vents, from one point to another. Kinda boring, though.’

‘But safe,’ reminds her Phase.

‘I guess – but we could just wear masks and gas that place, knock those workers out for a while. Would make it easier to escape later.’

‘Woman after my own heart.’

Tomorrow suddenly realizes she was being tested and she can feel the annoyance rising. ‘I know what I’m doing, Phase. Contribute.’

‘I am.’ The runner shrugs. ‘Have you considered what we’re gonna do with those people after we knock them out?’

‘Uh…’

‘Exactly. I’m not one for murderous rampages, but if they carry the spirits inside, they’re no longer people. You get me, T.? The bugs care only to eat, to feed their queen, and to multiply. They won’t stop until we’re all dead. And if we let them live…’

‘They’ll go and kidnap more people and invest them or kill them. Or eat them. Which is technically a method of killing, but worse.’

‘They can do even worse than that.’ Phase’s suddenly grim face makes Tomorrow not want to investigate further.

‘I get you. If they’re people, we let them live. If they’re bugs, we burn down the whole circus.’

‘Preferably with us outside. No promises, though.’

‘None needed.’


Preparations

Tomorrow normally doesn’t do heists but she has quite a lot of B&E skills and a pile of background. Also, three pieces of gear:
Ghost jumpsuit, R2: Resistance 3, Armor (against Lookouts) 2, Storage 10, Signature 0, Heat Sink 10, Mods 0, Durability 2, Seal 2.
Lockpick set, R1: Clout 1, Mass 1, Durability 1. Access to Breaking & Entering AC.
Arc thrower, R1 (non-lethal gun): Clout 1, Capacity 5, Actions 2, Mass 1, Signature 1, Mods 0, Durability 1. Access to Fire! AC. Non-lethal electric arc projector with pistol Range. Deals Stamina Damage + (marks) Resistance to all Tasks for Intervals = marks, -1/Interval. Fire! is a sustained card.

This really isn’t that much. Thankfully, the Gear chapter is now finished, and I get to buy some more stuff for this mission.
Chem grenade, R4 filled with Dot Chemical. Effect 4, Range 4 (40 m), Durability 4. Grenade deploying a cloud of Chem Consumable in the Radius. Radius reduced by 1/Minute. Dot: Drains a number of Stamina = Rating for the duration. Deals Drain = Rating afterwards. Cost: 1200c (Yes, it’s expensive – but remember that consumables are more of a ‘subscription’ than buying a single copy. Tomorrow from now on will have 1 available in every Scenario she goes on, if she decides to take it with her).
SpamBox, R2. Effect 2, Half-life 2, Duration 2 (20 intervals). Small device attached to target. Sends multiple ads and offer messages to the target, consuming Mental Actions = Rating for the duration if not found. Cost: 600c
Quite a lot of money spent, but it will be worth it. Leaves Tomorrow at 2,600c in cash.

For order:
Phase has 10 points in Stamina Pool, physical initiative of 5, and 3 PAs, and 5 points in Morale Pool, mental initiative of 4, and 2 MAs.
Tomorrow, as always, has both Pools at 8, both initiatives at 4 and both PA and MA of 2.


Scenario 005: Ants in our Plans

January 6th, 2056

‘Ready, T.?’ Phase is barely, barely visible in her stealth suit. Tomorrow nods, then whispers a quick ‘yes’ when she realizes she’s also barely visible in the darkness. The suit offers little protection from the elements and Tomorrow can feel herself freezing in the harsh winter weather.

‘Stick to the wall, let me reset the sensor, then you hack it. Be cool.’


Module 1: Gateway
T1: Scenario Complications: 5v4=4/9
Phase: Stealth+1 6v3=5 Concealment points. SP 9/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: Conjuring+1 5v2=5 actions worth of a summoned elemental. Stealth +1 5v4=3 Concealment point. SP 7/8 MP 7/8

T2: Scenario Complications: 5v4=5=9/9.
Phase: Interact with the Gateway, down to 4 Concealment point.
Tomorrow: Take a Breath. SP 8/8 MP 8/8

Scenario complications trigger, 0 net marks: 6. No complications this time!

Module 2: Hardpoint. Defense: R3 sensor on Lookout. Challenge = sensor’s Rating with Res = Threat Rating (4). Sensor on Ini 3.
T1: Phase: Move (3 Conc). 3 PA Short Circuit (comb) (Palming+1) 6v1=6. Concealment gone, but sensor forced to reboot. SP 8/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: Move (2 Conc). 2 MA Breaking & Entering card (comb) (Electronic Warfare+1) 5v7=0 (0 Conc). PA Take a Breath. PA Stealth+1 5v4=4 Conc. SP 8/8 MP 8/8
Steven: Lookout 3v3=3 vs Concealed opposition. Take a Breath.
R3 Sensor: Forced to reboot, actions wasted.

T2: Phase: 2 PA Short Circuit (comb) 6v2=6. 2 MA Breaking & Entering card (comb) (Electronic Warfare+1) 3v9=0. PA Stealth+1 6v3=6 Concealment points. SP 6/10 MP 4/5
Tomorrow: 2 MA Breaking & Entering card (comb) 5v8=1/3 (2 Conc). 2 PA Stealth 5v3=3 (5 Conc.) SP 7/8 MP 7/8
Steven: Sustain Lookout.
R3 Sensor: Forced to reboot, actions wasted.

T3: Phase: PA Short Circuit 6v3=5 (5 Conc). 2 PA Take a Breath (comb) 4v3=3. SP 8/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow:  2 MA Breaking & Entering card (comb) 5v7=2 = 3/3 (3 Conc).
The sensor has been disassembled and Hardpoint passed.


‘That went quick.’ A message from Phase pops up in Tomorrow’s field of vision. ‘Haven’t done it in a while, I admit.’

‘Me neither,’ Tomorrow sends an answer through the neural interface. ‘I might be bit rusty. Mostly did research lately.’

‘It’s all good, we’ll manage. I think that was the worst of their matrix security. Now, the vents. Want to try the security booth? Take down the guards there?’

‘Might be worth the detour.’


There is no passage connecting the entry Hardpoint and the Social Module of the security booth, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It just means we need to figure it out, using a nifty rule called Scene on the Fly.

It can’t create other modules, just passages, and lets you come up with creative solutions to the situations. Does the scene in the module not match your approach or plan? Try to change it! This is basically an Investigation/Legwork Task that might end up easier or harder than the original Scene – but it will let us be creative.

In short: Tomorrow will use her magic to cut through the bars separating the vents leading to the security booth, and Phase will quietly sneak into there. The Scenario will get to roll against them at the same time, and then we’ll compare the effects!
Tomorrow Sorcery+1 5v3=5. Phase Stealth+1 6v4=6. Total 11 vs Challenge = Scenario Rating 9, 2 net.
Scenario 5v4=4.

Like with creating the Scenario, Threat Rating is raised by half of the Scenario’s marks and reduced by half of our net marks, ending up with +1. As the original Scenario had Threat Rating of  4, now it has 5 and receives 5 BP to build itself.

We’ve circumvented the ‘go through a room full of people’ problem and cut a beeline through vents straight to the pre-placed module. The Scene that was going on there (Guard Duty with 2 R3 Actors) is scrapped and replaced with the new one. Our stealthy approach doesn’t warrant the change of the Scene or the Actors, so only small changes need to be made.

Scene: Guard Duty (1/5 BP). 1 free R3 Actor, 1 paid for R3 Actor (2/5 BP). Each of them is now equipped with R3 Investigation gear (providing them with some Clout, Resistance, and Armor for Investigation tasks) (4/5 BP). There is now also a R3 Camera (5/5 BP) that we haven’t spotted in our original Legwork. Does it make the quiet takedown of the guards harder? Yes, a bit – they are now armed and armored, and there is also a camera that we need to take care of – however, going through the vents saved us the hassle of going though a room full of people where our concealment would probably fail and the alarm would be triggered – so it’s still worth the exchange!

Tomorrow and Phase will also spend a minute getting through that Passage, letting them recover their spent Pool points. They’ll also start themselves on Concealment, with Phase scoring 6v3=5 points and Tomorrow scoring 5v4=4 points.


Module 4: Social Space. 2 R3 Actors Investigative/Warfare with Investigative R1 gear, giving them Clout, Resistance, and Defence in Lookouts and Concealments. 1 R3 Camera.

T1: Phase: PA Short Circuit (Palming+1) vs Camera, 6v3=6, forcing camera to reboot (4 Concealment). PA Takedown vs Guard 1 6v4=3. PA Engage (Melee+1) vs Guard 2 4v5=2. SP 7/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: 2 PA (comb) Marksmanship+1 vs Guard 2, using Arc Thrower 4v5=2, 2 Stamina damage. SP 7/8 MP 8/8
Steven: 2 PA Lightning Bolt (comb) vs Guard 2, 3v2=3 Stamina damage. SP 5/6 MP 6/6
Summon: 2 PA Lightning Bolt (comb) vs Guard 2, 3v2=3 Stamina damage. SP 5/6 MP 6/6
Guard 1: Stamina reduced to 0, Take a Breath, 3v6=2, SP 2/6 MP 6/6
Guard 2: Stamina reduced to -2, 2 point of Drain, Take a Breath, 3v6=1, SP 1/4 MP 6/6
Camera: Reboots, Actions wasted.

T2: Phase: PA Engage vs Guard 1, 4v5=3 Stamina damage. PA Engage vs Guard 2, 4v5=3 Stamina damage. PA Take a Breath. SP 6/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: PA Interact vs the Camera – turn off (we’re in a module where this is a legal and logical action). Engage (Melee+1) vs Guard 2, 3v6=1 Stamina damage. 2 MA Sorcery+1 (comb) vs Guard 1, 5v2=4 Stamina damage.
Steven: Concealment 3v3=3 points of Concealment for Phase and Tomorrow, as the silence falls in the room.
Summon: PA Lightning Bolt vs Guard 1, 3v3=3 Stamina damage, PA Lightning Bolt vs Guard 2, 3v3=2 Stamina damage
Guard 1: was at 2 SP, then got 10 more damage. Not only he went to 0, he also got 8 points of Drain on top of that, bringing his Maximum Stamina to -2 and knocking him out for good. He’s not dead, just unconscious and injured.
Guard 2: was at 1 SP, then got 5 more damage. His Maximum Stamina was already reduced to 4, so with new damage he’s at exactly 0, also knocked out.
Camera: turned off and no longer an issue. It’s the security booth and the only people who could notice it going dark are lying unconscious on the floor.


It took little more than ten seconds. Phase short-circuited the camera, dropped from the ceiling on top of one guard, slapped another one in the ear, and then suddenly all Tomorrow could do was keep up with commanding the spirits and shooting her arc thrower. Now, she is standing next to Phase who hasn’t even broken a sweat, already protected with Steven’s magic from any interference. Two bodies are strewn on the floor, unconscious but breathing. Phase kneels and turns one of them on its back, then winces.

Tomorrow’s not surprised. Man’s face looks like a grotesque mask; there are pincers instead of his mouth and the black, bulging, composite eyes are devoid of humanity.

‘Frag.’

They look at each other and stifle the laughter. Phase exhales slowly.

‘Well, we can’t let them live. Keep your magic eye out, so we can be sure they’re gone? I’ll finish them off,’ she adds, taking out a combat knife from her boot.

Tomorrow nods, even though she has zero interest in looking at those abominations in the astral space. She switches her perception and winces as she’s faced with two struggling, fighting spirits. Two man-sized ant spirits are tied to the unconscious bodies – but unlike their hosts, they’re fully awake. They wriggle around, clawing at their bodies – then one of them shudders and falls limp as Phase drags the blade across the unconscious man’s neck. She quickly disposes of the other, cleans the knife and slides it back into the hidden sheath. Tomorrow watches as the spirits’ auras grow bleaker and bleaker until they disappear completely.

‘That’ll do it,’ she confirms quietly and orders Steven to drag the corpses under the desk, to keep them out of sight. Phase is already looking at the security screens, searching for any signs of alarm.

‘Good. I think we’re in the clear too – nobody noticed anything here.’

‘Do you have access to the camera in the archive from here?’

‘Actually, yeah. All of them. Let me loop it, so we don’t get captured on anything.’

‘How about that lab?’

‘No such luck, just the surveillance. But…’ Phase turns away from the screens and looks at the dead guards. ‘Check if they have any employee passes. They’ll help us with the locks.’

‘Good call.’ Tomorrow grabs the ID cards. Max Dyer. Claus Weber. She looks at the photos, showing two perfectly normal faces, an orc and a human. No antennas in sight.

‘Whatever else they’re using for credentials, it’s definitely not retinal scan.’ Phase’s dry voice brings Tomorrow back to the moment. ‘Back to the vents? Cutting it to the lab?’

Tomorrow nods. ‘Let me just get a new elemental and we can go. This one’s running out.’ (Conjuring+1, 5v3=4 actions)


Did you like Scenes on the Fly? There’s no passage connecting Module 4 and Module 5, so I need to make one. Air vents make a perfect solution.
Tomorrow Sorcery+1 5v3=5. Phase Stealth+1 6v4=4. Total 9 vs Challenge = Scenario Rating 9, 0 net.
Scenario 5v4=3. Threat Rating 4+2-0 = 6. 6BP for the Scene.
Old Scene: Shift Scene with free R3 Actor (Creative/Scientific).
New Scene: Shift Scene (1/6 BP) with a free R3 Actor (Creative/Scientific). PLUS: Patrol Scene (2/6 BP) with one free R3 Actor (Investigative/Warfare) and two paid for R3 Actors (Investigative/Warfare) (4/6 BP). Both Scenes get +1 Resistance, just to make stuff harder (6/6 BP).


‘Damn, there weren’t as many guards the last time!’

‘We must’ve missed them. Or maybe they noticed us snooping. Or maybe they’re only here at night.’

‘Or maybe they reproduce quickly.’

‘That they do.’ Phase searches her pockets and finally shrugs. ‘I know we had other plans for this grenade, but…’

‘No, no. Screw this shit. I’ll take ten lab rats over three guards.’ Tomorrow pulls out the chem grenade. ‘But it’s concentrated and has one hell of a range. If we opened the door to that research station, it would reach them too.’

‘Will it work fast enough?’

‘To not have them raise an alarm? Probably not. Fast enough to let us deal with them easily afterwards? Yes. Your suit is sealed, right?’

‘About as much as yours. We’ll manage.’

‘Wait, I’m a dumbass. We don’t have to be here. I’ll just send an elemental with the grenade, and we’ll stay in the security booth.’

‘You’re a dumbass, T. A smart one. But I’d rather stay close, we may need to unload into those guards as well. Let the spirits do their job and we’ll join afterwards. You can’t raise an alarm if you’re busy dying.’


Module 5. Support Module. R3 Creative/Scientific Actor. 3 R3 Investigative/Warfare Actors.Tomorrow and Phase start the Scene with 3 points of Concealment each.
T1: Phase. 3 PA (comb) Stealth+1, 6v1=6, total 9 points of Concealment, SP 9/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: 2 PA (comb) Stealth+1, 5v3=4, total 7 point of Concealment, SP 7/8 MP 5/5
Summon: 2 MA Concealment (comb) 3v2=3 points of Concealment for himself and Steven. PA Interact with the door between Module 3 and 5. PA place the grenade. 4 actions completed, it disappears.
R3 Defense: MA Lookout 5v1=5, take notice of the elementals. PA: Take cover.
R3 Creative: MA Lookout 2v4=1, did not see through Concealment, no further actions.

T2: Grenade: goes boom, spreading the Dot chemical over 40 m radius. Due to open/closed doors and closed spaces, it fills entirely the Modules 3 and 5. It deals 4 points of Stamina damage to everybody in range, unless they’re equipped with armor with Seal. None of them are.

  • Extras have 2 SP, get 4 Stamina damage, are automatically knocked out in the first turn and will realistically die in the next.
  • R2 Scientist supervisor in Module 3 has 4 SP, gets 4 dmg, gets incapacitated.
  • Four R3 Actors in Module 5 have 6 SP, get 4 dmg this turn, reducing each to 2/6 in the first interval
  • Tomorrow has a suit with Seal 2, reducing the Stamina damage to 2. SP 5/8.
  • Phase has the same suit. SP 7/10
  • Steven is a spirit and does not concern himself with a chemical in the air.

Phase: PA Takedown (Palming+1) vs Guard 1, 6v5=5, reduces Guard 1 to 0 Stamina. 2 PA Engage (combined) (Melee+1) vs Guard 2, 4v6=3 Stamina damage. SP 5/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: MA Conjuring+1, 5v4=3 actions for a Summon. MA Sorcery+1 vs Guard 3, 5v3=4 Stamina damage. 2 PA (combined) Take a Breath (not literally) 3v5=1. SP 6/8 MP 7/8
Steven: MA Lightning bolt vs Creative, 3v4=2 Stamina damage. MA Lightning bolt vs Guard 1, 3v4=2 Stamina damage. SP 4/6
Summon: MA LB vs Guard 2, 3v4=2 Stamina damage. MA LB vs Guard 3, 3v4=1 Stamina damage. SP 4/6
R3 Creative: Had 2 Stamina, got hit with 2 more dmg. All actions to Take a Breath, 3v5=2, SP 2/6
R3 Guard 1: Had 0 Stamina, got hit with 2 more dmg = 2 Drain. All actions to Take a Breath, 3v5=3, SP 3/4
R3 Guard 2: Had 2 Stamina, got hit with 5 more dmg = 0 SP and 3 Drain. All actions to Take a Breath, 3v5=1, SP 1/3
R3 Guard 3: Had 2 Stamina, got hit with 5 more dmg = 0 SP and 3 Drain. All actions to Take a Breath, 3v5=2, SP 2/3
R2 Scientist: 0 Stamina. All actions to Take a Breath, 2v6=0, SP 0/4

T3: Grenade: Ticks away. Radius reduced to 30m, still both rooms.

  • Extras: die.
  • R2 Scientist gets 4 points of Drain and goes unconscious.
  • R3 Creative goes down to 0 Stamina and gets 2 points of Drain, 0/4
  • R3 Guard 1 goes down to 0 Stamina and gets 1 point of Drain, 0/3
  • R3 Guard 2 goes down to 0 Stamina and gets 3 points of Drain, 0/0 – unconscious
  • R3 Guard 3 goes down to 0 Stamina and gets 2 points of Drain, 0/1
  • Tomorrow gets 2 Stamina dmg, SP 4/8
  • Phase gets 2 Stamina dmg, SP 3/10

Phase: 2 PA Take a Breath (comb) 4v3=4. PA Melee+1 vs Creative, 4v6=1 Stamina dmg. SP 6/10 MP 5/5
Tomorrow: 2 PA Take a Breath (comb) 3v5=2. MA Sorcery vs Guard 1, 5v2=4 Stamina dmg. SP 6/8 MP 6/8
Steven: PA LB vs Creative, 3v4=1 Stamina dmg. PA vs Guard 3, 3v4…

You know what? They’ll all be unconscious and dying by the end of the interval. Tomorrow and Phase will survive by simply not exerting themselves, thanks to their sealed armors. At the beginning of interval 6, the chemical becomes inert. And everybody who encountered it, including Phase and Tomorrow, gets hit with 4 points of Drain – reducing Tomorrow’s max Stamina to 4 and Phase’s to 6 until the end of the Scenario. No free lunches. 


‘Holy fuck, Phase.’

The floor is covered with bodies. Corpses of people dying of poison. Struggling to breathe. Falling where they stood. And then couple more corpses, of people they struck, burned with magic, electrocuted with magical lightning. Tomorrow takes off her mask and throws up. She can feel Phase’s hands gathering her loose, long hair, but she can’t focus on anything but nausea.

After a century or more, she realizes the runner is speaking to her, quietly and softly. 

“… monsters, T. It’s alright. Let it all out. You did good. We cleared it. It’s done.’

Tomorrow wipes her mouth and looks at the mess she made – anywhere but at the dead bodies. She raises her hand and forces it to stop shaking, as her spell removes the puke that could get tracked back to her. ‘Know any good therapists?’ She asks finally. ‘One that deals with this kind of trauma?’ 

‘I do. I’ll hook you up later. You’re good to continue? We’re not done here.’

Tomorrow nods and puts her helmet back. ‘Sorry. Not really used to the… carnage.’

‘Takes a lot of exposure. Just be happy they’ve been dead for a while. They weren’t people. Makes it easier on the conscience.’

Phase is right – of course, she’s right. Now that Tomorrow’s stomach no longer rebels against her brain, she can see the compound eyes and mutated silhouettes.

She shakes herself free of the feeling, resolved to go through it later, much later. ‘Archive now?’ Her voice is still hoarse, but Phase doesn’t seem to care, for which Tomorrow is already grateful. 

‘Sure. Come on, let’s get this over with, then burn it all.’


Module 6+7, Hardpoint+Treasury. R2 Lock, with 4 points of Resistance, reduced by 3 point of Credentials. 
Tomorrow: 2 MA B&E (Electronic Warfare+1) (comp) 5v6=2/2.


Between the stolen ID card and Tomorrow’s lockpick, it takes just a short while do disassemble the lock on the doors to the archive. Phase waves at the looped camera as they enter. 

‘Right.’ She stares at the computers and shrugs. ‘This looks more like your thing. I’ll check the cabinets.’


T1: Tomorrow MA Investigation+1 4v5=2. MA IT+1 5v8=2. MT 4/9
Phase MA Investigation+1 4v5=3. MA Investigation 4v5=4 MT 12/9.


‘I think I got something!’ she says a moment later, when Tomorrow is busy copying the data from the archive’s hard drive. ‘Personnel files including these three from the photos.’

‘Good. I have some data on their projects, but it looks too advanced for me. I’m not that much into math with letters in it.’

‘Same. We’ll sell it if we can’t use it. Come on, there’s still shit to do.’

‘Another lock, right? Some kind of lab after that, and then the office?’ 

Phase nods, busy packing up folders into a box. ‘Let’s hustle. Just because we don’t hear the alarm, doesn’t mean its not ringing.’


Module 8+9. Hardpoint+Modifier Module. R2 lock, credentials lower the Resistance by 3 to 1. Inside, a R3 Technical/Scientific Actor inside who will notice the doors opening, but might not notice getting punched in the face. 

T1: Phase: 3 PA Stealth+1 (comb), 6v1=6 points of Concealment. 
Tomorrow: 2 MA B&E (ElecWar+1) (comb), 5v6=3, Lock overcome.

T2: Phase: PA interact with the door (Conc 5), Move (Conc 4). 2 PA Takedown (Palming+1) (comb) 6v3=4, reduces R3 Actor to 0 Stamina. 
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v2=5 points of Drain. PA Melee+1, 3v6=2 points of Drain, R3 Actor unconscious.


‘It gets easier,’ notes quietly Tomorrow, looking as Phase cuts the throat of another ant-like creature. 

‘No, you’re just in shock, padawan. Your brain switched to processing only the stimuli it needs to operate. But you may want to… Shit. Hush.’

Phase falls silent, then quietly takes a couple of steps towards the door to the office. ‘There’s something moving inside,’ she sends a message over the comms. ‘Do you want to just redo the entry?’ 

‘Worked well the last time. But you’re the one risking most, it’s your call.’

‘I like kicking in the doors. Makes me feel alive.’

‘You’re…’

‘Already married. Keep it in your pants.’

Tomorrow stops a chuckle, knowing how dark it would sound. She nods at the door, telling Phase to continue. 


Module 10. Control Module. The Finale. R3 Creative/Scientific Actor. Challenge for MT=9. Resistance 4.

T1: Phase: PA Stealth+1, 6v3=6 points of Concealment. Move. 2 PA Takedown (Palming+1), 6v4=5, Actor’s Stamina reduced to 0.
Tomorrow: 2 MA Sorcery+1 (comb), 5v2=2 points of Drain. 2 PA Marksmanship+1 (comb), 4v6=2 points of Drain. 
Steven: PA Lighting Bolt 3v3=3 Points of Drain, Actor knocked unconscious. 


Tomorrow is very grateful that she has already emptied her stomach. The pulsating, glowing cocoons stink to high heaven, and the movement within them… 

‘We’ll burn this all to the ground.’ Phase’s voice is steady and calming. Tomorrow focuses on it, letting it anchor her to the real world. ‘There’s nothing for us here. We got their data, we don’t need their…’

‘Art.’

Tomorrow looks at the pulsating cocoons, arranged on the wall in rows and fluid swirls. The awful, organic matter dims and brightens periodically, in various places of the structure… Tomorrow sees, feels, the pattern – until Phase forcibly turns her away, breaking the line of sight. 

‘There is nothing for us here. And most certainly not your sister. Burn this fucking thing and we’re out. I’ll buy you a drink.’

Tomorrow takes a deep, deep breath and unleashes the power of lightning. 


There is nothing that can stop Phase and Tomorrow from succeeding. No time pressure, no reinforcements. The only reason I need to roll is to have the final net mark count for the consequences roll. 
Tomorrow, Sorcery (comb) 5v3=5. 5v3=5.

In two intervals, Tomorrow burns the whole hive to the ground with 1 net hit, and both her and Phase make their exit. With no Defense Actors left, no alarm raised, and no enemies upcoming, there’s little point in running the Getaway scene either. They’ll sneak out from the building, removing any evidence of their presence in the area.


Consequences

Let’s roll! 3d10+1=9! Looks like something good will come out from this harrowing experience. We’re landing on 5, meaning: The target Faction appreciated your efforts and invited to a diplomatic meeting to establish relations. The initial Familiarity equals magnitude. If caused by hostile move, the target Faction’s most hostile competitor appreciated it.

It was most certainly a hostile move. Looking at the Bug Spirits’ Faction, the most hostile party to them is Phase, but we already have relations established. The next up are Green Bishops. As it’s not a brand-new Faction and their Familiarity is already established, I’ll just bump it by 1, to simulate the ‘appreciated your efforts’ thing.

This means that Tomorrow’s coveted contact with the group of hackers investigating Chloe’s case will actually happen – sooner rather than later. And it looks like their investigation is directly connected to the insect spirits subplot…

But until that happens…


Wrapping up

Payout:

  • Bug Spirits Faction’s R2 Facility Destroyed
  • 2 points of Chloe Intel
  • 3 points of sellable paydata from the Treasury, which I’m going to straight-up convert into 3 points of cash and split between the two characters. 7,500c each.
  • Familiarity with Phase’s Faction is raised by 1 because of the joint-effort Scenario -> now at 7: still neutral, but the more friendly kind of neutral.
  • Familiarity with Insect Spirits’ Faction is lowered by 1. However, no relationship existed before, so I need to roll 3d10 and set it up first… And apparently, it’s 9. Nine, like ‘friendship level of Familiarity’. Which means it is now 8, and the bugs are generally sympathetic towards Tomorrow – or in their case, they probably have a plan that involves her and don’t want to eat her ahead of time. That she’s important to them, one way or another… However: remember that Familiarity is always mutual?  Which means Tomorrow is also sympathetic towards them? It makes no sense for her to champion the cause of killing and eating people (and taking over the world), so… I suppose somebody whom Tomorrow actually likes is the insect spirits’ agent. Them bodysnatchers, eh? Who? I don’t know. Tomorrow also has no reason to know, so I will not establish this yet – we’ll see how the story progresses and make the call (or a roll) when the situation demands it.

Did one basic Familiarity roll throw a giant spanner into the wheels of the plot I thought I know where it’s going? Is there now some bug-spirit conspiracy weaving itself around Tomorrow? How does it connect to anything else?

No damn idea.

Here’s your emergent gameplay in Project Aphelion. Twists, turns, dramatic reveals, and cliffhangers.


Skill progression

Tomorrow:
Conjuring +3
Stealth +2
Electronic Warfare +3
Sorcery +6
Marksmanship +2
Melee +2
Investigation +1

Phase:
Stealth +6
Palming +5
Electronic Warfare +1
Melee +3
Investigation +1

Am I going to run those learning tests for Phase? No. I’ll just assume she has managed to learn the skills to which she’s entitled with enough learning ticks, and upgrade her character’s skill list. She’s a guest and I’ll keep her at that. She might come back as a support character at some point, but she won’t be an active PC, because this story is not about her.

And we’re ready to move on! Almost – there’s still some stuff to be discussed and some intel interpreted.


January 6th, 2056

Where Phase managed to get hot, fresh pizza at three in the morning, Tomorrow doesn’t know. She also isn’t particularly hungry – her stomach still revolts at the memory of the views and scents. People or bugs – neither corpse enjoys getting burned by electricity. The sealed suit can only do so much to stop the fumes. So when Phase offered pale, sickened Tomorrow a trip to her place, a shower, and checking the data they stole, all she could do was nod and let herself be taken care of.

After stripping off the stealth suit and a shower in the biking club’s bathroom, she suddenly finds herself on Phase’s sofa, in way too short sweatpants – Phase is almost a head shorter than her – and an oversized green jersey of Chicago urban brawl team… Ex-team, figures out Tomorrow. Not much of the city left after it got overrun by bug spirits. And nuked. And locked down by the military.

‘You know any dry-cleaning service that can get rid of the smell of dead bodies and won’t report me to the police?’ she asks after sending Wheeler an I’m alive, all good message.

Phase, who clearly has no issues with her appetite, swallows the bite of pizza. ‘I do, yeah. I’ll give you an address. But I highly advise finding yourself a fixer if you want to do this kind of stuff often. Will save you a lot of money and hassle. And makes it less likely you’ll step into some cops’ trap.’

‘I think I’m good, thank you. I had my bout of shadowrunning, ended up badly. I think once I have my sister back, I’ll leave it all behind and just focus on my magic research. I’m better at magic than I am at all the heist business.’

Phase calmly finishes her slice and asks a question Tomorrow has asked herself many times in her projections of the Life After:

‘What if it all won’t stay left behind?’

Tomorrow snaps her fingers and a small lightning jumps between her thumb and pinkie.

‘Roger that,’ acknowledges Phase with a grin and pushes a can of soda towards Tomorrow. ‘I’m just saying – it took me a lot of paperwork and strong alliances to leave the shadows behind. And you still managed to dig out data on me.’

‘I didn’t even try that hard.’ Tomorrow shrugs lightly and takes a sip. Her stomach feels better and her practiced compartmentalizing lets her think clearly again. ‘I get what you mean. And I admit, I haven’t really thought about it all that much. I was focused on my sister, then we had that gang war in the Warrens, then all the other stuff…’

‘I suggest you put it on the agenda, then. It takes a lot of effort and resources. Plan ahead if you don’t want the mess to drag behind you.’

‘I’m gonna. I got some alliances built already…’

Phase winces and shakes her head.

‘Cutters? Yeah… I get you got a boyfriend there, but I wouldn’t trust them in general. They’re a heartless, ruthless cartel, not your friendly neighborhood gang that will take care of you if you slip.’

‘Like Ancients would?’ Tomorrow cannot stop herself from a jab.

The runner laughs. ‘Nah. They’re all the bloody same. Use you, abuse you, hang you out to dry. What I’d suggest is investing in personal relationships with the right people. Organizations, by large, just don’t give a damn about you. The bigger they are, the more likely they’ll frag you over. You think an Ancient from a different country – or even another city – wouldn’t treat me like any other norm if they didn’t know precisely who I am and whose protection is over me? Your Cutters are the same, believe me. Wheeler might play nice with you – that’s a personal relationship, and honestly, not a bad choice in your case. The cartel as a whole? They’ll sell you for parts to the highest bidder if it suits them. Did the same to friends of mine.’

Tomorrow grabs a piece of pizza and nods for Phase to continue.

‘My folks – my family, if not by blood – were running a small-scale smuggling operation between UCAS and Sioux Sector. Small jumps through the border. Worked well enough for a year. Nothing grand but no scrapping by – you know how it goes. Once, they got intel about a weapons cache in an abandoned warehouse. However, they weren’t the only people who knew about it. Cutters sweep in, take over the cache, accept no explanations, mow the crew. Four people dead. Their only crime: reaching for something Cutters have decided belongs to them.’

Tomorrow looks into runner’s eyes and the mix of overwhelming hatred and debilitating loss cuts her to the bone.

‘What I mean is…’ Phase speaks calmly, her body language is relaxed and at ease – but her aura burns with deep crimson. ‘Don’t let Cutters – don’t let any government, gang, or corp – think you belong to them. Keep your personal relationships, make sure they’re strong and mutual. But organizations? The moment they think they own you, you’re nothing but a disposable tool. A fucking deniable asset. A worthless piece of shit.’

Tomorrow fails to find an answer, so she just nods and lets the topic pass. It’s not like she’s not in agreement – but the topic is complex and she doesn’t really want to discuss it through the night. They eat in silence, each deep in thought.

‘Wanna go through that data we’ve found?’ asks Tomorrow after a while, not bothering with a graceful segue.

‘Shit, yes. Sorry for the rant.’

‘All good, Phase. I appreciate the advice. Sorry about your folks.’

Phase nods and pulls out the personnel files – or rather, a collection of photos and handwritten notes. Tomorrow scours through the data from the computers, but nothing there looks like it has any connection with Chloe – just some weapons’ blueprints, strings of equations, and advanced math and physics. She’s trying to understand what they all mean, but her concentration is gone the moment Phase slides two sets of files towards her, both in grey envelopes.

She opens the first – the same photo of Chloe, plus a couple more, taken up close – and by somebody whom Chloe knows. Handwritten notes on her interests, family, college schedule, friends, favorite bars – not much different than what Tomorrow herself was collecting when she arrived at Denver, looking for her sister. She compares the notes with her own, noting the differences, filling in gaps. There’s not much more in the file – not a reason, not a mention about any plans towards her.

Only then she reaches for the second file.

And there, she really finds her own face. Her address, the new one in Pueblo. Her friends. Her associates. Her comings and goings. And close-up, candid photos from The Stampede.

She raises her eyes and finds Phase looking at her with clear, unbridled interest.

‘I think we’ll have some more corpses to burn, Phase.’


Dun, dun, DUUUN!

Don’t ask me, I don’t know.

Hope you liked Phase and your first look at the Infiltrator career. It’s made exactly for what you’ve seen in this Scenario. Sneaking, heists, quiet take-downs, and all kinds of Mission-Impossible shenanigans.

See you next episode. In which, if you remember, Wheeler is just about to enlist Tomorrow to help out the Cutters.

Drama!

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