Project Aphelion Solo Play #012: With Friends Like These

Welcome to another episode of my Project Aphelion solo playtest! This time, there’s nothing but fun, joy, intrigue, backstabbing, trade negotiations, increased sense of paranoia, and a pile of cool things. I assume – I’m writing this entry before moving on with the game. But this is what I expect after the whirlwind and twists of the previous Scenario!


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January 6th, 2056

Insect spirits. What do insect spirits want from her? What do they want from Chloe? Why…? And most importantly… Who?

Somebody took those photos in The Stampede. Somebody is keeping track of her. Somebody is spying on her.

She’s been so careful. Never jumping the border in other form than an animal, sneaking, doubly hidden by Steven’s magic. Making sure she leaves no tracks that could bite her in the ass. True, she wasn’t hiding her comings and goings from her friends, and she has a lot of friendly faces around…

And at least one of them is just a mask for an insect spirit.

She rolls into a tight ball on her bed, safe in her Pueblo Sector flat – only, they also have that address. She needs to move. No, it’ll tip them off that she knows she’s being observed, and they’ll find her again. But don’t they already expect her to know? If what Phase said is correct, the hive’s Queen and the shaman who summoned her already know about the carnage in Agni Institute, hive mind and all. They might not know it was her – but also, they might very well know if she’s being observed. 

She gets up and checks the magical barrier protecting her flat – slowly, thoroughly, painstakingly. It’s still there, no cracks in it, no signs of forced entry – they probably cannot spy on her via magic while she’s inside. Probably – what if they’re much more powerful than she is and just sleaze their way through her defenses without her noticing, just like she did in their lab?

And how long can she stay here without her world falling apart on the other side of the barrier?
Are they going to kill her now? Or are they planning something worse for her?

The memory of pulsating, glowing cocoons floats to the surface and Tomorrow pushes it down, down, down – just like she did with the recording of Euphoria’s fate that she got from Phase. The grotesque, bloated, half-insect body of the actress turned Queen of the hive, forced to be a birthing machine for hundreds, thousands of spirits… Tomorrow’s suddenly relieved that Chloe got kidnapped by Aztech, hopefully before the bugs got to her… Down, down, down… Hiding from a megacorp and a crazed blood mage beats getting possessed by an insect spirit, beats getting your consciousness ripped apart, eaten, replaced by a… Down.

She knows that repressing those thoughts isn’t going to help her in the long run. She needs to process them, she needs to accept the reality, the danger, the possibility that her sister is no more. That whoever is now in Hawai’i, working with ALOHA, hiding from Aztech, is not her sister.

That when she finds her, it might not be Chloe anymore.

Somebody near her is already not themselves anymore.

Who?

She looks at the file they’ve gathered on her. While detailed, the notes don’t cover her matrix conversations – no mention about the Green Bishops, not a word about Dash. A note about her leaving to Dallas, but nothing about what happened. Who knew she’s going…? No, too many people, that doesn’t help. There’s nothing about her trip to the metaplane – did they not know what happened behind Crowley’s powerful barriers and wards or did they think it unimportant? Friese and Wheeler are both on the list of her friends and acquaintances – but can she be sure that they’re still themselves now? Were they ever themselves? Friese and her hit it off instantly, on the first meeting – was it genuine? Was anything in her life in Denver ever real or is it all a fucking conspiracy?

STOP.

The voice in her head startles her as it cuts through the noise.

God, Raven. I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do.

Think. 

I don’t know what! 

You’re being dramatic. Bad look for you. Breathe. 

I don’t know whom to trust. 

Me. You. We’ve been there before. 

That much is true, she thinks. She can trust Raven. She can trust herself. It got her through five years of hell, and it left her stronger and smarter than ever before. 

So there’s a spy in her inner circle. So she needs to put her friends on ice and figure out who’s keeping an eye on her. Who might have been keeping an eye on Chloe before that. 

So she’ll interpret the data and learn from the white spaces. They spy on her – if they have gaps in intel, there’s a reason for it. She’ll feed her friends different pieces of data and see what will float. She’ll build herself better magical defenses to make tracking her harder. She’ll go through the list of her friends and acquaintances and figure it out. 

She can reasonably trust Phase – she wouldn’t even suspect bugs’ involvement if not for the runner. She can probably trust Wheeler – he was the only other person knowing she’s breaking into Agni Institute – and why. If he was a spirit, they’d at least remove Tomorrow’s file from their archive, even if they kept everything else the same to not raise suspicion… Unless they wanted her to know… Unless they have something to gain from her being that panicked, trusting just Wheeler or Phase… 

You’re doing it again. 

Raven and herself, then. The rest at arms’ reach, so she can keep an eye on them. Focus on the data, stop spiraling. Take it one day at a time, observe, learn, survive. 

And then burn the fucking corpses. 


Faction Layer: January 6th, 2056

Skill Learning:
Electronic Warfare 1, 5v6=3, skill learned (by Jan 6th).
(Teaching 3v5=1, +1 tick) Teaching 2, 3v7=1/2 marks (by Jan 8th).
(Teaching 3v5=0, +1 tick) Diplomacy 2, 4v8=1/2 marks (by Jan 10th).

Career Progress: +1 to solved mysteries, +5 to total Rep.

Campaign Progress: 27/100

Consequences of the previous Scenario are dire. And I don’t mean the ‘Green Bishops will contact Tomorrow’ – I mean the ‘insect spirit spy between her friends’ danger and the following paranoia. Tomorrow’s definitely not fine right now. I think the spell research is shelved until further notice and so will most of the distractions. She needs to keep herself safe, make it harder to track her movements, and bolster the ranks of people in her corner – ones that she can really trust.

Did she mention she can only trust herself and her mentor spirit? Well, I suppose that means she needs more of herself.

But Anna, that sounds bonkers!

Well, Tomorrow is weird. She’s not a naturally trusting person. She’s upbeat and friendly – but aloof and noncommittal. While she does have family and friends, and she loves them, she’s suspicious and self-centered. Her only saving grace is the fact that ‘looking out for number one’ in her case means taking care of her younger sister. Herself – a distant second. Everybody else – much, much lower on the importance ladder.

She’s not even a good person. And there’s about to be more of her.

Now, as per Aphelion’s rules, there are a couple options of adding new characters to the party – of course, if you have new player, they can just join. You can also upgrade an Extra to R1 Crew (equivalent of R1 Career) for the cost of 1 Payout, you can go through the Hiring Board if you’re a Faction who is looking for higher-level adventurers, you can extract them from another Faction…

Or you can be Tomorrow, take a spirit Extra and mold it into an ally spirit who’s your doppelgänger. A R1 socially-focused Agent. Paying 1 cash Payout for whatever the spirit wants.


With Friends Like These…

Focus: Social
Career: Agent
Important Attribute: Wit
Primary Skills: Con (Wit), Diplomacy (Wit), Impersonation (Wit), Negotiation (Wit)
Attributes: Toughness 2, Fitness 3, Awareness 3, Resolve 4, Logic 3, Wit 4

Origin: Spirit. Traits:
Astral Being (Can materialize and dematerialize at will. Any Tasks of following, tracking, or spying on using non-magical methods have 2 points of Resistance),
Mana Construct (Immune to poison, standard weaponry, and other things affecting living creatures. Impossible to heal using living-creatures-applicable methods of healing),
Incompetent 1 (Reduces the level of all Skills the character has no levels in by 1, effectively increasing the difficulty of all the Tasks using them by 1). (Why Incompetent? Because she’s a spirit. She has no reason to have a ‘standard human level of knowledge’ of technology, weaponry, or even dodging bullets. She’ll need to learn it all first.)

Upbringing: Nomadic. Receive 2 Opportunities, 2 Traveler Contacts (R1), Improvise, Adapt, Overcome Action Card (Play before another Action Card. That Card no longer has a Pool or Action cost, it causes a point of Drain instead.)

Trials of Life

1. T1: Brave New World. Bob’s Your Uncle (Wit). A person with your network and ability can procure anything, anytime – or so you say. Someone of great influence made you an offer you can’t refuse, and it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.
4v6=3. Receive a Rating 1 Career Gear Pack, 2 Contacts, and 2 Opportunities. Improve your 3 Primary Skills by 1 up to 1. (Con 1, Diplomacy 1, Impersonation 1)
Move to: Deserved Promotion (T2); Expedition (T2); You’re Hired (T2)
Spend 2 Opportunities to buy Exceptional Talent (Wit +1).

2. T2: You’re Hired (Diplomacy, Tomorrow’s Faction). You qualified to receive a position in a Faction – the competition is fierce, but so are the prospects. Do you have what it takes to compete with others, just as determined to succeed?
5v5=3. Receive +1 Fam with chosen Faction, 2 Contacts with that Faction at R2. Receive R1 item related to chosen Skill, or raise an already possessed item to R2. Become a member of the chosen Faction, receive its Uniform and Credentials. Raise 2 primary Skills by 1 up to 2. (Con 2, Diplomacy 2)
Move to: Working for the Man (T3); Serve and Protect (T3)

3. T3: Working for the Man (Diplomacy). You worked hard to get where you are, and you’ll be damned if you let anyone take it from you. It may not be a dream come true, but being a cog in a Faction is better than being a nobody.
5v4=3. Raise the Skill used in this Task and 2 primary Skills by 1 up to 2. (Diplomacy 3, Impersonation 2, Negotiation 1) Receive +1 Fam with the Faction sponsoring the training. Receive an Opportunity.
Move to: Yet Another Day (T4, 88)

4. T4: Yet Another Day. You reached a point in your life where you’re able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and not worry too much about your stability. You don’t have to worry about your day to day survival, and perhaps ponder branching out, reaching for more? Things aren’t bad, but they could be better – and as they say, everything said before “but” doesn’t matter.
Total marks scored: 9. Receive 2 Advanced Action Cards for your Career, and raise any 3 Skills by 1 up to 3. (Con 3, Impersonation 3) Receive 2 Income Trait ranks.

Wrap-up

Attributes: Toughness 2, Fitness 3, Awareness 3, Resolve 4, Logic 3, Wit 5
Skills: Con 3, Diplomacy 3, Impersonation 3, Negotiation 1
Traits: Astral Being, Mana Construct, Incompetent 1, Exceptional Talent (Wit), Income (2)
Opportunities: 3
Contacts: R1 Traveler, R1 Traveler (I’ll figure them out later, probably some spirits), R2 Contact (Steven), R2 Contact (Tomorrow)
Familiarity with Tomorrow: 3d10 to establish the base = 4 +2 = 6.
Gear: R1 Agent Career Pack, R2 Diplomacy-adjacent item, Uniform and Credentials of Tomorrow’s Faction (in this case: looks like Tomorrow, sounds like Tomorrow, must be the duck).
Spending Opportunities: 2 points to buy First Impression (2 Clout in first social Scene with a new Actor). 1 point to buy Anarchist (the character feels the need to undermine monolithic structures impeding on their and others’ freedoms. They receive +1 Familiarity with like-minded characters aware of their Rep [so with Tomorrow, Fam 7 – still neutral, but not far from sympathy], and -1 Familiarity with characters representing the organized Factions.)
Action Cards:
Adapt, Improvise, Overcome,
AAC Circular Reasoning (M/S/Wit/Con. Create a logical fallacy. Marks scored = Resistance for any Actor’s Task to disprove the Con.)
AAC Stand Out (M/S/Wit/Impersonation vs no. of human Actors in the module. Must be used in a crowd. Net marks Scored = Clout for any Actor’s Tasks to spot the character. Every character in the module must spend the same number of Actions as the character using Stand Out to observe the character, unless they score more marks in Conditioning Task.)
Career: Agent (1). Free AAC: Stalling Tactics (M/S/Wit/Con vs Resolve. If marks >= Resolve, target Actor commits the same number of Mental Actions as the character using Stalling Tactics. Those Actions cannot be spent elsewhere.)


‘And I shall call you…’

‘You shall call me whatever I want to be called.’

It’s like looking in the mirror. The same tan skin with freckles, the same brown eyes, the same long blue hair, the same black jumpsuit. And the same steel will, Tomorrow realizes. Only in astral space the differences are obvious: the familiar body is formed of navy and gold arcane symbols, making the spirit look like a sky full of stars, with a glowing rendition of the Corvus constellation on her forearm – exactly where Tomorrow has an identical tattoo. It won’t fool a mage or a spirit, but it should be indistinguishable for non-magical folks – a handy tool to determine who knows they’re not talking to her.

Tomorrow grins and the spirit copies the expression.

‘What would you like to be called, my evil twin?’

‘I’ll tell you. Tonight.’

Tomorrow nods, then chuckles. ‘Good one. Call me Tomorrow.’

‘You’re a peak narcissist, Tomorrow.’

‘That makes two of us.’

‘It bloody does. Just so we’re clear, though.’ Tonight throws her hair back and straightens up. ‘You don’t own me. I’m not your lackey. We’re working together until either of us decides otherwise.’

‘Are you gonna be my nefarious double who shall exploit my failings and take over my life?’

‘Honestly, I’d prefer to have my own. But I’ll take whatever drugs you’re on.’

‘Deal.’ Tomorrow shrugs and gets up, disturbing the summoning circle. She extinguishes the incense, opens the window, and shivers as the winter air hits her face. Tonight walks around the study, browsing bookcases and drawers, completely unfazed by the cold, and Tomorrow can barely stop herself from laughter. ‘Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be over there, doing some random metahuman bullshit.’

The spirit waves a hand dismissively. ‘Sure, babe. Now let me read in peace. I got some research to do.’


Back to Strategy!

Tomorrow’s R1 Faction now has an Asset of a R2 Crew (Scientific/Social) – the Rating of a Crew equals the sum of Career Ratings of people in it. Her monthly upkeep will grow, her deployment costs for the Scenarios as well – but she will no longer struggle in the social Scenes! Would it be easier if she just hired somebody who doesn’t look like her, so they can actually be together in the same room?

Yes. Yes, it would. But Tomorrow doesn’t trust anybody but herself and her mentor, so a Spirit-Me is the only way she can bolster her ranks without getting overly paranoid. That, and getting more bound spirits, like Steven.

However, right now she doesn’t have the time to spend three days on binding another elemental, so she only spent one to get Tonight on her side (Jan 7th), and there’s nothing else for her to do but to delve into an investigation project to interpret the data stolen from Agni Institute and observe her friends and acquaintances as she goes about her life.

She doesn’t know how long it will take her to figure out how is she being spied on and who the spy is – but I do, because that’s what Campaign Rating is for. She still rolls her Faction Rating 1 dice, but the difficulty is now 4, lowered by 2 points of the Rating of the investigating Crew.

This project can be run at the same time as skill learning – but, like other projects, not while Tomorrow is working on something else, like Scenarios or Legwork.

And there will always be something else…

On 8th and 9th January, Tomorrow and Tonight have collected 2 marks of progress towards the Challenge 9 of Campaign Rating. However, it’s high time to add to the mess with other things that have to trigger this month.


Coming Up!

I am really sorry for what is about to happen in this campaign. If you thought stuff is weird and complicated, it will get worse. But I like my intrigue multi-leveled and my drama personal.

The paranoia has spiraled out of control, and the backstabbing, investigation, and trade negotiations between the gangs have to wait until the next episode.

Only – Tomorrow might not be there.

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