Project Aphelion Solo Play #014: The Brewing Storm

In this episode, you get so see one of the coolest solo tools in action and the emergent gameplay they create in Project Aphelion. The mysteries are solved, the investigations finished – and there’s nothing left for us to do but watch the fallout.


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January 16th, 2056

‘You got a package, twin. I had to forge your signature, so from now on you’re Mrs. Squiggle.’

‘Good enough.’ Tomorrow barely looks up from her notes when Tonight returns to the flat from her shopping trip. ‘What’s inside? If it’s ticking or crawling, put it into the trash chute outside.’

The spirit shrugs and puts her face through the packaging, looking inside. ‘A data chip and some papers,’ she states a moment later. ‘Can’t see what, too dark.’

‘Feel free to open.’

‘I’m not your PA,’ grumbles Tonight half-heartedly, tearing open the plastic envelope.

Over the last couple of days, they went through the details of their partnership and arrived at the obvious conclusion: it if ain’t broke yet, give it time. Tonight had her trips to the outer world to collect experiences she couldn’t have without a corporeal body, and Tomorrow had her days of research without random distractions. Seemed to work so far, even if Tomorrow is lowkey concerned about the shenanigans her mischievous doppelgänger might be starting in the city – and how much will she end up paying for it.

‘Remember when you told me that Henequen told you that you should talk to Zacualtipan about what her brother had told you?’

‘I recall. Why? Was I just sent a cease and desist?’

‘No. More like… I got you, chica. Let me quote: Dear Miss James – that’s you, dearie…’

‘Tonight. Get on with this.’

‘Fine.’ The spirit rolls her eyes. ‘Blah bah… I’ve heard about your heroic quest from our mutual friends… I find it ill-advised to position oneself between loving siblings… I wish you luck in your future endeavors… Hope this helps… Please do get in touch if you wish to follow up. The letterhead’s from Serpent’s Feather. I didn’t know they still make letterheads these days.’

‘Dragons.’ Tomorrow shrugs, as if that explained everything. ‘I don’t think they care.’

‘You’re pretty blasé for somebody who just got a personal letter from a dragon. I thought you’d be more excited.’

‘I should be, shouldn’t I?’ The magician puts down her notes and looks at her spirit companion with curiosity. ‘I don’t know. Guess I’m a bit burned out. It’s good news, probably. At least sounds like it. Give me this chip, I’ll check what’s up.’

‘Sure, babe. But then we’re ordering in and watching a movie. You need a break.’

‘I don’t.’

‘I can see your aura, you hopeless moron. Either you suffer through a movie with me or I’ll call Wheeler and set you up for a dinner with a breakfast. And then you’ll either have to go and waste twelve hours or I’ll have to substitute.

‘Now I know how Frankenstein felt,’ mutters Tomorrow, loading up the datachip. She skims the first half of the file, then turns back and reads from the beginning, carefully. ‘Huh. If my Spanish isn’t completely rubbish, there was an attack on Aztech’s research lab in Hawai’i. Two buildings ruined and a massive data leak of their research… Wait, this is internal Aztech communication, not some newspaper article. Oh, shit. Oh…’

She shivers when Tonight pushes herself next to her, through her, so she can see the screen too. 

‘So they never have cared about Chloe at all, huh?’ the spirit asks lightly after a couple of minutes. ‘Guess you’re the only one.’ 

Tomorrow stares at the letters in front of her and wonders if she should cry or rage, or scream. Or burn everything down. 

They’ve ruined Chloe’s life and it’s not even personal? 

‘What now, twin?’

‘We’re getting our sister back,’ growls Tomorrow. ‘Before they find her and bleed her on a fucking altar just to track down her damn friend.’

Did you see THAT coming?

Me neither. But say hi to the set of tables I call ‘Whodunit and What For’. Okay, this is not how they’re called in the core rulebook, but I wrote them, so I get to call them however I want. We’ll get back to them.

Remember the story told by fake-Henequen to Tomorrow? The one about one blood mage who sacrificed his wife in a ritual and failed to sacrifice his daughter, and a whole pile of sad that came out of the whole endeavor? Well, that daughter is Chloe’s friend, Fayette Vann – who has disappeared from the same university about a month before Chloe did. From what Tomorrow was able to learn, they were both kidnapped by Aztech-connected forces, then rescued by a group of shadowrunners. They went into hiding, using ALOHA’s resources in Hawai’i – and must have been split up at some point, otherwise Aztech wouldn’t be looking specifically for Chloe to use her as a sympathetic link in a blood magic ritual to track down Fayette.

Why blood magic?

I like it. It was a thread in this investigation from the beginning and I’m happy to bring it back. Tomorrow has already befriended one blood mage, Salazar from Bloodhounds gang, and was seriously considering picking up this taboo magic art. (I’ll be honest, the main reason she didn’t is because I ran out of karma/xp to buy it in our campaign.) If you’re not into SR, blood magic is exactly what you can expect: using the life essence to power spells and rituals, and it ranges from animal to human (or bigger) sacrifice, encompasses all kinds of dark and awful things (but can also be used as a source of power in general, not only for nefarious purposes). And might be the easiest way to track down a missing relative.

Did somebody say: ‘corruption arc’? I sure didn’t. But, as a reminder: Tomorrow’s not a particularly good person, and when it comes to magic and research, she’s more concerned whether she can than with whether she should.

But first…

Bugs in Our Bedsheets

Nobody goes anywhere and rescues any sisters, until they figure out who is spying on them. Last we left off, the tracker ended at 6/9, and it took three more days to finish it. On the January 19th, Tomorrow and Tonight have finally put all the pieces together, and there’s nothing else to do than to pick up 3d10 and let the median dice decide.

First, the Whodunit: landed on 7, so…Orders From Above – the responsible party is one of your past or present higher-ups: an employer, the head of a Faction, or an otherwise superior Faction.

Second, the What For: Favors – they are either doing somebody a favor or trying to earn themselves favors from a bigger Faction.

Oh. A quick mental check of all past Tomorrow’s employers (other than herself, because she was usually doing whatever she wanted): Cutters (Wheeler, Friese), BBs (Bunny), Hellhounds (Salazar), Trey Eights (another gang in the area)… Well, looking at this and the logic of events, where and with whom Tomorrow actually spends time, and that I did not roll a 10 which would be a ‘family member or best friend’ result…

I guess the answer is obvious. And damn, it emergently gave me such a nice foreshadowing in the previous episodes. So, so, so nice.

January 19th, 2056

‘We’re going to an opera. Leave your boyfriends at home.’

Wheeler nods, as if there is nothing surprising about her request. There isn’t, not really – everybody knows he likes opera and it’s not like he would take any bodyguards to a date. But the message is clear, even without a spybook.

‘Cool. I actually have a free evening – now that nobody’s shooting at us all the time. See you there at six?’

‘I’ll be the one wearing a red rose.’ Tomorrow winks and disconnects the call.

When a couple of hours later he arrives the opera house in UCAS Sector, making sure he’s not followed, he finds his girlfriend waiting outside, alone in the snowstorm, her slim silhouette in a green coat standing out against the neon lights and the surrounding darkness. She smiles as he approaches and kisses him on the cheek.

‘Why didn’t you wait inside?’ he asks. ‘The weather’s awful.’

She seems to ponder the question. ‘It is rather cold, isn’t it?’ Almost as if in an afterthought, she wraps her arms around her and shivers. ‘Come on, I got us a nice, private booth.’

‘You forgot your rose,’ he observes as they walk inside, but she only grins. A curious scent hits his nose when he lets her through the door but it takes him a couple more seconds to pinpoint it. Ozone, he realizes as he helps her with her coat. There’s a storm brewing.

He allows himself to be led upstairs, noting the drone attendant welcome her back. He watches her steps and posture, just a tiny bit different. But it’s only at the door to the booth, when he asks: ‘So, what are you?’

The blue-haired elf turns back and looks at him with a mischievous smile. ‘For you? Probably an ongoing headache.’ She swipes the card through the reader and holds the door open for him. He looks inside, against his better judgement, and finds himself only slightly surprised at the sight of his girlfriend – with a red rose pinned to her black dress – and his second-in-command, currently busy opening a wine bottle.

‘Oh, you’re already here?’ says Tomorrow. ‘Awesome. Come in, we got stuff to discuss.’

‘I can see that. What did you do?’ he asks, pointing his thumb at his guide.

‘I’ve made a monster,’ she answers just as Friese chimes in: ‘An ally spirit. Since when you have an ally spirit? I want one!’

Wheeler drops on a seat in the booth and looks between his girlfriend, her carbon copy, and his court magician. ‘As far as dates go, this one starts like porn.’

‘Ha, you wish,’ says Friese offhandedly and her eyes glaze over, as always when she’s switching to looking at the astral space. ‘Nice work. And damn nice figure. You may consider putting some clothes on her.’

Tomorrow shrugs and so does her magic twin, then they both laugh.

‘Shame to cover a work of art. The name’s Tonight,’ explains the copy. ‘Anyway, you got business to discuss, and I was promised an opera.’

‘You and me both, Tonight.’ Wheeler decides to ignore the general weirdness of his life. It was, after all, his choice to surround himself with mages; had to pay the bill one day. ‘So, why the conspiracy? You sounded rather insistent.’

Tomorrow loses her smile; the change is instantaneous and disturbing. ‘Sorry I was so distant lately. I had a pile of intel to work through and then an investigation to run.’

‘And what in that investigation made you avoid us?’ Friese asks the question that Wheeler was pondering for almost two weeks now.

Tomorrow pulls out a folder from her bag and lowers her voice. ‘Longish story. A friend of mine found this in a flat of an insect spirit agent, after she geeked the mutant.’ She puts a photo of her sister on the table and from Friese’s surprised face Wheeler figures he’s been at least a tiny bit more trusted. ‘Her and I have hit a research lab that was connected to the case, Agni Institute. Found more data on Chloe. And on me.’

That one’s new, and Wheeler moves closer when Tomorrow drops a grey envelope. He looks at the notes, at her photos, at photos of them, at the dates, addresses, activities, and lists of contacts. Thorough, very thorough.

‘No magical surveillance, I see?’ comments Friese. ‘You know I’d never do work that shoddy. I’m officially offended that you even suspected me.’

‘I didn’t. Not for long anyway,’ admits Tomorrow. ‘Neither of you. Nothing in there covers things that happened only between us – unless they happened in front of other people, like in The Stampede. But I had to run all permutations and make sure I know who and how might be watching.’

The lights dim and the orchestra starts to warm up – not that they need to, it’s all drones anyway. Wheeler is thankful for the darkness, hiding photos and notes covering the table. He can feel the suspicion rising and realizes he doesn’t care at all about being put on ice. He listens to his two friends talking over the details, Tomorrow filling Friese in on the matters of Agni Institute and other things he already knows.

‘Who?’ he asks finally, making sure his voice is steady and anger in check. All three women turn towards him and he realizes that he interrupted their conversation. ‘Sorry. You must have figured it out by now.’

‘Specifically? No idea. Multiple people. But in all aspects that matter? Your fucking employers.’

Friese winces and pours herself a glass of wine. ‘Well, that sucks.’

‘Why?’ he questions. ‘This makes no sense. Not your train of thought, but the situation. Why would they? You’re not a threat to them – if anything, you’re a reasonably willing asset for hire, one that literally brought them a shitload of cash just last week. I doubt they care about Friese’s or my relationships that much. So why would they…’ he catches himself just before his conflicting loyalties make his personal life miserable. ‘Why do they spy on you?’

‘For this.’ Tomorrow pushes a button on her commlink and a message pops up on his cybereyes. He opens it and browses the collection of blueprints. Advanced weaponry. Laser-powered, he notices.

‘This is worth a small fortune,’ he says finally. ‘Where did you get that?’

‘Agni Institute. That’s what they were working on there, new guns. We stole the data from their network before we found the other things and burned down the whole place. A small fortune, you say? I guess I know how much my life is worth to the Cutters. I was afraid it might be something personal, like my friend being a bug spirit in disguise, infected, possessed, wanting to do the same to me. I’m so relieved it’s just business.’

She does not look relieved at all. If anything, she looks pissed and offended. And Wheeler can understand that, of course – even as he knows it really is just business. Run a simple, basic surveillance on a target that’s already in vicinity in exchange for access to brand new, bleeding-edge weaponry, potentially bringing millions in revenue? A simple call and one he’d make himself. Maybe not if it was about Tomorrow – but then… Maybe even then. Shame he didn’t know about it – if the higher-ups trusted him with this project, he could both keep tabs on it and make sure she’s safe. But maybe he can get on it – now that the covered blueprints are in his possession. He listens to Tomorrow and Friese raging against the audacity of this move and for a moment he worries he’ll need to replace his second-in-command over this.

‘You’re awfully quiet,’ the fake-Tomorrow whispers into his ear. He didn’t hear her approach, but that’s the deal with the spirits: you never know when they’re around. ‘She’ll remember you being awfully quiet.’

‘Why do you care?’

‘I think you two are cute together.’

‘Just how long have you been around? And when?’ he asks, suspicion dawning on him.

The spirit giggles. ‘Long enough. But never then. She’s very possessive of you, you know, and I like having time off. But I’m serious, you may want to join that conversation. Even if you gotta fake the outrage.’

He has half a mind to question that but he already knows the answer is going to include auras and readings – and his time is really better spent elsewhere. He sighs and joins his two friends in the outrage he can understand but does not share, hoping he will not be forced to choose between his career and his personal life.

Coming Up!

That’s it for now! I need to think through the events and consequences, and decide on the next steps. I’ll see you in the next episode – sometime during the holidays, probably!

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