Project Aphelion Solo Play #016: Take a Break

Life hasn’t been particularly fun for Tomorrow lately – it’s high time to take a break and zoom out, think strategically, plan alliances, and see what’s new in the world as we move to another month! Project Aphelion playtest is going great, Tomorrow’s life a bit less.


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January 27th, 2056

When Tomorrow wakes up the next morning, everything is wrong. There’s light in her eyes – this gloomy, impersonal, scattered bloom of a place that keeps lightbulbs away from you. There’s fog in her head – a familiar haze of detachment and depersonalization. There’s noise in her ears – somebody is shouting on a floor below, and it drives nails through her brain. But then her nose catches up and she’s no longer in prison. It’s just a nice, winter day in Best Western, the pillow smells of Wheeler, and she’s not in any immediate danger. She breathes in and out, releasing the tension.

She knows this flat almost as well as her own – a weird, almost empty apartment of somebody who lived in it for a couple of years but never thought to decorate it. Bare walls and utilitarian furniture that would spell minimalism if it wasn’t just placed there for the basic functionality, not for sleek design. No photos, no mementos, an absolute minimum of everything – easy to pack and go or just leave it behind. A wise move in the middle of a war, but they’re not in the middle of a war anymore. Maybe… Maybe they don’t have to live like that. Maybe they can start something better, together.

Tomorrow’s clothes are folded on the chair – definitely not how she left them. Her commlink lies on a night stand, blinking with the light of a missed call. She ignores it for now – if somebody really needed to reach her, they would. A shower, she decides. A shower, breakfast, and then anything else.

When some time later she enters the living room, there’s fresh coffee waiting for her on the table. Wheeler’s working at his desk but he puts the keyboard away at the sight of her.

‘Morning, love.’

The coffee smells amazing and the cup warms up her cold fingers.

‘Afternoon.’ Wheeler smiles. ‘You were out for a while. I figured it’s best to just let you sleep it off.’

‘Handsome and smart,’ she purrs approvingly and kisses the smiling lips. ‘I needed that. What are you doing?’

‘Standard boring admin shit. Organizing the delivery of construction materials to the old Shadowmarket, believe it or not. There was an explosion there, if you remember, and we need to fix the sinkhole above the tunnel before we let the traders back inside.’

‘Oh. I can help you with that. After all, it’s my tunnel – I might as well move the earth back where it belongs.’

‘Only if it’s not too much effort. You need to rest.’

‘Am I on bed rest, doctor?’ she whispers teasingly into his ear.

‘If you want to.’

Tomorrow sighs. ‘Later. I have stuff to do. I’ve seen my dad called me and I can feel Tonight’s still in Dallas.’

Wheeler nods. ‘He called me too this morning, after you didn’t pick up. They got a bit spooked by meeting a spirit with your face, but other than your mother’s fresh migraine, they’re fine. Harry says he’s more than used to keeping the guard up from the Azzies, and this is barely a change. Tonight is helping them relocate into a Rangers’ closed community – it will take a couple of days, but they have it well in hand. I got some people keeping an eye out, just in case.’

‘Nothing for me to do, huh? Thank you.’

‘You can go down to the clinic and get yourself checked, as a matter of fact. As much as they piss me off with that drug lab, Harmon is a good medic.’

‘I’m fine.’ Tomorrow shrugs.

‘I’ve talked to Salazar too.’

She bites her lip and looks away – for just a fraction of a second, but it’s enough of a confirmation.

‘A medical check-up and a couple days of relative rest,’ he repeats. ‘Please, Sarah. Before you meet with any other dragons or take on a whole hive of insect spirits. You can’t help your sister if you’re dead.’

It costs her everything to agree – the burning desire to constantly push the needle is right there, like a branding iron against her brain. But finally, she concedes. She almost bled out, severely hurt herself, hasn’t heard from Raven since the ritual, and the memory of a hole in place of her heart scares her like hell every time she allows herself to think about it. She needs rest.

‘Until the end of the month,’ she agrees. ‘Unless something terrible happens.’


Faction Layer, January 27th, 2056

Honestly, Tomorrow needs a break. I’ve been running her ragged this month, and this is just not how people are supposed to be. I know she’s not a real person, but if I can’t stop my PC from getting burned out, what chances do I have? The blood magic ritual, even though it didn’t end badly, provides a perfect excuse to just give Tomorrow some time off – which, in Aphelion terms, means the time without running projects or Scenarios (skill learning doesn’t matter). Think of it as ‘shore leave’ – each free day staves off 5 days of Deployment Fatigue, and by giving Tomorrow those 5 days off, I’m covering the other 25 of hard work – no need to pay for Luxuries in February! We’ve also made some changes to the Income trait and cleaned up the monthly upkeep costs to make it easier to keep track of.

The lack of projects and Scenarios doesn’t mean Tomorrow needs to sit on her ass doing nothing – she’s free to do what she wants, as long as it’s narrative: she will be contacting Phase and discussing the matter of insect spirits, she will be getting in touch with Zacualtipan, she’s still due getting contacted by Green Bishops as the consequence of the Ants in Our Plans scenario, she can visit her friends, help out with whatever they’re doing… Busy, but not making mechanical progress, if you catch my drift.

Tonight can safely run the project of ‘keeping parents safe’ on her own, rolling 1v5 until she gets 5 marks, which takes her 6 days, ending the project on Feb 1st. Tomorrow takes time off until Jan 31st, and all I need to do is to play out a couple of narrative points, then move to the next month and see what’s new in the world.

Only, I can’t be bothered to write the full proper narrative for them all, so let me just draft it in main points. Fill in the gaps yourself, why don’t you?


Visit in the Clinic

Tomorrow learns that nothing is physically wrong with her, other than the obvious blood loss. Mentally, hard to tell – but what else is new in her case?

Doctor Harmon – a middle-aged, curt, abrupt, and rather abrasive man with a corporate past – is less than happy at his friend’s irresponsible behavior, even if it was ‘for science.’ But then, he’s rarely happy anyway, so Tomorrow just casually drops the piece of intel about exactly why the clinic’s relationship with its landlord is so unfriendly – and the Doc equally casually informs her that he knows, and that he’s quite enjoying the fact that Cutters were forced to look for a diplomatic solution instead of just blasting their way through BBs, after Cutter soldiers found themselves with their murderous intentions a bit stunted.

Tomorrow wishes she didn’t know that – while she can appreciate the double play and ingenuity, Wheeler would hate knowing he got played like that, and the clinic would not stay at Best Western for long. She resolves to keep it for herself – and advises Doc to never do anything so stupid again. He returns the same advice to her as his medical opinion.


Chat with Phase

Phase is happy to hear the matter of insect spirits resolved so fast. With his crew gone, the insect shaman will need to replenish his forces, looking for new victims and having to leave whatever hideout he’s currently occupying. This gives Phase an opportunity to track him and the Queen down, as well as save people from a terrible fate. She seems quite excited at the idea, confirming for Tomorrow that she’s not the only person with a mission.


Meeting with Zacualtipan

I want this to have a proper meaning, so for now, let’s assume that Tomorrow has called the Serpent’s Feather, politely asked for a meeting, and one was granted her in February. I don’t know yet if I feel like running it as a Scenario, trying to score some Payout out of it, but the stakes seem big enough for that. And Tomorrow’s running out of cash, so she could use a paycheck for her search of Fayette Vann.


Meetings with friends and keeping up with life

Tomorrow really should help Wheeler with that tunnel under the Shadowmarket – during the war, she dug it out with magic, allowing Cutters a surprise attack at BBs’s fortified outpost, giving them the edge they needed. And she still feels terrible because of every casualty that happened during that fight, on either side. Alas, what’s done is done, and maybe fixing the place and bringing commerce back will bring her some closure, while keeping her mind off other things.

She makes sure to spend a lot of time with her boyfriend and help him out. She’s been so focused on her investigation lately that some things fell to the side and should be properly dusted off and put in order – like the idea that your partner is not just there to help you with the main plot. She doesn’t have to ‘get to know’ him or his life (they’ve been together for about half a year now), but she definitely was rather self-centered lately, and this is no basis for a long-term relationship. I suppose a project to increase the contact rating is in order too, but that will have to come in February.


Reconnecting with Raven

The Environmental Damage of the last scenario has caused only Stamina damage and Drain to Raven – if it was allowed to run for longer, I’d have to figure out how magical-mental-physical Injuries work on a mentor spirit who is… Nobody really knows what, but not something you can kill – not any more than you can kill an idea. However, removing Drain is relatively easy (up to 10 minutes per point, normally), so after getting some rest and proper meditation, Tomorrow can again hear this mischievous, supportive voice of chaos at the back of her head. Who, incidentally, also tells her to slow down and take some time off.


Contact with Green Bishops

Now, THIS is podracing!


January 30th, 2056

When a green icon of a chess bishop pops up on her commlink, Tomorrow isn’t even surprised. She has asked them for contact, and while it took much longer than she expected – over a month – she’s finally getting it. Unless it’s somebody just pretending to be them, unless it’s another plot, unless somebody’s playing her for a fool…

‘Hoi,’ is all she says after picking up the call. And she is not ready for what is waiting on the other side.

‘Hi!’ A red-haired ork girl, maybe twelve, in pigtails of all things, smiles widely at her. ‘You must be Sarah. My name’s Lisa and it’s a real pleasure to meet you.’

‘Likewise, Lisa.’ She responds with a smile, her eyes searching the caller’s background for any clues, any extra details. But she finds nothing but a bare, greyish wall. ‘I was waiting for your call.’

‘I know, I know. We weren’t sure if it’s safe, but after you dismantled those who kept eyes on you, we figured it’s as good time as any. Nice job on those pesky bug spirit spies. Serves them right!’ The girl pulls out a candy from her pocket and stuffs it in her mouth, tusks gleaming in the screen’s light. ‘One day we’ll get rid of them all.’

‘Thanks.’ Tomorrow raises an eyebrow, unsure what to make of this child on the other side, which she supposes is exactly the point of putting her there. ‘Kinda the plan, but definitely not my current focus.’

‘Oh, I know, I know. Of course it’s all about your sister. You double-checked our data, I imagine?’

Tomorrow nods. ‘I’d rather not discuss it on an open line.’

‘We took precautions on this call – but I understand.’ Lisa grins and pops a balloon from the candy she’s chewing. ‘In that case let me just tell you that we’re continuing along the same lines of investigation and slowly making progress. It requires some trust-building exercises with the group in question, but we’ll get there. And we’ll let you know once we learn something solid.’

‘Why?’

The girl seems to ponder the question for a while, even though Tomorrow is sure it’s just for show.

‘One, your parents paid us and we don’t feel like we fully delivered just yet. Two, this case is messed up and we think it will be good karma to help you out. Three, we might need a mage at some point, and we don’t have one in our team. We figured you might be open to trading favors. Matrix support for magic support, how about that?’

‘Potentially. And separately negotiated, not as a part of this deal. After, ah, trust-building exercises. I don’t even know you.’

‘Of course, of course. Yes to all of this.’ Lisa waves a hand with rainbow-colored fingernails. ‘I’ll leave you the details for a cold relay, so we can contact one another safely. I trust you know how to use it?’ She barely waits for Tomorrow to confirm. ‘Lovely. I think that’s all for now. We have some leads, we’re following on them, we’ll be in touch when there’s a need for it. Call us when you need us, too. It this okay with you?’

‘Sounds like a plan. Thanks for getting in touch, Lisa. I hope we’ll get to chat more openly next time. Also, love your nail polish.’

‘Thanks, I love your hair too.’ The twelve-year-old girl pops another balloon. ‘Talk to you soon!’

The call disconnects. Tomorrow checks the metadata, but it’s just a blank bumped through the closest tower in UCAS Sector, originating in whoever-knows-where. Not something she can track – they’re correct, matrix work is definitely something she’s always been outsourcing. When the message with cold relay’s directions arrives, she makes sure to remember it – and she’s right: the data disappears from her hard drive after a minute or so.

She’s yet to decide whether she trusts those people – and it won’t happen anytime soon.


Month Rollover!

And suddenly, it’s already February. Oh, how the time flies when you’re running yourself into the ground.

Let me start from the most fun part and see what’s new in the world!

  1. Aztechnology has finished their project and managed to establish themselves in the Warrens – right in time, aren’t they? They’ve also raised the rating of their Asset by 1 – their Crew of agents is now R3. And the re-opening Shadow market brings a lot of opportunities. For their new project… Zacualtipan’s attack was an openly hostile action and Aztech is a vindictive Faction. Their new project is therefore a retaliatory strike against the dragon. However, the two Factions didn’t have any Familiarity, so I rolled – and they’re at a perfect 10. Which means that Aztech has no beef whatsoever with Zac, neither she with them. It’s only Dzitbalchen that she hates, and only Dzitbalchen that hates her back. Tomorrow is going to step right into a massive mess.
  2. Henequen is still doing whatever the dragon wants; I think we’ll be slowly putting him in the background, as the story seems moving away from his plans.
  3. The Cutters had a project that was brought to completion by Tonight and her interference basically means they get to pick out a new project. Now, they need to focus on the commercial side of the business, making sure that Shadowmarket again brings them money. We’ll see how this goes in a month.
  4. Hellhounds were running some in-depth magical research and they have just finished. Whatever Salazar came up with (who knows, maybe Tomorrow’s research came in handy – she did sell him her notes and helped him out with his research before the ritual), is probably going to be on the darker side of magic – Tomorrow’s favorite flavor. Only, the effect of their finished project was reducing the Asset of another Faction by 1, and their lowest Familiarity is with Phase… Who has a bunch of young bikers whom she is trying to keep away from gangs… From gangs exactly like The Hellhounds… Only, she’s been busy with insect spirits for the last two months, so she probably doesn’t really pay that much attention to what her combat biking team does between the training sessions. Oh, this is such a delightful drama.Their new project is, I suppose, bolstering their ranks and making themselves fully independent from the Cutters – with the turf war over, Cutters no longer desperately need Hellhounds to protect their southern border, so Salazar feels the need to make sure their alliance stands – and that his gang doesn’t get eaten alive.
  5. Doc and his clinic are doing their business as usual, waiting for the opportunity to get into the story.
  6. Crowley the Free Spirit was busy working on the protection of the metaplanar gate and keeping it hidden from external eyes. He has failed – which may or may not be connected to that new Aztech outpost and people directly interested in researching the metaplane. His new project will be against any Faction that decides to force their way through his defenses – as a placating Faction, he’s focusing on improving the relationship with the Faction on lowest familiarity, which incidentally means Cutters – so protecting their territory sounds like a plan!
  7. Phase has failed to contain the bug spirits (somewhat), and is now forced to choose between hunting down the insect shaman and getting back her crew of bikers. The kids joining Hellhounds is exactly what she wanted to avoid, but she was too busy with the bug spirits to give her crew enough attention, apparently. And the sad thing: she still is too busy for that. She might need somebody to do that for her, once she even notices something’s up.
  8. The Ancients aren’t too happy with Fair O’Raspberries and decide to focus (as a sedentary Faction) on developing their club instead. If The Stampede gets popular enough, it will be a nice spy hub.
  9. ALOHA keeps blowing up shit. Which is great, because it doesn’t specifically put Chloe in danger. We’ll see what happens next month – either succeeding at this project or failing it gives me a reason to throw a spanner into the story gears. Not yet, though.
  10. Yakuza/MCT has finished their cutting-edge research and gained a new R1 Asset – how about a Crew they can from now on use to influence the other Factions? Maybe infiltrate ALOHA, just for the fun of it, as they’re already in Hawai’i anyway? The two Factions didn’t have any Familiarity between them, so I’ve rolled, and they’re now at 5.
  11. Green Bishops are continuing their research and snooping – looks like there won’t be any data packages from them this month.
  12. Zacualtipan has a plan and is scheming like a proper dragon, but the execution of this plan (or at least a part of it) depends on Tomorrow’s actions and dice rolls.
  13. BBs were planning to establish proper trade relations with the Cutters, and they’re still at it. Both Factions are now working together, not against one another, so it might even work out.
  14. Bug spirits and their unending quest to destroy metahumanity is still ongoing – however, due to lack of Assets, they cannot continue until they manage to replenish their ranks. Their new project calls for creating new Assets.

Let’s make some order in it, so you can see how this all works out and how is it going to influence the story and Tomorrow’s life.

The big one is, of course, the Aztechnology/Zacualtipan conundrum. Dzitbalchen’s revenge will come sooner or later, and Zacualtipan obviously knows that. She will want to execute a part of her plan before that happens, to reduce the chance that her Assets get damaged – and will want to use an Asset that’s freelance-based to not deplete hers. That means Tomorrow will get an offer and it will be a time-sensitive one. Adding to the time pressure, yakuza’s infiltrator is working their way into ALOHA – and with the yaks being so chummy with Aztech, who knows if they’re not doing their friends a favor by looking for one specific person in the Hawai’ian resistance?

The brand-new deal between Cutters and BBs has put an end to the turf war, letting both gangs to work on recuperating their losses and bringing commerce back where it belonged. However, this is not particularly good news to other gangs in the area – so far, they were important allies to either of the big ones. Now, that the two big players shook hands and joined forces, the smaller gangs suddenly found themselves less needed. This hit Hellhounds in particular – just a moment ago, they were a key ally to the Cutters, protecting their southern border and enjoying access to Cutters’ supply lines. Now the Cutters don’t need them anymore – and with Wheeler being rather annoyed at Salazar for personal reasons of bleeding out his girlfriend on an altar, who knows how long that alliance will last? Sal has found himself in a dire need of more people – and he just happened to find a group of rather bored youth-at-risk-of-delinquency combat bikers whose training schedule went down the drain, because their coach spends all days hunting bug spirits. Which is hilarious, because Tomorrow is a part of said group as their medic and admin.

Meanwhile, the stories about the metaplanar gate are circulating and even Crowley’s hard work proves just not enough to contain them. Is this the reason for the appearance of that small group of Aztlaners that applied for their trading post in the re-opening Shadowmarket? They brought money with them and access to new and exciting supplies, so of course Cutters had no issue letting Aztechnology share in the joy of the open market. Whether they’re there for the metaplane, for the market, or for spying on Tomorrow, Wheeler has no reason to tell them ‘no’ – he figures it’s better to know where they are, so he can keep an eye on them.

To keep things in order, so they don’t all happen on Feb 1st:

  • Aztechnology, 4 dice, 9 marks in 4 rolls, no net marks
  • Hellhounds, 3 dice, 9 marks in 7 rolls, no net marks
  • Crowley, 5 dice, 9 marks in 3 rolls, 3 net marks

Order of events: Crowley’s defense project, Aztech moving in, Hellhounds bolstering their ranks. Tomorrow is going to be pretty busy in the Warrens if she chooses to get involved. Somewhere between one dragon and another, that is.

Other Factions that finished/failed their projects, like Ancients and Yakuza, don’t create interesting plot points for Tomorrow to get involved yet, so I’ll keep them in the background.


Money Matters!

I got two characters now, so a bit more counting, but I think I’ll survive. Yes, there are rules to make it easier, I just happen to enjoy counting money. Modular mechanics and all.

Tomorrow:
Necessities: 6
Biotech: 0
Maintenance: used to be 17, but now I have a R2 SpamBox and R4 chem grenade, so it’s 23
Luxuries: not needed, due to actually taking time off
Contacts: 3 x R2 + 4 x R1 = 10
Income: no longer there, we’ve reworked this trait into something more interesting and active
Total monthly upkeep = 39= 3,900c
Total number of Scenarios run: 3
Deployment cost for a single Scenario = 1/2 of total monthly Upkeep
Total cost of Scenarios run: 5,850c
Total cost on Feb 1st = 3,900 + 5,850 = 9,750c

Tonight:
Necessities: 10
Biotech: 0
Maintenance: she has a R1 starter package for Agents + R2 street bling = 8
Contacts: 8
Luxuries: no time off, so need to pay for each of her days of work = 25
Total monthly upkeep: 51 = 5,100c
Total number of Scenarios run: 1
Total cost of Scenarios run: 2,600c
Total cost on Feb 1st = 5,100 + 2,600 = 7,700c

Total Faction cost: 9,750c + 7,700c = 17,450c = 3 Payouts of Chloe intel (to cover Scenarios etc.) + 2,450c in cash

The beginning of February sees Tomorrow with this, as far as resources go:

  • 1 Payout worth of cash
  • 3 Payouts worth of Influence towards Henequen’s Faction
  • 11 Payouts worth of Chloe Intel
  • 7 Payouts worth of Dragon Intel
  • Cash: 2,550c
  • 4 points of general Influence for Rep

She’s running out of money and should probably balance her life a bit better. Preferably use up that Influence towards Henequen’s Faction to give herself an edge somewhere – and start using up the intel on Chloe and dragons before the newly arrived Aztechnology decides to plunder her trove of data! And honestly, earn some money. There’s only so long she can eat mana biscuits before I decide it messes her up.

Faction resources are more than just ‘I can pay my rent with that’ points. They are a currency that can buy automatic marks in projects, facilitate research, increase Familiarity etc., which means they can buy what’s most valuable – time. One of the things Tomorrow doesn’t really need right now is the Henequen’s influence.

Remember that ‘A Dinner with a Dragon‘ Scenario ends with Henequen saying: “Now, tell me about those friends of yours. Do I remember correctly that they’re dealing in weaponry?” In SR lore, Henequen is a weapon smuggler as well, and Tomorrow using the opportunity of a personal contact and favors with Henequen to broker a quick deal for the new Shadowmarket and raise Wheeler to R2 contact sounds like something she would definitely do. She needs to dedicate 2 points of Payout (equal to the new Rating), then run a Project with Challenge 2 and 1 point of Resistance (current Contact Rating). It takes her 3 days (done by Feb 3rd*), 2 points of Henequen’s influence are spent, Wheeler is now a R2 Social/Warfare contact and possibly a bit happier. It’s been a third out of four Scenarios/Projects to his benefit – one more and they’ll finally get to Fam 10. True love all around – and quantifiable! That being said, Cutters and Henequen are now Factions in contact, and their initial Familiarity equals 6.

*To even out the calendar, Tonight gets two days off on 2nd and 3rd of February, because she was also working hard most of January and deserves a break.

The intel will wait until an opportunity presents itself – this massive pile will allow Tomorrow to run and speed up research projects, legwork, investigations, and even reduce the Threat Rating of specific Scenarios. And I think we’re just about to start getting on with those Chloe- and dragons-related stuff. Act Two, haven’t I mentioned?


Coming Up!

There are many things brewing in the background, and Tomorrow is about to start her offensive to get her sister back. But they’ll wait until the next episode, before I run out of characters in a blog post.

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