Project Aphelion Solo Play #019.5: Together, At Last

This is not an episode of the playtest. It’s two people talking. But it’s been two years since I created a PC with a single backstory hook of finding her missing sister, and this meeting was imagined a hundred of times. You don’t have to read it. But I needed to write it.


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February 9th, 2056

‘Can you stay?’ asks Chloe when Tomorrow lets her into the shower room – a large, grey-tiled communal space befitting the former military base. It’s much too big for the current needs of the facility – and definitely much too big for the sole user. ‘I don’t really want to be alone. If that’s okay.’

‘Whatever you need. I could use a shower too.’ Tomorrow joins her, tossing her towel and a bag of toiletries on the nearby bench and unzipping the catsuit. ‘This weather is killing me. I get the heat, heat feels like home, but the humidity? Not compatible with stealth suits. They’re made to keep the heat inside.’

‘Eeew…’ Chloe scrunches her nose. ‘Yeah, you need a shower. I’m not going to say the weather is the worst part of staying here, not by a long run, but seriously… Half an hour and you feel like you’re drowning in your own sweat. Now imagine you don’t have running water. For weeks.’ She takes off her shirt and stares at it for a moment. ‘Is there any chance you have some spares to share?’

‘I do. Burn it all.’

‘A tad dramatic, don’t you think?’ Chloe takes off the rest of her clothes and with a kick, sends them flying across the room. ‘There. Ugh.’ She sighs. ‘I think I’m running out of shock. Apologies for the upcoming half an hour. I’m going to be unreasonably emotional.’

‘Oh no. Are we about to see another Chloe tantrum?’ Tomorrow extracts herself from the suit and folds it on the bench. She scratches an itch on her back and exhales with pleasure. ‘Awesome. Haven’t seen one in ages.’

‘Shut up,’ her sister answers with a laugh and turns the tap, then shivers as cold droplets hit her body. A moment later, after fiddling with the temperature settings, she seems to just melt. ‘God, yes,’ she mutters finally, tossing back her soaked hair.

‘You want to finish off the trinity with The Soap and The Holy Shampoo?’ Two bottles levitate though the air towards Chloe as Tomorrow takes the shower next to her.

‘Mhm. In a while.’ Chloe closes her eyes, then snaps them open a second later. ‘No, you’re right. Can’t keep the trinity waiting.’ She looks suspiciously at the floating bottles. ‘Since when you’re a mage, Sarah?’ 

‘I’m not. But I was really bored in prison and picked up a few tricks. Then some more over the last year. You were damn hard to find.’

‘Thanks. I did my best.’ Chloe grabs the shampoo and starts working on removing the grime from herself. ‘I sometimes wished I didn’t. So it would finally end.’

‘It will be over soon. You’re safe now – well, reasonably. We’ll get you settled, then…’ Tomorrow stops and looks at her sister. Her sunken eyes. Her thin body, barely anything more than skin and bones. Her exhaustion. ‘I’m sorry, Chloe. It must have been awful. I’m so sorry I couldn’t help you earlier. I knew you’re in Hawai’i. But I didn’t know where and the intel came from the dragon and d’Venescu, and I couldn’t just fly and look for you without leading them straight to you…’ She bites her lip and looks at the floor. ‘I’m so sorry. I know I’m late.’ 

‘How did you find me, actually?’ asks Chloe. 

Tomorrow grabs the bottle of shampoo and looks her sister in the eyes. ‘I let a blood mage bleed me out in a ritual and followed the magical link until I found you. Don’t worry, they can’t do the same. Mom and dad are safe, protected by the Rangers…’

‘You. Let. A blood mage. Do. What?’ 

‘Now you sound like Wheeler.’

‘I’m glad to hear your boyfriend has a brain. Because you clearly don’t. Blood magic? That’s exactly how they wanted to find Fayette!’ Chloe clenches her fists and takes a deep breath. Then she laughs, and the sound is so familiar, so forgotten, that it takes Tomorrow completely by surprise. ‘You knew, didn’t you? You knew they wanted to do that to me, so you decided you have even better chances than they do. You stole their nefarious plan.’

Sarah laughs too. ‘I fucking did.’

‘You’re insane, Sarah.’ 

‘And very happy to have you back. Believe me, I’d do it again if I had to. I missed you so much. Again, so sorry it took so long.’

Chloe shrugs, finishes her shower, and grabs the towel. ‘It’s okay. As you said, I survived. I wish I didn’t have to organize terrorist attacks for the last several months, but you know… No more.’

‘Yeah. We’ll find Fayette and get rid of her father.’ Tomorrow waits until her sister is finished, then steals her towel back. ‘Listen, I talked to Marti Vann and she said you two preferred to wait it out, but…’

Chloe stands on the wet floor, her arms wrapped around her in a childlike, defensive gesture, but her eyes are hard. ‘It’s been eighteen terrorist attacks I helped them organize. Hundred and eighty three people have died. I think my conscience will survive one more.’

Holy crap, thinks Tomorrow as the reality of Chloe’s life dawns on her. A sudden pressure in her temples is the only warning she gets before her eyes blur with the beginning of tears. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Pull yourself together. This isn’t what she needs right now.

‘Oh, little one.’ Tomorrow comes closer and wraps the towel back around her sister’s body, hiding her face. ‘You need therapy. I know a guy. But first, clothes, food, and sleep. Come on. We’ll get you sorted.’

‘You may want to put something on you. There are twenty other people in this building.’

‘Nah. Tonight? Can you please clean up here and get the stuff where it should be and all that?’ 

The spirit materializes a couple steps away and Chloe yelps in surprise. She pulls the towel closer around herself. ‘Damn. Again. Hi, Tonight.’

‘Hey, babe. Believe me, you ain’t got anything I haven’t seen already. Also.’ She turns to Tomorrow. ‘Not your maid. But you’re getting this one for free due to once-in-a-lifetime circumstances of a family reunion. Also, not your PA, but Wheeler says he expects you two need to catch up, so he moved his shit to the next room over to not make it awkward. Got some food ready for you in your room. Also, can I burn those clothes?’

‘Yes, please,’ confirms Chloe, shaking her head with a smile. ‘Can you tell my sister to put something on herself before she walks out from here?’ 

‘Shame to cover a work of art.’ Tonight shrugs. ‘She just wants to show off.’

‘Sue me.’ Tomorrow copies the gesture and changes into a raven, then flaps her wings in the air in front of Chloe’s face. The door to the room opens itself and the raven flies out, waiting in the corridor for Chloe to follow. Her sister looks stunned and unsure of what to do. 

‘You know, sis,’ says Tonight quietly. ‘She’s just excited to prove to you that she’s not just a stupid teenage criminal anymore. I believe everything she did in the last year was to get you back. Now, everything she’ll do will be to make you forgive her.’

‘There’s nothing to forgive. It wasn’t her fault.’

‘Then why are you standing here? Go and talk the night away. You really should catch up.’

When they finally reach the room, Tomorrow has her mind in order. A quick break in conversation was the only way to get her emotions under control, and by the time they’re both dressed, comfortable, and in the middle of a late-night snack, she’s almost back to normal.

‘So what’s the deal with that magic of yours?’ asks Chloe before Tomorrow can settle on a question of her own. ‘You can’t just pick up these things out of boredom.’

‘Oh. Hmm. Full disclosure or a snappy comeback?’ As far as stalling goes, she’s nowhere near Tonight’s abilities, and none of it seems to work on Chloe who just smiles. ‘Well, you know. I always had some magic in me, it was just… contained, apparently. When they put in me in prison, they did the same thing they do to other Awakened – they hooked me up on drugs, so I couldn’t use magic. And after some time, between one hallucination and another, I figured out that the giant raven I’ve been seeing wasn’t just in my brain. He taught me how to access my magic to do more with it: how to summon spirits, cast a couple of spells… We mostly talked, because I didn’t want anybody to see what I can do. You know, they’d move me to some magic ward. I prefer drugs to mage masks. Wrong type of BDSM.’

‘But a good motivation for the tattoo. Corvus constellation, isn’t it?’ Chloe shakes her head, eyes full of empathy. ‘I noticed it earlier, but I thought it was just an aesthetic choice. But It’s more, isn’t it?’

‘He saved my sanity back then. Seemed only proper to honor that.’ Tomorrow takes a breath and absent-mindedly traces the invisible lines between the tattooed stars on her forearm. ‘When I got out… Well, I learned about what happened to you. I kinda went into a frenzy, I guess. But there were no leads, nothing to follow, so I figured I need to git gud. You know: get allies, resources, and get better at magic, so I can track you down. And meanwhile, I realized that arcane research agrees with me, so this is what I’m doing when not flying to Hawai’i.’

‘You?’ laughs Chloe. ‘You could never sit down long enough to finish your homework, even. You’re a scientist now?’

‘I’m trying to be. Finished high school finally and I’m working on my degree online. Still can’t sit down long enough to do my homework lately anyway – but hey, worst case scenario, we’ll finish our studies together. You can get back to uni once this is done, you know.’

‘It would be a nice change of pace. I’ve done more hacking than astronomy in the last two years. Funny how useless astronomy is when you’re just trying to survive.’

‘How about Mezoamerican history?’

Chloe smiles sadly. ‘About the same. But Fayette has a couple millions of nuyen on a trust fund, so I don’t think she was ever concerned with getting a job or anything.’

‘Can you tell me about her? Not, you know, case things. Just… how did you two meet?’

‘We had some classes together. Mezoamerican history and astronomy actually have some overlap on the humanities side, so we decided to… ah… swap notes at some point.’

‘That’s what you kids call it these days?’ Tomorrow nudges her sister with an elbow. ‘Were they nicely packaged and even more interesting without the cover on?’

‘We, uh…’ Chloe grins. ‘Yes. Pretty much perfect for me. Hilarious, intelligent, and in a really nice cursive.’

‘Sounds like a great find. I’m happy for you.’

‘Thanks. She is amazing.’ Chloe puts her head on her sister’s lap and closes her eyes. Tomorrow grabs a comb and starts gently untangling the long blond hair. ‘Worth it all, you know? I know none of that would happen to me if we weren’t together, but… she’s worth it. Every time I see her, it’s like a supernova.’ She giggles suddenly. ‘Oh. I never told that to anybody.’

‘Just be grateful I’m not lactose-intolerant,’ laughs Tomorrow. ‘I’ve figured you haven’t really talked to anybody about it. I’ve stalked you and all your friends on social media, I haven’t seen a single mention of Fayette anywhere. Hiding much?’

‘Well, you know mom and dad…’ Chloe scowls. ‘There’s only so many times I can listen about this or that nice boy in the neighborhood but also college is for learning, not relationships. And I ran a thorough clean-up of our photos in the Matrix. It was enough d’Venescu was trying to use me to find Fayette. Like hell I’d allow him to use anything against us.’

‘I think mom and dad will be fine. I’ve given them a nice test run over the last year, and I think they finally grew up. Although… I wonder what would give them more heartache: you with Fayette or me with Adam. It’s like we picked the partners specifically to spite them, haven’t we?’

‘We did? Right, he’s with the Cutters. Dad would be livid.

‘He’s not with the Cutters, Chloe.’ Tomorrow shakes her head with a smile. ‘He’s their commanding officer in Denver. Also, they’ve already met this Christmas.’

‘Harry James meeting with some criminal scum? How did that go?’

‘Amazing. They all pretended that he works in logistics.’ She waits patiently until Chloe stops laughing. ‘Which, admittedly, is pretty much how running a chapter of a gun-smuggling cartel looks like most of the time. We’ve been rebuilding a market and negotiating deals with traders just the other day.’

‘We? Are you with them as well?’

‘Nah. I never wanted to join, they never asked me to. It’s more of a…’ Tomorrow purses her lips. ‘Well, I was in need of allies, and they had this building right at the edge of the Warrens, and the Shadowmarket. You know, literally just behind CAS/UCAS border, before the hellhole of Warrens starts. Cheap rent and outside of any cops’ supervision. Gangs don’t care if I have a license for practicing magic. I befriended their resident magician – you’ll like Friese, she’s your people – and from time to time helped around. We had a VITAS outbreak, ghoul problems, bug spirits, we opened a street clinic, we had a bloody turf war, massive fires, then some issues with a militant racist policlub that tried to blow us all up… And you know, Wheeler was in charge of organizing help or defenses most of the time, and I couldn’t just sit and watch it all happen, so we ended up working together quite often. At some point we realized we both enjoy it. Been together since August. I moved out since but I still have a flat there and lend a hand sometimes.’

‘Adam seems like a cool guy.’

‘He saved my life more than once. And he has a nice butt.’

‘I haven’t really had time nor inclination to check it out, but I trust your word. Do you have any long-term plans?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe. I’d like to, and I think he’d like that too. But I honestly… I wasn’t really planning my life for the time after finding you. Too many unknowns.’

‘Well, now you have no excuse.’ Chloe yawns and snuggles closer to her sister. ‘You found me. Life goes on. What now?’ 

‘Now we either find Fayette or we get rid of her father. Which one do you prefer?’ 

‘I don’t know. I miss her, and I worry about her, but it’s not like I want to drag her out of her hideout and risk… Oh.’

‘Yup. Welcome to my world. Population: the two of us. We’ll figure it out, little one. You’re not alone in it.’

‘Thanks. I know nowhere is safe, but I’m strangely excited for not starving. Even if it’s going to be another hideout for now.’

‘Well, you have a choice to make. I’m not going to make it for you, you’re a big girl. You can either go to Dallas and stay with mom and dad – they’re now living in a closed Rangers community – I don’t know if it’s necessary, but once I figured out how to find you, it made sense to keep them safe…’

‘No, thank you.’ The answer is quiet but it leaves no room for interpretation. ‘I’d rather stay in Hawai’i.’

‘That bad, huh? Aunt Mary said you had a massive fight.’

‘It was more than a fight,’ sighs Chloe. ‘Without you, they just went… I don’t know, they wanted me to be this poster child or something. Rescue their reputation. Prove to everybody that you were just a fuckup, that they’re not terrible parents, that they cut themselves completely from a failed project… Sorry.’ She hugs her sister. ‘I don’t think you’re a fuckup. You’re the coolest person I know. Now more than ever.’

‘Thanks. I love you too.’

‘Like you have a choice; I’m the coolest person you know. But you also know them – if you think they were controlling and disregarding our privacy when we were kids, then you have no idea how they got when you were gone. Not even a single part of my life was mine, you know? So when I got that scholarship in Denver, Azzies or not, I was packed before I finished reading the letter. Do you think they would do anything else now? Now, that they’d have an extra argument of keeping me safe?’ Chloe scowls. ‘You think they don’t do everything they can to control your life either? Tell me dad didn’t run a background check on your boyfriend. I need a laugh.’

‘Oh, I’m sure he did. They’re… trying, Chloe. But they were never good parents and they will probably not start now, no. I love them, but they’re both toxic.’

‘Yeah. I can talk to them, so they don’t have to worry about me anymore, but I’m not going to live with them. Not now, not ever.’

‘Same. We talk about once a week. I was there for Christmas and we only had one fight over three days. They know they fucked up royally with both of us. I’m not saying I made all my great choices because of them – I was rather stupid back then – but it was often the only way I could even breathe in that house. But, anyway – I suppose that means you’re moving in with me. I got a flat in Pueblo Sector, but I think the one in the Warrens will be safer for you.’

‘You got a place in Pueblo? Why? How?’

‘I got a Pueblo citizenship, sis. I’m no longer from CAS, not officially. Brand new SIN, pristine, without any criminal record, with a magic license and all. I got a spell research business, I pay taxes, all the jazz.’

‘Huh. Good for you. Let me rephrase then: you got a place in the Warrens? Just how much time you spend on border crossings…? You don’t. You jump the borders with magic risking your pristine SIN, don’t you?’

Tomorrow shrugs. ‘Gotta get the adrenaline somehow. Don’t worry, I’m a sneaky bastard and I’ve learned to hide my magic. The border patrols have a snowball’s chance in hell to even notice I’m not a real bird. Sadly, so do the predators… Had a couple of close encounters with blood hawks, but a bit of lightning is usually enough to make them go look for an easier snack.’

‘You’re insane. And I’m aware it’s not the first time I’m saying it.’

‘Yeah, I know. Pretty sure it’s the brain damage after five years of drugs, courtesy of Lone Star. But hey, you’ll like our corner of the Warrens. The turf war has ended last month, and we’re rebuilding the commerce and all. We got a bar and a street clinic, a friend of mine was even thinking about opening a school for the kids there. Matrix connection is a bit laggy, because it’s pirated from the Sioux Sector, and the water and electricity are hacked from UCAS and sometimes run out, but we got a free spirit and a metaplanar gate in the penthouse. And a drug lab in the basement. And a beginning of a garden on the roof, guys were talking about hydroponics for a while. The whole thing belongs to the Cutters, so there’s about ten people keeping watch at all times. We got magic defenses on the perimeter, elementals on guard duty, and a pile of other security measures, down to a secret escape tunnel. You’ll be safe there.’

‘Sounds…’ Chloe thinks for a moment. ‘Sounds like an upgrade. A weird, messed-up upgrade. I don’t even know where to start asking questions.’

‘I’ll give you a tour, don’t worry. Well, a small one. We don’t want to advertise your new address. But the whole building should be safe for you. I imagine you don’t want to pretend to be me. Or a cat.’

‘Ugh, no. On both counts. I think between you and Tonight, the role is already cast. And cats don’t have thumbs, so using a deck would be a pain. Do you have any good Matrix defenses in that building?’

Tomorrow shrugs. ‘No idea, honestly. Not my area of expertise. They don’t have a decker on site, if that’s what you’re asking.

‘Good. Maybe I’ll find a way to be useful, then. I need a safe connection to talk to Fayette anyway, might as well make sure your network is secured. And before you tell me I don’t have to do anything – I know. I want to. I can’t just sit and worry, I need something to do. At least Cutters aren’t terrorists.’

‘No, they only work in logistics.’ Tomorrow chuckles. ‘I have no proof, but I think all those explosives we took from ALOHA were just Cutters taking back their merch.’

‘I don’t think at this point either of us has the right to a moral high ground. We’re literally about to start planning an assassination of a mentally-unstable, senile father of my girlfriend.’

Tomorrow sighs and hugs her sister again, then pulls a blanket over her. ‘My little criminal scum. We’ll plan the murder another day. Now you should probably get some sleep.’ A quick glance at her commlink makes her wince. ‘Well, three hours or so. Better than nothing. We leave for Denver in the morning.’

‘Can you stay with me?’

‘I’m not going anywhere. Just rest.’

‘I missed you so much,’ mutters Chloe with her eyes closed. ‘It’s so good to have you back.’

Tomorrow pets her sister’s hair until Chloe falls asleep, then just keeps watch. Her, Tonight, and Raven. Nobody is going to harm her sister ever again.

Next time, we’re getting back to the playtest, I promise.

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