Project Aphelion Solo Play #020: One Step Forward…

After the absolutely self-indulgent episode 19.5, which was completely unnecessary for everybody but myself, it’s high time to get back to the playtest. We have projects to pick up, scenarios to plan, contacts to contact – and, I suppose, a hacker to add to our growing faction.


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Faction Layer, February 10th, 2056

After the excitement of the last couple of days, everybody (Chloe included) gets two days off, because come on – they deserve it. We’ll pick up the projects, skill learning, and all the other things on 12th.
Meanwhile, you can say hi to Chloe, because I need to add her to the Faction. We got a Crew R3 now! With a rather unspecialized focus, because we’re going 1-1-1 for scientific, social, and technical.

Chloe James: Character Generation

Focus: Technical (Hacker)
Important Attribute: Wit
Primary Skills: Hacking (Wit), Software (Wit), Electronic Warfare (Logic), IT (Logic)

Is my Faction severely skewed towards Wit/Logic? Yes. Does it make my game experience worse or harder? Not at all, because I mostly get to choose what my Faction is going to do and start projects that are within their competences.

Attributes: Toughness 3, Fitness 2, Awareness 3, Resolve 3, Logic 4, Wit 5
Origin: elf. Traits: First Impression, Low-Light Adaptation, Fragile
Upbringing: industrial: 2 Opportunities, 2 Citizen Contacts (rank 1), Job Well Done Action Card

Trials of Life:

1: First Day of School. Scientific Method (Logic). 4v6=4. Receive tier 1 Career Gear Pack, a toolkit or a bot, a personal printer, and 2 Opportunities. Improve your 3 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1 (Hacking 1, Software 1, IT 1). Move to: College Life.
(spending 2 opportunities on: Exceptional Talent (Wit 6) )

2: College Life (Hacking). 6v5=3. Receive 2 Opportunities. Receive 2 rank 2 citizen Contacts. Raise 2 primary and 2 non-primary Skill by 1 up to 1 (Electronic Warfare 1, Sciences 1, Investigation 1 + 1 Opportunity). Move to: Academia.

3: Academia (IT). 6v5=3. Raise the Skill used in this Task and 2 primary Skills by 1 up to 2 (IT 2, Hacking 2, Electronic Warfare 2). Receive +1 Fam with the Faction sponsoring the training (Aztechnology). Receive an Opportunity.
(spending opportunity to get an extra trial here)

4: Bounty on my Head (Tactics). 6v6=5. Raise the Skill used in this Task (Tactics 1) and 2 primary Skills by 1 up to 3 (Hacking 3, Electronic Warfare 3). Receive +1 Fam with the Faction sponsoring the bounty (Aztechnology). Reduce the Wanted Trait by 2 ranks. Receive an Opportunity.

5: Wide Dark Yonder. Total marks: 15. Receive an Advanced Action Card for your Career and raise any 2 Skills by 1 up to 3 (IT 3, Software 2). Receive a rank of the Lucky Trait.

Summing up:

Skills: Hacking 3, Software 2, Electronic Warfare 3, IT 3, Sciences 1, Investigation 1, Tactics 1.
Contacts: Citizen R1 (Melissa James, social/scientific, Fam 5), Citizen R1 (Harry James, warfare/investigative, Fam 4), Citizen R2 (Fayette Vann, scientific/warfare, Fam 10), Citizen R2 (Raul Aranda, scientific (mage)/creative, Fam 8).
Factions: Aztechnology rolled 3 +2, Fam 5.
Traits: First Impression, Low-Light Adaptation, Fragile, Lucky (1)
Gear: R1 Career Gear Pack (Technician Jumpsuit, TerraNova UtilityTech commlink, R1 Encoder, R1 Overlay Bot Stealth, R1 Black Screen Bullets, R1 Laser Connector), a R1 Hacking toolkit, a R1 personal printer
Action Cards: Job Well Done, AAC Hijack Broadcast (M/I, Logic (Electronic Warfare) vs R. When CR reached, hijacks comms to work as a Connection for Hacking. Once established, Connection lasts as long as the communication is open.
Opportunities: 7. 2 spent on Exceptional Talent (Logic 5). 2 more to get Lucky up to (2). 2 more on Analytical Mind (2 Clout on Investigation and Legwork tasks). 1 spent on Anarchist.
Career: Hacker 1. Free AAC: Hack the System.

Cost of joining the Faction: 1 Payout, cash.

February 12th, 2056

‘So what is your plan, exactly?’

Tomorrow tears herself away from a data feed and ponders the question. Get rid of d’Venescu, obviously. Without him, the ritual cannot be completed, and Fayette has no more use to Aztech, Dzitbalchen, and anybody else concerned. Which makes Chloe also blissfully irrelevant. But how to do it? Where to find him?

Admittedly, they haven’t made much progress in the last two days – not that they tried. After talking through the night, they’ve left Hawai’i in a VTOL with Wheeler, Stella, and Georgie – still catching up on the stories of the last six years. Cutters mostly left them to their own devices – friendly but giving them space. And as soon as they arrived back at Best Western, Tomorrow got so busy making Chloe feel safe and at home, that they barely had the time for anything else. Between introductions, making sure Chloe is comfortable in Tomorrow’s tiny flat, renewing wards and mana barriers, shopping for clothes and gear, medical check-up, and constant conversations, planning was purposefully pushed to the side.

‘We need more intel,’ she answers calmly and watches Tonight sigh. ‘Well, there are too many unknowns at the moment – we don’t know what they have at hand, how they’re trying to track Chloe down, where they can be found, and what defenses are even there.’

‘And I need to talk to Fayette,’ adds Chloe. ‘But for that, I need a secure connection. The Matrix here is a joke. No wonder Wheeler has so many in-person meetings – anything they’d commit to the Matrix, would be stolen in about five minutes, tops.’

‘Right, Raul has mentioned you have a cold relay. Give me a list what you need, I’ll try to get you the gear.’

‘Oh, I didn’t mean the cold relay; the connection’s good enough for that. Faye and I have a different point of contact – one that Raul doesn’t know about.’ Chloe isn’t grinning, but her smile carries the note of mischief that was missing just a couple days ago. In a pink t-shirt and comfortable sweatpants, she looks much healthier and happier – as much difference as 48 hours of safety and two nights of proper sleep can make.

‘Ha!’ exclaims Tomorrow triumphantly. ‘I knew they guy cannot be trusted!’

‘I trust Raul. He’s a friend and did not sell us out so far,’ corrects her Chloe. ‘I just don’t believe he has any business reading personal conversations between my girlfriend and I. I’ve tossed a message on the relay, so she doesn’t have to worry, but you know… It would be nice to talk. She might have some useful information too.’

‘I’ll see what I can do. Meanwhile, we need to make sure you’re safe here. I know Crowley was working on some project to keep ill-intentioned people out of Best Western – well, away from his beloved metaplanar gate. It might be worth making sure that the protection covers specific people as well. Maybe I’ll manage to convince the old man to add some anti-magic-spying defenses…’

She stops when her commlink rings, showing an unknown LTG number trying to connect not with her personal line, but the business one, rerouted through a Pueblo relay. The one that she uses so rarely, she usually doesn’t even remember about it.

The tiny blue icon of Mitsuhama Computer Technologies on the call doesn’t make this any better.

‘Blue Crow Lab, Sarah speaking,’ she answers after a while, making sure neither her sister or a hovering nearby doppelgänger can be seen through the camera. Nothing but Tomorrow and a perfectly empty wall, in fact.

‘Good morning, Miss James.’ The dark-skinned man on the other side sends her a polite, professional smile. Thick-rimmed glasses on his nose reflect the screen, casting a blueish hue on his face and the white lab coat. ‘My name is Michael McLaughlin, I’m calling you from Mitsuhama Thaumaturgical Research. We have recently discovered your published research and realized it would be in everybody’s best interest if we got in touch with you.’

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. McLaughlin,’ responds Tomorrow, sending a mental request to her ally spirit. ‘Thank you for taking interest in our company. How can I help you?’

‘I believe we can help one another. And please, call me Michael.’ McLaughlin swipes his fingers across the screen, displaying Blue Crow’s Matrix store. ‘We’d like to buy the license for your spell formulas. All of them.’

‘All…?’ Tomorrow’s brain can stop itself from doing a quick calculation.

‘All of them, Miss James.’ The smile on the man’s face becomes slightly warmer after noticing her obvious surprise. ‘And for the exclusive resale rights. You will still, of course, be attributed as an author of them and retain the right of using them as an end-user.’

‘Riiight.’ She pulls herself together. ‘What is your offer, then?’

McLaughin gives her the quote and she needs to reconsider the state of her put-togetherness.

Ask for more, you hopeless case, laughs Tonight in her head. How did you ever got any money from your business before? Also, Chloe checked the guy, looks legit. The call definitely comes from a MCT source, and the photo ID checks out. He’s a manager in their division of independent researchers or something. Mostly dealing with acquisitions.

‘We’d also like to fund your future research,’ he adds after several seconds of silence, while Tomorrow considers her options. ‘I have read your paper on the intersection of mind-affecting illusion magic, spirit-provided concealment, and the camouflage properties of several paracritters. A fascinating piece and very useful for our security division. We were wondering if you would be interested in continuing the research in that direction. We have several grants waiting for prospective independent researchers.’

Great, she thinks. Not only they want to buy a year of my work, they also want to buy me… A part of her balks at the idea of working for a corporation, especially one connected to yakuza. On the other hand… Tomorrow keeps herself from looking at her sister, but with Chloe already here, already more or less safe, isn’t it high time to start thinking about herself? She wants to do magic research. Her tiny company is a nice side gig, but the money it brings barely covers the essentials. Having a real research grant and her name connected to proprietary MCT spell formulas – even if she makes no more money off them – would jump-start her career something fierce, forge connections she needs to make progress in the field. At some point, the matter of d’Venescu will be closed and nearly forgotten, and Sarah James will still need to eat. She doesn’t want to be dependent on the Cutters and serving as the cartel’s magician for hire.

‘That’s lovely,’ she finally responds. ‘Thank you so much for the opportunity, I am definitely interested in this partnership. Would you mind sending me the paperwork, so I can discuss it with our lawyers? And please, call me Sarah.’

‘I’m sending over the documents right now.’ The data transfer icon pops up on the screen, and McLaughin leans closer, resting his chin on folded palms. ‘I assure you you’re making the right decision, Sarah. Which reminds me: my colleagues from another department asked me to convey a message…’ He smiles again, with the same professional smile of a seasoned negotiator. ‘They understand your sister’s reluctance was caused by nothing more but her recent relocation, and they wish to inform her that they have similar positions available outside of Hawai’i, should she reconsider. They will be awaiting her call once the matters are resolved. Have a good day, Miss James.’

It takes Tomorrow a second to notice that McLaughlin disconnected the call, and a couple more before she looks at her sister.

Chloe’s face is a blank slate – not a sign of emotion on it, but the paleness of her skin betrays her fear. ‘Two days,’ she says finally, and the neutral tone of her voice is almost unbearable.

‘They still can’t touch you here,’ responds Tomorrow with all assuredness she can muster. ‘And I don’t think they mean to harm you. I think this is supposed to be a reward. They were working against ALOHA, weren’t they?’

Chloe nods slowly. ‘A reward with a fishing hook in it. I don’t want to work for a corp. Not now, not ever. Congrats to you, though. Are you going to take them up on the offer?’

‘I don’t know.’ Tomorrow scans the license; the legalese doesn’t mean much to her, but she’s sure Wheeler has a corp law chip somewhere in his skillwires collection. ‘They are offering… Damn. Forty-five thousands. Cash. Straight away. We could really use the money. Investigations are fucking expensive, and this… This would allow us to focus on taking down d’Venescu, without worrying about running out of hot water.’

‘Where’s the catch?’

‘Well, fifteen kay in it is from a grant. They’d like me to…’ she stops as she parses the document, then continues in a carefully controlled, impassive voice. ‘Well, you know. It’s a research grant. They fund me, they own the result. It will take some time, but the timeline is rather forgiving… And if both sides are happy afterwards, they mention the possibility of a future collaboration.’

‘Sounds like what you wanted,’ reminds her Chloe quietly. ‘An arcane research career, right? And unless you want to work for Aztech, MCT is the best place for that. Their tech is top-notch, and I’ve heard the magic is too. Get a couple of Mitsuhama grants and by the time you’re done with your degree, any research lab will want to hire you.’

‘Yeah, but…’ She sighs and folds. It feels egoistic, it feels wrong to take care of her career when Chloe’s life is still in jeopardy. To open herself to a contact with corp that is also interested in her sister. But the money is great and they need it. ‘Fine. I’ll have Wheeler scan this for fine print and if it’s clear, I’ll make the deal. I just hope it doesn’t blow up in our faces.’

Getting Back to Business

Yakuza/MCT has finished its beneficial (for us) project from Scenario 10 consequences, and as they’re not one to share their intel or destroy our enemies, it made sense for them to basically buy out all of Tomorrow’s magic research and hire her as a freelance researcher with a nice batch of 9 Payouts worth of cash. 10th point we’re getting is a R1 scientific/social contact, Michael McLaughlin, with Familiarity 5 to start. As he’s working in Mitsuhama Thaumaturgical Research, he counts as +1 to Tomorrow’s career-related contacts for the purpose of the deed.

Skill Learning

Due to everything that happened, I am a bit behind on that, but I’ve decided I won’t sweat it and just pick up on 12th, run it until the end of the month, and then deal with life as it happens.

(Teaching 3v4=2) Teaching 3, 3v6=2 / 3 marks, by 14th Feb
(Teaching 3v4=1) Sorcery 5, 5v9=0 marks, by 19th Feb
(Teaching 3v4=2) Investigation 3, 4v6=2 +2 previous marks, skill raised, by 22nd Feb
(Teaching 3v4=1) Diplomacy 2, 4v6=2 +1 previous mark, skill raised, by 24th Feb
(Teaching 3v4=2) Perception 2, 4v5=2, skill raised, by 26th Feb
(Teaching 3v4=3) Marksmanship 2, 4v4=1 /2 marks, by 28th Feb
and I’m out of the month.

Perception 1, 3v6=2, skill raised, by 12th Feb
Con 4, 5v9=1 /4, by 16th Feb
Diplomacy 4, 5v9=0, by 20th Feb
Investigation 1, 5v6=4, skill raised, by 21st Feb
Hacking 1, 5v6=5, skill raised, by 22nd Feb
Software 1, 5v6=3, skill raised, by 23rd Feb
and I’m out of the skills to raise.

Plan of Action

What Tomorrow’s Faction is going to be running in the next days and weeks, is a proper investigation of this part of Aztechnology that’s Dzitbalchen and d’Venescu. We need to know what are we up against. To simulate that, I’ll be creating a new Faction as per usual – but not right now. Instead, I’ll only roll for Faction Rating (9 dice, as always), and then run an Investigation project with a Challenge equal to Faction’s rating to learn things about it.

And I rolled an 8. An EIGHT. As Faction Ratings go only up to 5, this means 8 needs to be split into 5 (max) and 3 (leftover). By the power of flipping a coin, R5 is doing to be d’Venescu part, and R3 is going to be Dzitbalchen’s part. What exactly are they? No idea. It’s a project Chloe will be now running, rolling 1 dice of Faction rating against difficulty of 5.

Chloe gets 4 marks in 4 first days, and I will spend 4 points of dragon intel (the one we got from Zacualtipan, that covered her brother’s dealings) to buy 4 more marks, ending the project by 15th February.

In any case, it looks like our campaign is changing its basic premise, halfway through it. Mostly because destroying a R5 Faction to 0 is a matter of 50+40+30+20+10 = 150 Payouts, and we only have 45 left in this structured campaign. Oh well. It just means I’m going to be playing TWO structured campaigns at the same time.

First, the 55/100-point one, after rescuing Chloe, becomes a path to a normal, safe life for both sisters. Getting Fayette back, protecting Chloe etc. I called it ‘Get a Life,’ yes.

Second, with 150 points counter, becomes a long, hard, prolonged road to destroying a blood mage, his retinue, possibly removing Dzitbalchen’s support for his cause… Many, many options. Note: all 150 points of Payout are going towards destroying the Faction – this means we won’t be getting any Payout from it as cash or intel. It all goes into getting rid of d’Venescu. Technically, we’re looking at 5 consecutive campaigns here: reducing R5 to R4, R4 to R3 etc.

Good thing is – Driven trait works for both. But the scope of the task is… immense. For a R1 Faction to take on a R5 Faction (and an extra R3, don’t forget about it!), that’s going to require a lot of strategy, spending Resources, building alliances, calling in favors… And building a stronger Faction – because guess what’s the cost of destroying a R1 Faction? That’s right. 10. The same value Tomorrow just got as a freebie from MCT. Almost nothing, y’all.

We’re a tiny lil’ fish in a very big pond with very big predators. When the investigation is completed, we’ll see through their traits and behaviors how hungry they are.

Dzitbalchen, R3 Faction
Focuses: Investigative (Hostile Defense) / Scientific (Hostile Growth) / Other (Beneficial Growth).
Trait: Nomadic.
Assets: R2 Investigative Facility (Intelligence Center), R1 Scientific Facility (Research Lab)
Relationships: 2. D’Venescu (5). Zacualtipan (5).
Current projects: Stealth Deployment in Intelligence Center, providing Concealment to d’Venescu’s Projects. Passive intel generation in Research Lab, gathering intel against Zacualtipan’s Faction.

d’Venescu, R5 Faction
Focuses: Social (Exclusive Defense) / Creative (Hostile Defense) / Others (Exclusive Defense).
Trait: Excessive.
Assets: R3 Social Crew, R2 Creative Crew.
Relationships: 2. Dzitbalchen (5). Aztechnology (1).
Current projects: Social Engineering by the Social Crew, providing the creative Crew with 3 points of Social Clout for all Scenarios for the duration. The Creative Crew is actually the one running the investigation, under the guise of… IDK… A book tour? There are 3 careers in the creative focus, lemme roll quickly… Yup, Artisan it is. And Dzitbalchen’s Intelligence Center provides them with social concealment, allowing them to run the investigation without anybody realizing they’re connected with the blood mage (it is a big deal in SR – in the 2050s it’s more of a story to scare children than a threat, but those who know, know.) They will be rolling their 3 dice (half for secondary focus, rounded up) against the difficulty of 4, trying to sniff out Chloe.

Look at this thing. We could have had a full-on investigation / war with a bunch of blood mages. Instead, we have a highly paranoid, running-out-of-time, desperate mage in a hostile relationship with his mother corp and a dragon who is helping him, but doesn’t care about the success of his mission – or about d’Venescu personally. The blood mage must feel that finding Fayette is his only chance at survival – and yet he’s sitting still, trying to desperately protect himself and his assets from degradation.

Even better (for me, not for him) – his Excessive trait means he’s more likely to go for a high Payout – and he’s not getting it by targeting our tiny R1 Faction! In fact, our R1 Faction is a sudden advantage, making it easy to avoid detection and just not even registering on d’Venescu’s radar until we interact directly. The Faction trait and behaviors dictate that he’s focusing on protecting himself from Aztechnology, not on hunting down Chloe and Fayette, which explains why they managed to hide for so long.

That could have gone badly. But it didn’t. Instead, the emergent gameplay mechanics provided me with a pile of intrigue, plot hooks, and completely unexpected options. Why does the dragon help d’Venescu if it doesn’t really care? Was Raul correct, when he said Aztechnology thinks of d’Venescu as a PR disaster and a drain on the corporate resources? What is the connection between Dzitbalchen and Aztech? (Just because we don’t know what’s their Familiarity, doesn’t mean they don’t have any.) Can we use Aztech to target d’Venescu, especially with their social crew moving into the Shadowmarket?

And most importantly: what’s the book about?

Keep Your Friends Safe

If you remember, Crowley the Free Spirit has failed to keep the information about the metaplanar gate contained, and the rumors are circulating. This means he has moved to a new project – setting up the magical protections around the area, which happens to be an area that currently contains Chloe. Hence, it’s in the Faction’s best interest to make sure those protection efforts include an anti-spying ward.

So far, I was using lite strategy mechanics, and I will continue doing so for other Factions, but for where it matters (and it matters with BBEG of the campaign), I will be zooming in on the projects.

Let’s see. Crowley’s retinue is a R5 Investigative/Warfare Faction with a Placating trait – meaning adding 2 priority points to projects fixing his relationships with Factions on the lowest Familiarity. Conveniently for us, it’s Cutters and Zacualtipan, making a ‘defense of Best Western and Chloe’ a perfectly viable option.

His Investigative behavior is hostile growth – focusing on growing Assets and the Faction through hostile projects. Assets for that are a R3 Facility of a magical research lab (which would be technically, an Intelligence Center Facility) and a R1 Crew of wanna-be students, meaning 1 Actor. The Intelligence Center allows Crowley to run a Covert Ops project, providing Defense against Investigation projects, and the Crew can be running a Disinformation project, creating Resistance for a target project.
The Warfare behavior is exclusive growth – and the R2 crew of elementals are running a Logistics project, giving a target Asset free marks in the next Warfare project.

This all makes sense, rules- and world-wise. And thankfully, this all works out to about +6 on the priority queue to do those things, which means I don’t have to convince him to do that. Crowley has a vested interest in keeping Best Western secured and an extra interest in helping out in Zacualtipan’s plan.

Let me quickly establish Familiarity between Crowley and d’Venescu – he needs to be aware of the blood mage to target his project. With a 3, we’re losing the 2 points of priority from Placating trait (d’Venescu is now on the lowest one for Crowley), but as we’re still at +4, we’re good to go.

For as long as they’re sustained (indefinitely), Crowley’s projects provide us with 3 points of Defense against projects trying to investigate Best Western (automatically negating 3 marks that are the maximum d’Venescu’s crew can score!), give them 1 extra points of Resistance, and the retinue of elementals are standing by, getting ready for any Warfare project in the future. Which means that I don’t have to worry about d’Venescu finding Chloe anytime soon – not until we bring his attention to ourselves or Crowley changes his projects.

Always Make a Deal with a Dragon

Zacualtipan is another ally we can use as she’s specifically interested in making Dzitbalchen’s life sad. The beneficial offense behavior suggests that she will be helping us out, not attacking her brother directly. PR Campaign project sounds most likely, providing us with Social Focus equal to Asset rating (3) for Social projects.

Who Doesn’t Move Forward…

While Chloe is running her investigation of d’Venescu, our two other Assets need a job.

Tomorrow is good at one thing, and one thing only: magic. Well, two things only: magic and stealth. It would make sense for her to get rid of the hanging grant for MCT, for example by creating a new magic item. As we’ve noticed in Scenario 10, nobody but her has a even shred of competence when it comes to Stealth, and a magical consumable that provides the user with free Concealment points would be great. A R3 would suffice. This is going to be a scientific/inventive project, creating a similar effect to out street bling / elegant jewelry.

Basically, a Stealth consumable with a duration of other Investigative consumables, providing free automatic marks. I have started with R3, then reduced both the positive stat of Duration and the negative of Half-Life by 2 points. It will only work for 10 intervals, but its use can only be noticed and tracked of 1 day, making it harder to realize it was even used. Stealth is useless if they can track you down the next day.

RatingEffectHalf LifeDuration (10I)Action CardNotes
InvisiCloak33110ConcealmentActivated with a Mental Action, starts working from the next interval. Provides the user with free Concealment points equal to Rating for the duration.

Am I making it for myself and also selling it to MCT? Yes. I don’t have to – the ‘grant’ is just something MCT would do lore-wise, has no mechanical requirements. But it works with the story, fits the magical research / stealthy bastard vibe of the character, and I’m sure it will be more that useful in the future.
Tomorrow is rolling her 1 dice against diff of 5, scoring 3 marks in 3 days (hurray for the Lucky trait that I never remember about.), so by 14th, she has her alchemical version of an invisibility cloak created. She pays half the item’s cost in materials. The total attribute number is 5 x 50c per each x 2 (automarks) = 500c, halved for materials. 250c and three days later, the item is ready, the ‘grant’ is done, and I get to add +1 to the magic item creation deed for the career purposes.

To bring the calendar to the same date, on 15th she’s working on her spell, bringing the progress on AAC to 1v6=1, so a total of 2/10. Woohoo!

Tonight has more important things on her mind – at least more important for her. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of the brand-new Shadowmarket and establish ourselves there as one of the traders? It would require convincing the BBs to let us use their R3 Facility (easily done, just a Social project with Payout 3 and paying the monthly deployment cost of 1125c for a month of use), then setting up a Commerce project there (R1 because I’m using a R1 Crew there), generating 1 point of cash Payout every day I spend in the marketplace. Why does the spirit want to do it? She wants to be where the people are. And there are deals, negotiations, rumors, and all kinds of delicacies on the market.

If you remember, we have free 3 points of Social focus for Social projects from Zac, so Tonight is rolling one dice against diff. of 2, scoring 3 marks by 14th Feb, and on 15th starting to earn monies for the Faction, at a respectable rate of 1 point per day (we will be reworking the passive generation rules, but this is were we stand, so I’ll keep it at that for the moment.) And this allows me to set up a brand new event happening, one of those that were supposed to happen in February.

February 15th, 2056

‘So basically, I’ve wasted several months of my life on hiding from a guy who is barely even looking for me. And I will personally punch anybody who tells me to look at the bright side here.’ Chloe’s voice is light and airy, but right below the surface, there’s a depth of anger and bitterness. ‘I’d happily throw something at the wall, but it’s been a while since I had a gear I care about.’

‘Yeah, no, it does suck balls,’ agrees Tomorrow and conjures an apple out of thin air; the golden particles of mana coalesce into the shape and glimmer for a while, then fade into a natural greenish shade of yellow. She tosses the apple to her sister. ‘Just remember you’re the one cleaning this flat now. We can go shoot some bullets later, if it will make you feel better.’

Chloe catches the fruit and considers the offer, then bites into the apple. ‘Thanks. Shooting something always worked. Daddy got us conditioned as hell. There’s no shaking that.’

‘Silver linings aside, this does give us an opportunity to work against him without him even noticing. If he’s mostly concerned with his survival and more scared of Aztech than willing to go out and look for you or Fayette, we can move into the offensive.’ Tonight is floating just under the ceiling, stretched out like on a hammock, staring at both sisters sprawled on the beanbags below her. ‘Whether we do it alone or with some allies, that’s a separate conversation. But I don’t see a reason why we wouldn’t make sure he can’t find us. Or Fayette.’

‘Allies?’ Tomorrow puts the hand behind her back. For the first time in months, she is happy to plan and plot. No matter how angry Chloe is about the situation, their chances went up considerably due to d’Venescu’s hermit-like behavior and clear defensiveness. She may even stop having nightmares about the Jaguar Guard kicking out her door, killing everybody, and dragging Chloe away… Well, probably. The constant fever that was driving her forward for the last year definitely has subsided at least a bit. It’s been a week since she got her sister back, and it was, by far, one of the happiest times of her life. To know that they’re not in any immediate danger? It’s a blessing, and she’s grateful for it.

‘We could definitely talk to Zacualtipan,’ she continues a moment later. ‘If her brother isn’t really that involved in d’Venescu’s business, he’s less of our concern, but he still needs to be taken into consideration. You said he’s sponsoring this book tour or something? Giving it a nice, public-friendly front?’

‘He has his people doing a book tour,’ despairs Chloe again with utter betrayal on her face. She tosses the apple core into a trash can, misses, then gets up from the beanbag with a grumble, untangling herself from all the cables connecting her to the terminal. ‘I get that he’s a blood mage, many times screwed over by shadowrunners and on a run from his mother corp, but… Does this sound like a reasonable solution for you?’

‘Not if he wants to find you, no,’ laughs Tonight. ‘This place is many things, but as for the readers, I think there are only about five of them outside of this room. But Fayette? Isn’t she closer to those literary and scientific circles?’

‘She is, yes. I don’t know exactly where she is, because of obvious security reasons, but I think it is some research lab. She got the longer straw when we split.’ Chloe smiles sadly. ‘Or maybe she didn’t. I doubt I’ll know for sure until we see each other again. Right now we’re just exchanging text messages with in-built self-destruction timer. Good for quick chats, much worse for in-depth sharing.’

‘We should probably focus on getting her here, I think.’ Tomorrow weighs her words carefully, not wanting to betray exactly what’s on her mind. ‘If all they want from you is leading them to her, it will be safer for both of you to stay together, protecting one another. And we can hide her here as well as we can hide you.’

And if they find her here, they won’t need to harm you, is what she doesn’t say, and she sure hopes nobody picks up on the unspoken words. 

‘We can probably protect her better now than before,’ supplies Tonight in a conservational tone. ‘Rumor has it, Aztechnology is moving into the Shadowmarket. Not officially, of course, but whoever they are, they caused quite a stir in the ‘hood. Enough to send Wizard, that Azzie street doc, packing.’

‘Aztech? Here? Why?’ Chloe scowls. ‘I don’t particularly mind, they helped us out many times, but it will bring attention to this place. And I’d rather not be under constant observation.’

‘I am not sure they are here for you, babe. I’ve spoken to some people… Looks like they were trying to get here for a while. Months, according to Wheeler. The market just gave them the opportunity. I think they’re here for the metaplane.’

‘Huh. He didn’t say anything to me,’ wonders Tomorrow. ‘But I suppose it would make sense.’

‘Well, when was the last time you even talked to him? You need to balance your life better.’

‘Oh, stuff it. I was busy. He survived twenty seven years without my loving embrace, he’ll survive a week,’ she says and as she does, she’s already planning the evening. Whether she wants to agree with Tonight or not, the spirit has a point, and Tomorrow has a date to organize. After all, it looks like they’re not about to get assaulted by an army anytime soon… 

‘Oh, sorry,’ catches up Chloe. ‘No, you must go. You don’t have to babysit me, I’m a big girl too. It will be nice to have an evening without seeing your ugly face everywhere I look.’

‘Then stop staring in the mirror, you knock-off copy.’

‘Hey!’ protests Tonight. ‘I thought I am your knock-off copy. You two are hurting my doppelgänger feelings.’

‘Y’all…’ starts Tomorrow, then laughs. ‘I love you. Stay safe. I’m gonna see if my boyfriend has an evening off. And a place for me in his flat, away from both of you.’ 

‘I missed you,’ whispers Wheeler when they rest together on his bed. His fingers trace a path down her side and hip, and Tomorrow giggles. ‘Did you have fun?’ 

‘About as much as always,’ she laughs. ‘Never had you asking before.’

‘Not with me, you doofus.’ He pushes her arm until she lies down on her back, then kisses her neck as she stretches leisurely. ‘I’m asking if you’re happy with your family reunion. I know you were worried.’

‘It’s all good. Like we never split. Better than expected, much better than feared. I am happy. However,’ she adds, returning the kisses. ‘Right now I’m happy because I’m with you. I missed you too. Sorry I got so caught up in the work.’

‘It is alright, you know.’ Adam’s voice is quiet and calm, and the warm air tickles her ear. ‘I know where you live. It’s not like I couldn’t find you. I just figured you needed some time together, uninterrupted.’

‘We did,’ she admits and lets her fingers enjoy the softness of his skin, the strong muscles just under the surface. ‘But I think we’re alright now. I was kicked out from my flat and called an ugly babysitter.’

‘Need a place to stay, maybe?’ His back arches when she drags a fingernail across his ribs, and it takes him a moment before he can continue. ‘It would solve the problem of us missing one another and returned you to your most natural state of an absolutely gorgeous not-babysitter.’ 

‘Sounds like a plan.’

‘I know we’re both busy and it realistically won’t give us more than late evenings to early mornings, but I really like waking up next to you. It’s the best part…’ He stops, listening to her laugh. ‘Right. You have already agreed. Great.’ He leans down and kisses her deeply, passionately. ‘Do you need any help moving in?’ 

‘That’s what she said,’ mutters Tomorrow with a contented sigh. ‘No, I’ll manage. And thank you. It will be nice to spend more time with you. You might be slowly becoming my favorite person.’

‘Well, good. You are mine.’

‘Awh. I love you too. Wanna be my boyfriend or something?’

‘Yes. I can’t imagine anything better.’

‘I can,’ laughs Tomorrow and gently pushes him to the side and down, until their positions are reversed. She embraces him and puts a leg over his stomach, enjoying the skin contact. ‘But let’s see how this living-together thing works out for us. It will be nice to see more of you. Anyway… How was your week, babe?’

‘Pretty good. The deal with BBs holds, we’ve finished fixing the market, so the jammers started re-appearing… Three so far, but it is three more than we had in the last months. Interestingly, gun sales are up – all the smaller gangs are heavily recruiting right now. The end of the mess with BBs made them less important, so they’re all worried about becoming a target instead of allies.’

‘Well, will they?’

‘Right now?’ Wheeler stares at the ceiling, his body fully relaxed, and all tension of the previous months gone. ‘No, I don’t think so. I grabbed a couple of beers with Bunny two days ago; he says hi, by the way. BBs seem happy with the current agreement. I think they are more concerned about being a profitable unit than about taking over more turf. Let’s be honest, this is the only part of the Warrens worth anybody’s time. Go east and south, there’s nothing but squatters, ghouls, dzoos, and whatever bug spirits also sit there. I think Hellhounds hold the southernmost still-livable area. Salazar’s been arming up lately too. He found a bunch of brand-new bikers somewhere. Fresh blood, mostly teenagers. Some Awakened between them, too.’

‘Well, he’s worried that you’re about to take over their territory. Because, you know. Personal reasons.’

‘See? That’s the problem with all those gangs,’ sighs Wheeler. ‘All they can think about is the personal vendettas, the turf, the expansion, the dick-measuring contests. Why on earth would we attack them? They’re a perfect buffer for us – a magical buffer, let me add. Unlike other thrill gangers, they actually stand a chance against all the crap walking out of the Warrens. If Sal sees a bunch of mutated ant people, he’ll throw a fireball at them without a second of hesitation, and he won’t waste time considering how his troops should approach a ghoul nest. And Hellhounds are way better than Treys, with their toxic mage in the east – I’m actually happy that BBs moved back in between us and them. In short,’ he adds after noticing himself ranting, ‘we’re not about to take over anybody’s turf. They fail to understand that Cutters are not a gang. We’re running a business here. If BBs took over Best Western, we’d probably just rent a couple of rooms from them and still sell weapons to all sides.’

‘And taking over other gangs would just deplete the customer base, I get it.’

‘Exactly. Neither are we recruiting – and if we were, we’d headhunt Tonight, not some random gangers. That spirit is one of the best negotiators around, she could make us some good money,’ he admits lightly. ‘But we and them… It’s not even that we’re in various leagues, we just play completely different games. They want territorial gains, adrenaline, life outside of societal bounds, freedom… We control the gun trade. That’s it. The more the gangs fight between themselves, the better for us – as long as neither of them wins and… How did you call it? Depletes the customer base. And if Lone Star comes to clear out this place at some point… Well, that just means we’ll be able to buy back a lot of our merchandise on the cheap at the back of Lone Star warehouses.’

‘You are a ruthless cartel.’

‘We are. Does it bother you?’

‘Not really,’ she admits after a moment of consideration. ‘I’d rather have you business-minded than subscribing to some gang ideology. How did you end up with the Cutters, though?’

‘I knew a guy who knew a chick who knew another guy… I was fresh out of college, rather unimpressed with both my degree in microeconomics and the amount of student loans. Cutters paid well, and as far as accounting careers go, this one is probably the least boring. Then Logan was moving to Denver with this new operation, and I went with him and Friese, to keep the books, bets, and money running. Anything to get out of Seattle, really; it’s a dump. Local units are more fun anyway. Especially lately.’

‘You don’t say… Command suits you, you know? I knew a lot of officers and NCOs in my life – half the Rangers corp, I think. You have a similar presence in the room. And you command twice the respect those buffoons did.’

‘Then why do I still need to suffer fools…?’ he complains dramatically, then laughs. ‘Thanks. Doing my best on a steep learning curve. Not what I was prepared for, but it seems to work so far. I just need to keep the precarious balance between bringing in enough profits to not get sent away to some outpost in Chelyabinsk and keeping this place simmering with unrest and gang politics, so none of the HQ people decide to move in and lord over a perfectly organized business endeavor. Basic corporate intrigue, honestly.’

‘Let me know if you need any help, love. I’m always happy to slightly destabilize the area. Chaos is fun, and I don’t think I’d like the weather in Chelyabinsk.’

Wheeler smiles, accepting her words for what they are – a declaration of commitment. ‘Me neither. Well, if you’re volunteering, you can check what’s up with Salazar. As much as I don’t mind him arming up, we don’t want him growing too fast and in a wrong direction.’

‘You want me to exploit our relationship and spy on my friend?’ Tomorrow feigns outrage for a second. ‘Yeah, okay. I wanted to talk to him anyway – we got some leads on the blood mage and I need to pick his brain a bit. I might as well check out his new troops. I’m curious about them too. It’s not every day you just find a retinue of bikers on these streets…’

Coming Up Next

Our Faction now has a R3 Crew, we know the opposition, all the seeds for the February developments have been sown: Crowley’s new defense project, Aztechnology moving into the area, Hellhounds extracting Phase’s biking team to bolster their Faction’s ranks…

In the next episode, we’ll pay a visit to Salazar, start digging holes under the blood mage, look for a way of rescuing Fayette through Matrix in a hacking scenario (yes, hacking rules! They work on intervals that don’t make the rest of the party sit on their asses for 40 minutes of hacker’s solo run!), probably giving Chloe some extra time to build gear and write proper software for herself (can’t do much hacking on a store-bought R1 commlink).

What’s after that? A slander campaign, an investigation of a book tour, undermining relationships, and more gang politics. With magic research on top.

Stay tuned!

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