Project Aphelion Solo Play #027: Who Plays with Fire

After the grueling scenario played last time, it’s time to slow down, re-assess, reconsider… Or just accept the consequences and throw ourselves into the spiral of retaliation and vengeance. Yes, that sounds more plausible in this case.


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March 13th, 2056

The building is on fire. The flames reach towards the ceiling, swallowing the trash, the furniture, the bodies. The smoke burns her throat; biting, coarse, oily smoke stinking of garbage and decay. The raging fire drowns all other sounds, it’s all just a sea of noise. The corpse standing in the middle of the room looks at her with unseeing, white eyes, its face rotten through, oozing pus and black, putrid blood. Sharp teeth show through the hole in the cheek, blackened and falling apart.

I did what you asked me for, she calls out with an accusation. Why are you showing me this?

The rotten body bursts in flames. An inhuman shriek cuts through the air, causing the windows to break into a mist of glass shards. A ball of fire burns out a hole in the corpse’s naked, blackened chest, then spreads and burns until there’s nothing but a dried husk of a humanoid in front of her. A gust of wind falls through the broken window and scatters the ashes, carrying them away.

You did what you wanted, says the wind.

The flames part and a woman steps through, her hands keeping them at bay. Long, raven-black hair is floating in the hot air, surrounding her tall silhouette like unfolding wings. Dark eyes reflect the fire, like embers burning in the beautiful, elven face. There are scars on the woman’s wrists, there’s blood on her skin, there’s a smile on her red lips. There’s death in her footsteps.

This isn’t who I am!

There is no answer, just sudden, overwhelming amusement. The feeling grows until all she can do is laugh as well, chuckling at the obvious, obvious lie. The fire rages around her as she laughs, and the woman waits patiently, smiling as if she understood everything.

Damn, I look hot. But this isn’t who I want to be.

It’s your choice. Whatever you choose, own it. 

The black-haired woman grins and waves her hand. The fire rushes forward, crossing the space between them in less than a heartbeat. And then, there’s nothing but pain as Tomorrow’s skin burns away and she howls in agony. 


‘Sarah? Sarah! Fuck!’ 

Adam’s voice forces her to open her eyes. She catches her breath with a start, then turns to face him, already raising a hand in a calming gesture. It’s dark in the bedroom, barely a sliver of light falls through the curtains, just making the shadows deeper in comparison. The echo of her scream is still ringing in her ears and she focuses on the sound of her breath, on Adam’s scent, on the heaviness of the blanket covering her legs, on the acrid taste of smoke… No, this one shouldn’t be there.

‘I’m fine.’ She’s exhausted, her throat feels hoarse, and her skin is crawling and itching, but there’s a delightful clarity in her head. ‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you up.’

‘Fuck that. Like hell you’re fine.’ In the darkness, she can still see his eyes, hard and focused. Then she notices the pistol in his hand and his tense muscles. Tonight is right there in her head, searching for the reason of this obvious distress, and she calms down the ally spirit with a quick explanation. 

‘Just a nightmare?’ she offers to Adam with an apologetic smile. 

‘No. Talk.’ He doesn’t move, just pins her down with an unwavering stare.

She sighs and drags a hand through her hair, buying seconds, but she knows she can never buy enough to make him drop the subject. ‘Raven has offered me some hard truth and I took it. It hurt. But I really am okay. Relax. Please. And put that gun away, unless you plan to shoot me.’

‘I thought we’re under attack,’ he explains shortly. ‘What’s that truth about?’

Own it. 

‘That what we did with Sal, the whole carnage? I fucking enjoyed it.’

‘Lots of noise for that revelation.’ He finally puts the pistol back in the nightstand’s drawer and rolls his shoulders, releasing the tension. ‘I could tell you that much over coffee.’

‘As I said, sorry for waking you up. It’s just… I hate that I enjoyed it. And Raven has decided to show me how it feels to be burned alive, so I can make more informed decisions in the future, I suppose.’

‘Oh.’ Adam moves closer and puts his arms around her. His touch feels like ice against her hot, burning skin, but she chooses to focus on the reality over the aftereffects of magic. ‘Like all gods, yours is an asshole.’

She laughs, feeling the taste of smoke still lingering on her tongue. ‘He just showed me who I am. Not his fault it’s not necessarily who I want to be. But there’s no point in denying it either. I’m an egoistic, manipulative murderer and a thief with a seriously skewed moral compass, caring for nobody but myself and the few people I chose as mine.’

‘A rather one-dimensional portrayal, but not incorrect,’ he agrees quietly. His low voice sends a shiver down her spine as the judgement sets in.

‘Doesn’t it bother you?’ She knows it shouldn’t. He’s a Cutter – if they were to compare headcounts, she’d be way behind. Not that she wants to be ahead… And yet, the yearning for acceptance is almost as painful as the Raven’s lesson.

‘Why would it? I enjoy being one of the few. Just keep that manipulative murdering away from us, and we’re set for life. I know how fun it is to blow up buildings. It was literally our first date, remember? It’s just who we are. Barely a reason for a paradigm shift at four in the morning.’

‘Geez, I said I’m sorry. Just sleep through the next one.’ She pushes him away in mock anger. ‘Aren’t we supposed to, like, lift each other up and motivate to be better or something?’

Adam laughs and lies back down on the bed, hands behind his head. ‘Slim chance, my beloved criminal scum. The moment you grow a conscience, you’ll dump me, and then we’ll have to kill one another for the custody over the dog. You have magic, I have an army – it would get ugly.’

There’s suddenly so much to unpack that her tired mind refuses to engage. She’ll get back to that conversation, probably later today. But for now, she opts for the easiest way out: a joke. ‘Awh. You think it’s the time for the next step in this relationship?’

‘I do. Let’s get a puppy.’


Faction Layer, 13 March 2056

Raven clearly has opinions. And the main opinion of his is: you shouldn’t lie to yourself. Other people, he’s not that concerned about. But now he’s a R2 contact, so his role in the story will grow as well. How will it influence Tomorrow? Probably just with more introspection. She was never one for facing reality, she always prefers to manipulate it.

But now she’s getting a puppy. This means the relationship is serious, right? Great. This means she’ll be more miserable when something bad happens. Because we all know something bad will happen. I live for the drama. To be honest, Wheeler would make a good John Wick. He was a pretty badass NPC in our Shadowrun campaign, with an unerring bullshit radar and a mildly unsettling aura that made other PCs vaguely uncomfortable and threatened. Tomorrow called dibs on him after maybe three interactions. Then it took her about two months in-game to even talk to him like a person, but she really struggles on the social level. Up to and including, having serious, meaningful conversations with people in her life.

However.

This is a game, not an in-depth psychological study of a character who interests, statistically, maybe one and a half people – me included. Let’s play.


Skill learning

There’s quite a lot to catch up after the last Scenario. Most importantly, Tomorrow is going to spend some time with her sister and Tonight and help them pick up the first rank in Teaching, so they can start benefitting from the skill themselves. Because without it, leveling up higher skills is just impossible. They are all getting two days off on 13th and 14th of March, to chill, relax, and recenter, because this Hellhounds scenario – like all Hellhounds scenarios – obviously took a toll on people and relationships.

Chloe:
(Tomorrow’s Teaching+1, 3v3=3) Teaching 1, 3v3=2, skill learned (by 13th March)
Commerce 1, 5v6=4, skill learned (by 14th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v5=2) Investigation 2, 6v5=2, skill raised to 2 (by 16th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v5=3) Teaching 2, 3v4=3, skill raised to 2 (by 18th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v4=2) Electronic Warfare 4, 5v7=2 /4 (by 22nd March)
Command 1, 3v6=2, skill learned (by 23rd March)
Con 1, 6v6=4, skill learned (by 24th March)
Diplomacy 1, 6v6=2, skill learned (by 25th March)
Negotiation 1, 6v6=4, skill learned (by 26th March)

Tonight:
(Tomorrow’s Teaching+1, 3v3=3) Teaching 1, 4v3=4, skill learned (by 14th March)
(Teaching+1, 4v5=2) Negotiation 3, 5v6=5, skill raised (by 17th March)
(Teaching+1, 4v5=3) Teaching 2, 4v5=2, skill raised (by 19th March)
(Teaching+1, 4v4=4) Con 4, 5v5=2 (+1 previous, 3/4, by 23rd March)
Command 1, 4v6=3, skill learned (by 24th March)

Tomorrow:
Enforcing 1, 3v6=2, skill learned (by 19th March)
Engineering 1, 5v6=0, fail (by 20th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v3=3) Teaching 4, 3v6=2/4 (by 24th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v3=3) Palming 2, 5v4=3, skill raised (by 26th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v3=3) Sciences 3, 5v6=4, skill raised (by 29th March)
(Teaching+1, 3v3=2) Electronic Warfare 2, 5v5=3, skill raised (by 31st March)


Meanwhile, the Villain

Aha! It’s 15th March already, let’s get back to d’ Venescu. As you maybe remember, the blood mage was sending his R3 Social Crew to destroy a R3 Social Crew of Aztechnology (Payout 6 Scenario), because we made him think that it’s Aztech who ran that Slander Campaign against him. He’s currently at 32 Resources +4,125c in cash, and he needs to pay 1500c as the deployment cost of his Social Crew, leaving him at 32+2,625c. Slowly but surely, we’re bleeding him out.

(For reference, our Faction has currently 37 Resources, and we’re just a tiny R1 – we should probably spend them before somebody decides to steal our thingies.)

Now, the actual Scenario his Crew is about to run. We’ll go for a quick resolution here, because no matter how it ends, we’ve instigated d’Venescu’s attack on Aztechnology, who are a vindictive Faction, which means they’ll retaliate, further reducing their Familiarity and depleting d’Venescu’s forces… You get it.

The R3 Crew has 3 dice, 3 Skill in the Social Focus, 3 Resistance, 3 Clout, 2 Soak, and 2 pre-scored marks on Social stuff. The Scenario’s Payout is 6, and we need to get ourselves equipped with Threat Rating. The Scenario starts with Threat 3 due to the R3 Crew that is supposed to be destroyed. Offense needs to score 6 marks.

R3 crew is three Actors, so they face Resistance of 3, mitigated by 3 Clout and lowered by skill – a total of 3v3. They score the needed 6 marks in 2 days, plus 2 automarks, total 6 + 2 net. The Scenario rolls 6 dice (Payout) against difficulty 6 – 3 for 3 Offense Actors + 3 Offense’s Resistance = 6v6 twice, each time dropping 2 marks (Offense’s Soak), scoring 1 and 1 marks (post-soak) over two days. This means that Threat Rating equals 3 (Defense Crew) + half Scenario’s marks – half Offense’s net marks = 3 + 1 – 1 = 3. The Payout of 6 + 3 TR create a Scenario with Challenge 9.

(Time-wise, the Legwork happened on 15th and 16th of March, and the Scenario happens on 17th.)

If the Offense manages to collect 9 marks, they won. If the Scenario manages to reduce the number of marks to 0, they switch sides – the Scenario becomes Offense and if it gathers 3 marks (former-Offense’s Rating), Scenario wins. Offense rolls 3 dice (Rating) against difficulty 6 – 3 (Skill) + 6 (Payout Resistance) – 3 Clout) = 3v6. Scenario rolls 6 (Payout) against difficulty 6 – 3 (number of Offense Actors) + 3 (Offense’s Resistance) = 6v6. Offense gets 2 automarks in first interval and 2 soak in each interval.

Let’s roll and see how d’Venescu’s social team will fare against Aztechnology!

T1: Offense, 3v6=1 + 2 automarks = 3. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 1/9
T2: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 2/9
T3: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 5/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 4/9
T4: Offense, 3v6=1. MT 5/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 4/9
T5: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 6/9. Defense, 6v6=5 -2 soak = 3. MT 3/9
T6: Offense, 3v6=0. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 3/9
T7: Offense, 3v6=0. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 1/9
T8: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 2/9
T9: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 4/9. Defense, 6v6=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 4/9
T10: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 6/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 1. MT 4/9
T11: Offense, 3v6=1. MT 5/9. Defense, 6v6=5 -2 soak = 3. MT 2/9
T12: Offense, 3v6=1. MT 3/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 2/9
T13: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 4/9. Defense, 6v6=0 -2 soak = 0. MT 4/9
T14: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 6/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 4/9
T15: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 6/9. Defense, 6v6=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 6/9
T16: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 8/9. Defense, 6v6=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 7/9
T17: Offense, 3v6=1. MT 8/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 6/9
T18: Offense, 3v6=2. MT 8/9. Defense, 6v6=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 8/9
T19: Offense, 3v6=0. MT 8/9. Defense, 6v6=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 6/9
T20: Offense, 3v6=3. MT 9/9. Defense, 6v6=1 -2 soak = 0. MT 9/9

Interval ends with Offense’s MT 9/9. Offense wins, with no net marks!

Phew! That was a long Scenario and a couple of close calls! In game terms, it was more or less 20 minutes. In quick scenario resolution, the dice rolling took less than 5. And now we know that:

On 17th March, d’Venescu’s Faction has removed Aztechnology’s R3 Social Crew from the game. It’s gone and isn’t coming back.

D’Venescu’s team has finished a Scenario with 0 net marks and they’re due a Consequence roll. With a 4, they’re not getting any. Shame. It was so close to negative consequences.

Aztechnology has lost its only Social Asset, meaning they are no longer a Social Faction. Instead, their current secondary (Scientific) Focus becomes a primary one and we draw a new behavior for it, landing on Exclusive Growth. They need a new Secondary Focus, and the dice have decided it’s going to be a Technical one, with Exclusive Defense behavior. This is actually a great moment to kick in that Think Tank from previous Scenario Consequences and get Chloe busy with Raul and Aztech in a Scientific/Technical project – we start on 18th, then!

While the Scenario was covered in concealment by Dzitbalchen and Aztechnology didn’t know about it coming, it was not false-flagged, and Aztechnology knows damn well who’s behind it. That means that their Familiarity drops by 1, to 2. As Dzitbalchen made this attack possible, Familiarity with him drops as well (we didn’t have any, so I rolled a 4, which is now 3.) Hostility all around. Good.

Aztechnology has been running a project to establish a trade route between Shadowmarket and Aztlan Sector. This project has now, obviously failed, as the Crew responsible has been removed from the board. This means that they’re not only failing in the Warrens, they’re are also free to run a different project this month. And as a Vindictive Faction, they will target the Faction which did them most harm lately. Hopefully messing up d’Venescu’s resources, Assets, and general well-being.

Now, what kind of retaliation will it be? Aztech is now a R4 (Scientific/Technical) Faction, with a single asset of R2 Fleet of magic researchers. D’Venescu’s Faction is a R5 (Social/Investigative) Faction. The Scientific Fleet is going to be engaged in that Think Tank, which means Aztech will need to hire an Asset if they want to deal any damage. What approach should they take? The dice say: Investigative – a stealth mission, then, targeting the Faction itself. Aztechnology’s general approach is to hire expendable Assets – and what they need is an Investigative Asset. Preferably R3 or higher, to pull off a Payout 6-ish Scenario (hit ’em as much as they hit us, right?). Looking at the list of Factions in our campaign and the Assets available for Aztech to hire without creating new Factions… There’s a perfect fit right there. Securing this Asset will take Aztech 5 days (they didn’t have a free Asset to run search/negotiations, so had to do it through 1-dice Extras), meaning this this will land on 22nd March.

This is going to be fun.

Honestly, I love how Project Aphelion facilitates emergent gameplay. All of the above is decided by the game engine, procedural generation, Faction’s Assets and Behaviors, and zero GM fiat.


Back to the Plot!

As far as our story goes, it’s 15th March, and our three characters just had two days off after the last Scenario. I don’t really have anything set up for them, so I’ll give Tonight and Chloe two more days off (meaning they’ll have 5 this month and their need for rest and relaxation is fulfilled) and Tomorrow just one (because she only needs 4 total due to Low Expectations trait). Tomorrow gets back to work on 16th, probably dishing out her monthly money-making Scenario, and the other girls on 17th.

Meanwhile, we have R1 Field Lab running its first project, generating magical intel in a passive Field Research project – we’ll get 1 point at the beginning of April (technically on 10th, but I can’t be arsed to keep track of dates, so I’ll round it up). It’s not much, but it’s honest work, and once we upgrade the lab, it will add up long-term.

Our R1 Ghostworks are basically running a constant False Flag project, as we pretend to not be ourselves. If anything, we’re pretending to be Aztechnology. Does Aztechnology care? We’ll live and see. In any case, this means the Ghostworks need to run a Payout 4 project (why did I think Aztech is a R5 Faction? My bad for not checking my notes), in which they roll 1v5. It takes 8 days, starting on 11th, so from 19th we’re basically covered with an ongoing project – at least until Aztech realizes what we’re doing and they put a stop to it. But, as they’re running projects against d’Venescu themselves, I think we’ll be fine.

On 15th, our investment into Shadowmarket pays out, and we’re adding 3 Payouts worth of monies to the Faction’s resources (12 total). Over 17th-19th March, Tonight will negotiate the lease for the next month, and we’ll pay the 150c to use it again. 19th April will bring us 3 Payouts of cash again. Good return for small cash and 10% of a month spent running the project.


The Matters of Magical Security

Not bothering with the detailed Scenario, Tomorrow cashes in her free Income trait Scenario. Quick resolution rules again, because I have the main story to run, and I’m already excited about that.
Tomorrow is a R2 Scientific Actor, with 2 dice, 2 skill, 2 Clout, 2 Resistance, 1 soak and 1 automark. Scenario has Payout 3, so 3 dice. No crew, fleet, or facility, so the threat rating doesn’t get raised by anything.

Legwork takes no time for those Income Scenarios, but it takes rolls! Tomorrow rolls 2v4= 2+2, 1 net. Scenario rolls 3v7=1+0. Threat Rating = 1-1=3. Challenge = Payout + 0 = 3. Tomorrow needs to score 3 marks as Offense. She’s rolling 2 v 6 – 2 (Skill) + 3 (Payout Resistance) – 2 Clout = 2v5, and she comes in with 1 automark. Scenario rolls 3 v 6 – 1 (number of Actors) + 2 (Resistance) = 3v7, and gets hit with 1 point of Soak each interval.

T1: Offense: 2v5=2 + 1 automark = 3. MT 3/3. Defense: 3v7=2 -1 soak = 1. MT 2/3
T2: Offense: 2v5=2. MT 4/3. Defense: 3v7=1 -1 soak = 0. MT 4/3

Offense wins with 1 net mark!

Well, that was quick. We’re pocketing 3 cash Payouts for Tomorrow’s consulting job for Alp Group, adding +3 to Tomorrow’s rep tracker and raising the Familiarity to 7.

To finish that off, we’re rolling for consequences: I rolled an 8, with 1 net mark made a 9, so a positive consequence with magnitude 4. With another 8, looks like Tomorrow will be joining a Think Tank of her own, pushing her background plot forward, with Payout 4. As this is supposed to be the background plot, I think Tomorrow is going to actually make progress in her magical career. We’ll wrap it up under ‘investigating a mystery,’ i.e. solving magical conundrums in an academic setting – or maybe just giving her some quality time with her best friend before she leaves for Prague. After all, this think tank is brought to the table by ‘a person from a character’s backstory,’ and I have a thread unfinished there. We start on March 17th!

This is a Scientific project by two Scientific characters, a total of R4 Scientific Crew, working for a R5 (Warfare/Social) Faction, i.e. the Cutters (which means they only have 2 dice on this, as Scientific Focus falls under ‘Other’ for the Faction). After all, Wheeler did say that they’ll have to go through the magical defenses before Friese leaves. This means Tomorrow and Friese will be rolling 2v2 until they score 4 marks, which unsurprisingly happens within 2 days, with the project finished on 18th March (right in time for the d’Venescu’s news to drop and for Chloe to start her project!). It’s 4 points of magic research intel for us. It’s also a +1 to beneficial Cutter projects, which I believe raises the Familiarity with them to 9. It’s also 1 of the 3 projects we need to do with/for Friese to get her Familiarity to 10.

I rolled consequences for the project, landed on a 9, then on a 4, so: Cutters have appreciated Tomorrow’s effort and gifted her a beneficial project with Payout equal magnitude (4+1=5). With every step she takes, she gets deeper and deeper with the cartel, whether she wants it or not (she doesn’t). The best project in this case would be Protective Duty – adding Warfare focus to a target Project or Asset. I do not currently have a project that could benefit from this, but I might in the future. We’ll call it an IOY card from the Cutters to our Faction and we’ll cash in at a later date, when it’s needed.


March 17th-18th, 2056

Friese called it ‘giving back to the community,’ but obviously, it is just more work for the Cutters’ benefit. However, when Friese suggested that Tomorrow uses her magical-security-consultant expertise for the common good of making her own damn home safer, it was impossible to argue against her logic. Not that Tomorrow has tried – with Friese’s departure looming at the end of the month, any opportunity to hang out with her best friend was not to be squandered.

Working together with Friese has a completely different feel than with Salazar – everything is calm, put together, organized – and nobody is mocking Tomorrow’s straight lines, equations, and diagrams. It feels like holiday, when they print a big map of Cutters’ turf in the Warrens and measure the exact distances and angles for the protective perimeter, making allowances for the daily fluctuations of the mana field and the unpredictable spikes caused by the metaplanar gate. It takes them many hours to triangulate, calculate, and apply everything correctly – and neither of them has a problem with it. It’s just how it should be done.

It’s what she should be doing all that time.

They expand on the confusion magic on the perimeter, to keep the stragglers away. They strengthen the wards and tie them to the leyline, so the protection doesn’t run out of power. They bind the elementals on the watch-and-protect duty, keying the command to a rather uncomfortable Wheeler. They make fun of him mercilessly, when he tests the limits of this control and accidentally sets a garbage bin on fire.

And they finally have the time to talk.

‘Are you really not going to tell me why you’re moving back to Prague?’ asks Tomorrow once they’re done with the project and all maps, diagrams, calculations, and messy sketches get properly archived.

Friese winces. ‘Why can’t you leave this topic alone?’

‘Curiosity is my tragic flaw and it will lead to my downfall. Also, I’m worried about you. It’s not like you to wrap yourself in a privacy screen.’

‘Well, it is a private thing.’ The mage pulls out a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and turns it in her fingers. ‘Not something I’d be comfortable discussing in the current circumstances.’

‘Gotcha. Well, fine, it’s your call. You know where to find me when you wanna talk.’ Tomorrow drops the subject, busying herself with beer and snacks – at least outwardly. She focuses on the astral space around her, feeling the strong pull of the astral rift above their heads, and looks at her friend. Friese’s astral form sits in the same space as the material one, still clutching the cigarettes. Her healthy green aura is marred by a black hole where her forearm and palm should be.

The mage looks at Tomorrow with a serious expression and a flicker of tension ripples through her aura. ‘Not a word to Wheeler, understood? I don’t want Cutters anywhere near this, and I don’t want to put him in any conflict of loyalty. I like the guy and I’d rather avoid causing him trouble.’

Tomorrow nods slightly; it’s all the response she can do to not break the illusion of comfortable silence between them. With Friese being the only Awakened between the local Cutters, nobody can listen in on a conversation held in the astral space. It might be paranoia – but it might be what has kept them alive so far.

‘Good. It’s not really complicated. I got a friend in Prague. We met at the university, had a lot of fun together, then we and a couple of other people tried to do a project that would impress Schwarzkopf. Shit went sideways. We dropped out before they could kick us out. Now the shit has dried and crumbled away, she has managed to return to the uni, and I want my life back. Wheeler’s right – there’s no leaving the Cutters, but I really don’t see myself being more engaged in this business than I have to. I might come back here. But I need two years to finish my degree, and by then – we’ll see. Maybe the ship will sink, maybe nobody will give a damn about me anymore. But even if I have to stay with the Cutters, I’d rather do it in Prague. That’s where my life is.’

Tomorrow pulls out her commlink and pretends to read it, even though the screen is just a rectangle of dead grey when looked at from the astral space. She waits but it seems like Friese is done talking and already returning to her material form.

‘Hey, wanna catch a movie tonight? They’re playing some stupid chick-flick rom-com in an hour. Simsense, guaranteed happy ending. Sounds like something you’d enjoy.’

Friese smiles and lights a cigarette. ‘Sure, why not. We deserve something from life after all the work.’


From Aztech, with Love

On 17th March, d’Venescu has removed Aztechnology’s R3 Social Crew. On 18th March, Chloe gets a phone call and a warm invitation to a think tank led by her contact, Raul Aranda – an Azzie mage who has been helping her and Fayette for the last two years. The goal is to collect more intel on the blood mage’s dealings, location, and plans – gifting us 10 Payout worth of intel that will go straight towards the ‘destroying d’Venescu’s Faction’ tracker, bringing it up to 20. A far cry from 150 we need, but much closer to the 50 required to take him down a notch (or, a Rating).

Think tanks are generally Scientific projects, and while Chloe is a Technical character, she can still help. With 4 dice (Aztech’s Primary focus), Raul’s R2 as a Scientific contact, and Chloe’s +1, they will be rolling 4v3, collecting 10 marks in 4 days, finishing the project on 21st March with 0 net marks and a positive consequence of magnitude 10! The story just keeps developing itself.

I’ve rolled another 4, which means that Aztechnology has appreciated Chloe’s effort and will follow with the digging, providing us with a beneficial Project with payout 10 – I think that means we get to shave another 10 points off d’Venescu’s Faction in (4v4=3+3+4) three days, so by 24th March. That brings us up to 30/50, and d’Venescu-Aztech Familiarity is down to 1 and open hostility. Ours, however, grows by 2 (for 2 mutually-beneficial projects) – up to 6.


No Time for Sleep

Basically, I need to push the timeline to 22nd March, because that’s when Aztechnology’s retaliation project lands and stuff happens. It’ll be fun stuff. Chloe’s busy up to and including 21st March, but Tomorrow has three days unaccounted for and Tonight has two. It’s time to start working on one of the biggest problems we’re facing as a Faction: Tomorrow doesn’t have enough mental actions for all the spells she wants to cast and sustain.

Therefore, Tonight is going to start a Challenge 6 project of finding a R6 Training Facility for Wit Attribute. Within two days, she rolls 2v5 and scores 2/6 marks. We’ll pick that up later.

Tomorrow will spend the three days trying to get Wheeler to a R3 in a contact upgrade project. This will cost her 3 Payouts (1 point of Henequen Influence + 2 points of Cash) and require 3 marks in a project. Conveniently, we manage to score those within three days, which means Wheeler gets an upgrade as we helped him broker a great deal for him and the Cutters. This makes him our best, highest-ranking contact, with a useful Social/Warfare set of skills. This is also a third out of three projects to his benefit, which means that Familiarity finally reaches 10: the level of best friends, lovers, and happily-ever-afters. So, I suppose, they are getting that puppy after all.

Which brings us to…


Looks Like a Field Trip

March 22nd, 2056

It’s barely dawning outside, when Tomorrow’s commlink lights up with an incoming call. She’s not asleep, of course – just pouring over an unnecessarily complex metamagical treatise on leylines, and Phase’s face on caller ID interrupts her reading mid-sentence. Tomorrow glances at Adam’s sleeping form and carefully extracts herself from bed to not wake him up. She sneaks to the kitchen and casts a quick privacy charm to muffle the sounds.

‘That’s early for you,’ she remarks when the call connects. ‘What happened?’

Her team captain is somewhere outside; there’s nothing but pinkish-blue sky behind her and it suddenly makes Tomorrow itch for a flight. Judging by the way Phase’s hair flips from side to side, the wind is exquisite.

‘Yo, T. I’ve figured you’re up. I wouldn’t be, but when a Johnson wants to meet at five in the morning, you meet them at five in the morning and leave your negotiation clout for the money part. Anyway.’ Phase moves a bit and a wide panoramic view of Denver falls into the camera’s angle, seen from a high vantage point. ‘I just got hired by an Azzie chick to go harass one blood mage, so I wanted to ask if you wanna tag along. It’s just B&E with some data steal, so don’t get too excited.’

‘I rarely get excited before seven in the morning. Are you sure it’s connected to my thing?’ Tomorrow turns on the coffee machine and sits on the kitchen counter.

‘Reasonably. They name-dropped d’Venescu as the target without any prompting, so unless it’s a multi-layered intrigue meant to deceive and foil your personal quest, sounds like there’s a megacorp wanting to do more or less what you do. So, do you want in on the gig? I’m not paying you, just so we’re clear. But feel free to make a copy of the data we’re lifting and inflict whatever other damage you feel like doing within the parameters of the run.’

‘Of course I’m in.’ A warm, self-satisfied feeling grows in Tomorrow’s chest, and she can barely contain the grin. So their bet pitching d’Venescu against Aztechnology and vice-versa worked out perfectly. Not that she has expected anything other than a success… ‘Clear enough on the rules. Your run, I’m the unpaid intern with benefits and no life insurance.’

Phase nods. ‘Cool beans. You’ll save me days of legwork. I assume you already have a pile of intel on them anyway.’

‘Might have, depending on what exactly the job entails. I’ll pop in later today and we can go through the details in a more private setting.’

‘Doesn’t get any more private than a roof of a skyscraper at six thirty in the morning.’ Phase laughs and turns her commlink to the side, revealing a wall of mirror windows stretching good forty stories down, towards the ground. ‘But yeah, let’s meet in half an hour if you’re up and running. Johnson didn’t buy me any breakfast, cheapskate, and I feel today’s a waffle day.’


Coming Up!

In the next episode, we run a Scenario against d’Venescu – a proper heist, just like grandma used to make. We’re getting quite close to getting those 50 Payouts to reduce him to R4, which means I’ll get to show you how Structured Campaign Sub-Finales play out!

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