Project Aphelion Solo Play #045: Stoking the Flames

We have the Insecticide War to finish. We have the consequences of it to consider. We have some hard personal decisions to make. We also have bills to pay and living world to update.


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Faction Layer, 1 July 2056

Somehow, it’s already July. Time to pay the bills. We still need to pay for Chloe and Fayette, but that’s the last time. Our expenses will go way down next month.

TomorrowTonightChloeFayette
Necessities130010001100R2
Gear Maintenance250010001800R2
Contacts Upkeep2300800600R2
Luxuries000R2
Total Monthly6,100c2,800c3,700c2 Payouts
Scenarios / Projects6744
Deployment Costs60% of monthly Upkeep = 3,660c70% of monthly Upkeep = 1,960c40% of monthly Upkeep = 1,480c40% of monthly Upkeep = 4,000c
Facility UpkeepR3 Field Lab = 3,000c. R1 Ghostworks = 1,000c.
Total Faction Expenses37,700 = 7 cash payouts + 2,200c
Cash Left5 cash payouts + 3,000c

Field Lab brings us 3 points of Intel. Deal with BBs in the Shadowmarket brings us 6 cash Payouts.

  • Phase’s Resources: 34+3,500
  • Phase’s expenses: 6+1+1 = 8 Resources. She doesn’t have to pay for the contractors, because they’re hired for the month
  • Phase’s Resources post-bills: 26+3,500
  • Bug spirits’ Resources: 39+2,000
  • Bug spirits’ expenses: 1+1+1+1+1+1 +2 crews they had but we removed = 8
  • Bug spirits’ Resources post-bills: 31+2,000

Wars and investigations are expensive.


State of the World, 1 July 2056

  1. Aztechnology – They didn’t have an assigned project, but whatever they were doing, they succeeded and raised Fam with a chosen Faction by 1. I have no stake in this, they have Fam with 7 Factions, the d8 roll ended on a 1, so apparently it’s us. Fine by me, we did run two months of campaign against d’Venescu and Dzitbalchen with them, makes sense. We’re officially at Fam with Aztecchnology. After this, I think we’ll let Aztech go into the background. We had their fair share in this campaign.
  2. Henequen – chilling in the background.
  3. Cutters – still working on their Staging Arena. I think Wheeler is stalling on this, not really wanting to increase the warfare-preparedness of the cartel while he’s sorting out his life.
  4. Hellhounds – something went wrong and in the effect, they’ve lowered the Fam with an allied Faction by 1. As far as ‘allied’ Factions go, it’s either us, Cutters, or Doc Harmon, and the dice decided it’s the Cutters. Falling from 9 to 8 is not that big of a deal, but it’s a plot point.
  5. Doc Harmon – in the background.
  6. Crowley – has failed in his tries to gain an Assessment Facility and in effect, reduced the Ratting of an allied Faction’s Asset by 1. His allied Factions are just us and Phase – and the dice have decided it’s us! So, let’s downgrade our Field Lab to R2 and have a long conversation with the mage, why don’t we? He owes us explanations. What is his new project, we’ll establish after that.
  7. Phase – running the Faction day-by-day.
  8. Ancients – in the background.
  9. ALOHA – in the background.
  10. Yakuza/MCT – in the background.
  11. Green Bishops – in the background.
  12. Zacualtipan – in the background.
  13. BBs – have failed in their project of raising Familiarity with Cutters (good thing we helped!) and as a consequence, they’ve gifted a hostile Faction a R1 Asset. Their most hostile Faction are the Jammers! Looking at BBs options, they probably had some of the gangers join the smugglers – we’ll add a R1 (2) Warfare Crew to the Jammers’ roster! What should be their next move? Probably sorting out this mess with Jammers, because running a Shadowmarket, when your delivery people / smugglers hate your guts, is going to be complicated.
  14. Bug spirits – run day-by-day.
  15. Cutters – Hawai’i – in the background.
  16. d’Venescu – out of the game.
  17. Dzitbalchen – out of the game.
  18. Alp Group – in the background.
  19. Irene Woods – in the background.
  20. Delta Group – in the background.
  21. History Colorado – in the background.
  22. Aerico Group – we don’t really care about what is Azzie intelligence doing, but in case it brings Chloe (who works there) back into the plot, let’s roll for their project – with a 9, they succeeded at whatever it was, and reduced Familiarity with a Chosen Faction by 1 – hostile projects, I suppose! They don’t have any connections, so I’ll just roll – yes, I rolled 1d24, ending on a 10, which is Yakuza/MCT. I’ve generated the starting Fam (6) -1 for the project, ending on a 5. It is hilarious, because, if you remember, Yakuza/MCT tried to hire Chloe back in February… A plot point potential. Not yet – but we’ll get there.
  23. CIA – basically, we just want to know if Wheeler’s real employer is making any waves. With a 7, they’re staying the course and not messing in the mission parameters. We’ll check in with them next month.
  24. Jammers – they didn’t have an assigned project for their Social Crew (the Technical Fleet is helping us fight the bug spirits), but they’ve succeeded and it resulted at reducing Familiarity with a chosen Faction by 1. They have no reason to reduce the Fam with us (they’re literally gifting us a total of 90 Payouts worth of positive consequences!), and they can’t go any lower with the bugs, so this falls on BBs, lowering the Familiarity to 1 and open hostility between the smugglers and the owners of the Shadowmarket. DRAMA in the neighborhood! I won’t be setting them a new project until we’re done with the bugs.

Plot points!

  • Something went wrong and Hellhounds’ co-operation with the Cutters isn’t going all that swimmingly. They’re still on friendly terms, but something isn’t right.
  • Whatever Crowley has done, cost us a whole-ass Rating of our Field Lab. Explanations. Now, old man. Sir.
  • BBs and Jammers are very much at odds and this makes the Shadowmarket a peculiar place. As it is Tomorrow (well, technically Tonight, but nobody knows that) who has organized their return to the neighborhood and they’re just gifting us with both help against bug spirits AND 30 points of intel in a think-tank, I think we might do a thing soon. It will be a very funny thing.
  • Whatever Wheeler has in mind, there are 75 Payouts worth of it. I think I’m slowly getting there with the planning. But there are several things that need to be done first.

Skill Learning

Tomorrow:
(Teaching+1, 3v2=2) Teaching 5, 3v8=2/5 (by July 5th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Melee 2, 3v4=2, skill raised (by July 7th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Agility 3, 5v5=5, skill raised (by July 10th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Palming 3, 5v5=4, skill raised (by July 13th)
Maneuver 1, 4v6=1, skill learned (by July 14th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Perception 3, 4v5=3, skill raised (by July 17th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Conditioning 2, 3v4=2, skill raised (by July 19th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Intimidation 2, 3v4=2, skill raised (by July 21st)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=1) Leadership 3, 3v7=1/3 (by July 24th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Biotech 2, 5v4=5, skill raised (by July 26th)
Commerce 1, 5v6=4, skill learned (by July 27th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) IT 2, 5v4=5, skill raised (by July 29th)
(Teaching+1, 3v2=3) Artistry 2, 5v4=5, skill raised (by July 31th)

Tonight:
(Teaching+1, 4v3=3) Teaching 4, 4v6=1 +3 previous, skill raised (by July 5th)
(Teaching+1, 4v2=4) Con 6, 5v7=3/6 (by July 11th)
(Teaching+1, 4v2=4) Diplomacy 6, 5v7=2/6 (by July 17th)
(Teaching+1, 4v2=4) Hacking 2, 5v3=5, skill raised (by July 19th)
(Teaching+1, 4v2=4) Negotiation 5, 5v6=0 (by July 24th)
(Teaching+1, 4v2=4) Teaching 5, 4v6=1/5 (by July 29th)

And we ran out of skills to raise! Tomorrow had a massive backlog of those low-rating skills, so it was good to finally catch up over a month where she didn’t play any Scenarios in a zoomed-in version.


Back to the Antagonists

I didn’t make this pun the last time. That’s something.

Picking up where we left off on June 30th, we have just finished the project to reduce the Bug Spirit Faction to R2. This means they now have only 2 dice in their primary focus and 1 in secondary and tertiary focuses. We’ll send Tomorrow to help Phase grind them down into nothingness (together with the Jammers) and send Tonight into the Think-Tank Project with the Social Crew of Jammers (which means she’s rolling their Secondary Focus dice and her Rating as skill, rolling 2v1 each day and ending the project in 15 days). Phase will retire her team of helpers to cut on her expenses – they’re no longer needed here. The contractors will be sent on some other quest too.

Tonight
3v1
Tomorrow
3v1
Phase
4v1
Jammers’ Fleet R2 (4), 4v4Scientific R1 (1)
2v5
Investigative R1 (1)
1v5
Technical R1 (1)
1v5
Social R1 (1)
1v5
Warfare R1 (1)
1v5
Creative R1 (1)
1v5
July 1stTT 2/30Bugs’ FR, 8/20Bugs’ FR, 8/20Bugs’ FR, 8/20 (48)FR interf, 4/20FR interf, 4/20FR interf, 4/20FR interf, 4/20FR interf, 4/20FR interf, 4/20
July 2ndTT 4/30Bugs’ FR, 19/20Bugs’ FR, 19/20Bugs’ FR, 19/20 (44)FR interf, 7/20FR interf, 7/20FR interf, 7/20FR interf, 7/20FR interf, 7/20FR interf, 7/20
July 3rdTT 6/30Bugs’ FR, 29/20Bugs’ FR, 29/20Bugs’ FR, 29/20 (41)FR interf, 11/20, failFR interf, 11/20, failFR interf, 11/20, failFR interf, 11/20, failFR interf, 11/20, failFR interf, 11/20, fail

By July 3rd, Bug Spirits’ Faction is reduced to R1. The Payout 20 Project is completed with 9 net marks, bringing us 30 points of positive consequences. With a 4, Jammers are gifting us with another beneficial Project with Payout = magnitude. This is also raises our Familiarity to 8, and is 1/4 needed to get with Phase to 10.

Tonight
3v1
Tomorrow
3v1
Phase
4v1
Jammers’ Fleet R2 (4), 4v4Scientific R1 (1)
1v5
Investigative R1 (1)
1v5
Technical R1 (1)
1v5
Social R1 (1)
1v5
Warfare R1 (1)
1v5
Creative R1 (1)
1v5
July 4thTT 8/30Bugs’ FR, 10/10Bugs’ FR, 10/10Bugs’ FR, 10/10 (38)FR interf, 1/10, failFR interf, 1/10, failFR interf, 1/10, failFR interf, 1/10, failFR interf, 1/10, failFR interf, 1/10, fail

By July 4th, Bug Spirits’ Faction is reduced to R0 and no longer exists. Whatever tiny Assets they had have been destroyed and are no longer in the game. We have officially eradicated the whole ant spirit hive, together with the shaman and hive queen. Apologies for the lack of boss battles, I really don’t like them. It’s another project with Phase (2/4) and with the Jammers (1/3) to raise Familiarity. Phase has also ran 3 projects with the Jammers, their starting Familiarity being 5, raised to 7 (1/2) through co-operation on the projects.

Finishing this project with 0 net marks, we roll for consequences, got a bloody 8, and gave ourselves another magnitude 10 positive consequence. With a 9, A person from a character’s backstory gets involved with a new Faction in the Sector. That Faction will commit Projects with Payout equal to the magnitude to further that character’s personal goals. Pick which character it entails.


All the Consequences

From the top, then.

  • We have removed the bug spirits’ Faction from the game on July 4th. It was a joint effort of us, Phase, and the Jammers.
  • Tonight is running a think-tank project with the Jammers and will finish it on July 15th. She will bring 30 points of intel from this. Rolled a 7 on consequences, with no net marks, so we’re not going anywhere further with this.
  • Before this, we’ve been given a beneficial project from the Jammers of magnitude 60. We have cashed in some of it as co-operation on the Insecticide War, but there are still 38 Payouts worth of something in it for us. We’ll cash this in as Influence points. We have restored the trade in the neighborhood and convinced the smugglers to come back safely. They appreciate it – Shadowmarket used to be the biggest hub of black- and gray-market trade in the whole Free-Range Free Zone of Denver. And soon, it might be it again. Hence, +38 points of Influence. The Jammers are on our side.
  • Reducing the Bugs to R1 brought us another beneficial project from the Jammers, with magnitude 30. I think we’ll just take it as 30 Payouts of lucrative deals and pure cash. It’s another project together, raising the Familiarity to 8 (2/3).

Tomorrow was bored, angry, and needed to stab somebody. It took her a month, but she has finished the war with a completely unexpected ally, 30 points of intel, 30 points of cash, and 38 points of influence. Plus exacting her vengeance on those who have spied on her.

She has also passed her finals.

She will learn nothing from this experience.

But wait, that’s not all!

A person from our backstory got involved with a new Faction, and we’re being gifted 10 Payouts-worth of projects, pushing our personal plot forward. Well, d12, who is it? A 9: Michael McLaughlin, Mitsuhama Thaumaturgical Research (R1 scientific/social, Fam 5).

Haven’t seen him in a while… Since February, I think? About a week after we collected Chloe?

Here’s the new Faction:

No.NameRatingPrimary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsSecondary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsTertiary Focus BehaviorTrait
25Parashield5Technical (hostile defense)
R3 (2) Crew
Warfare (beneficial growth)
R2 (3) Crew
(hostile defense)Conservative Faction add 2 priority to Projects with the lowest Payout.

Rolled 3 connections for them, one has to be with us (Fam 8), one with MCT (Fam 4), and one with (1d24=21) History Colorado Museum (Fam 5).

Parashield is a subsidiary of MCT, specializing in weaponry and paranimal security. Tomorrow is a magical security expert, who has definitely wrote a paper about hellhounds’ use in magical security, because she already had:

  • a puppy to play with,
  • about ten adult hellhounds working security on the Cutters’ turf,
  • literal hellhound breeder and trainer Salazar helping her write those papers before the end-of-term deadline.

I guess McLaughlin has jumped ships from one MCT subsidiary to another. Their projects will bring us 10 Payouts worth of cash and raise the Fam with McLaughlin to 6. As we don’t have to do anything for this project to bring us the benefit, we’ll just call it ‘consultancy work’ in the field of magical security and have Tomorrow realize a thing about herself, her magical education, and her career choices.


All the Narrative

We have A LOT of narrative to catch up on, after running a whole month on Faction Layer.

  1. A chat between Phase and Tomorrow about finished war with the bugs.
  2. A chat between Jammers and Tonight during the think-tank project to discuss the situation in the neighborhood.
  3. An inquiry with Crowley about what the hell went wrong.
  4. A catch-up with Salazar about the Hellhounds/Cutters co-operation.
  5. A conversation with Wheeler about the long-term plan of a Payout 75 Scenario. And probably about why he barely saw her over the last month.

We will give Tomorrow her 4 days off now, because she has a lot of private things to catch up on.


July 4th, 2056

‘A perfect day to celebrate,’ sighs Phase contentedly, stretching her arms and throwing herself face-first at the sofa in her living room. Out of her suit of armor and fresh from the shower, she looks so normal in a tank top and shorts. Only the pale scars snaking up her arms point to the life more dangerous than charity work – apparently, dragon-fire burns heal badly. Tomorrow will happily never test it. The runner drags a hand through her hair, bringing one of the black strands towards her nose. ‘I mean, god, that stench, but still…’

‘Please, I’m trying to forget.’

‘You’re going to need something stronger than that beer. A brain wipe.’

‘An air-freshener injection.’

Phase snorts, her face stuffed into the pillows. Tomorrow joins her in laughter after a couple of seconds, cradling the cold can of beer next to her throbbing temple. As always, the drain of magic caused her a massive headache – but as always, she’s happy to pay the Raven’s price, because it’s better than owing a debt. They’re both so spent – but it’s a good feeling, decides Tomorrow. Her restless energy is gone. Her need to stab somebody is gone. Finally, she can focus – well, she will be, once this damn migraine goes away.

Tracking down the ant shaman took them nearly a month of daily grind: studying the maps, snooping in back alleys, investigating any lead they could find in the Matrix, any missing person case, running ragged both themselves and Phase’s little retinue of helpers – all three of them being people who last their loved ones to insect spirits. There were times she thought it’s not going to end well – the sheer speed with which the shaman was able to invest people with fresh spirits was worrying – and revolting, when Tomorrow lets herself consider the details of the process. The process she has learned all too well by now. Maybe she can use it for her research.

If not for the stroke of luck, they’d probably still be in the field. She still doesn’t know exactly how the situation progressed from a simple call from Hummer with a vague it’s cool that you’ve kicked some bugs’ ass to Rat Tail giving them drone coverage on the areas they were investigating, but she really isn’t going to complain. How the situation has progressed to Tonight spending all her time with the smugglers, she knows even less.

All in all, it went rather well.

‘It fucking did,’ agrees Phase, once Tomorrow repeats her thought aloud. ‘Seriously, thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you. Not without hiring a bunch of other people, at least. I owe you one. When you need me, hit me up. Ice and I have some first-hand experience in ditching gangs.’

Tomorrow mutters a vague confirmation, too exhausted to talk. Their encounter with the shaman didn’t even take that long – in a fight against a mage, it’s always the first three seconds that matter – before the fragger manages to cast a single spell. Between Tomorrow’s elementals and Phase’s magic-enhanced speed, they changed the shaman into red mist, sparkling with electricity. It’s the hive queen that caused them trouble, her bloated, mutated body constantly breeding eggs, even as they broke down through the wards, through the guards, even as she was burning… 

Tomorrow swallows heavily, pushing the memory down. She wishes they weren’t that thorough with the investigation and they didn’t know the name, the face, and the family of the girl who got kidnapped and turned into that… Abomination. ‘I don’t really feel like celebrating,’ she admits. ‘But I’m glad it’s over.’

‘If you wanna puke, do it in the bathroom.’

‘I think I got it all out of my system already, thank you.’ Tomorrow chuckles darkly and opens the can of beer. ‘I’ll be fine.’

The sound of unlocking front door should have some effect on them, but neither even stirs when a tall, blond elf in a black t-shirt, heavy trousers, and biking boots walks into the living room. Ice picks up one of the beers from the table and drops on the couch, forcing Phase to move over. The runner complies without a word. ‘You two look like you’re finally done,’ he says, opening the beer and putting his feet on the coffee table. ‘Took you a while.’

‘Piss off,’ mutters his wife, and Tomorrow can only agree. ‘Order me a pizza or something.’

‘Already did.’ Ice puts his free hand on Phase’s back and rubs her shoulder, making the runner sigh with approval. ‘Are you finished with this job?’ 

‘Yup, found the magic fuck-o, hit him like a bag of bricks, gassed and burned down the rest. SOP.’

‘Cool.’ Though is voice is nonchalant, Ice looks relieved. No wonder, Phase was running this investigation for months on her own. ‘Your team will be happy to have you back. They don’t like my training methods.’

Phase chuckles and stops hugging the couch, changing her position to look at her husband. Her tired but brilliant smile is clearly meant for just one person, and Tomorrow finds herself suddenly interested in the list of ingredients printed on the beer can. Somehow, it’s soy.

‘Oh, I thought they craved that hard thrill-gang life. All still alive?’

‘Last time I checked. Sharpie broke her nose, but that’s on her for not fastening the helmet properly. I told her three times.’

‘She had it coming.’ With a grin, Phase turns to her guest. ‘Want some pizza, T.?’ 

Tomorrow shakes her head. ‘No, I think it’s my cue to leave. I got my snack waiting at home. I’ll see you at the track on Friday.’ She gets up, leaving her barely opened can on the table. ‘Take care.’ 

‘Thanks for the help.’ It’s Ice who speaks, and the ex-Ancient’s expression is surprisingly serious – maybe for the first time since she knows him. 

Tomorrow lets herself out, not wanting to intrude on their hospitality and obvious need for privacy. On the sidewalk, she takes one more look at the pretty house before changing her form and stretching the wings on the way to the Warrens. The hot, sunny, breezy weather makes the commute into a pleasant flight over the progressively worse neighborhoods as she nears the urban blight of Aurora.

Others have pulled it off. Can we? 


July 5th, 2056

Tonight leans against the LAV, listening to Harrison’s unending stream of anecdotes. The rusty armor of Tippecanoe is hot to the touch, but not enough to deter flesh-and-blood metahumans from touching it. The grizzled, bearded dwarf in a cowboy hat sits at the entrance to his old Banshee, smoking a thick, stinky cigar and spinning a tale about his latest run through the Rockies and losing the Pueblo patrols. And far as Tonight – and consulted through the mental link Tomorrow – knows, the story might be very well true – as usually with old smugglers, Bill must be good at his job. If he weren’t, he’d be dead.

‘Why are you telling me this?’ she asks, once the anecdote smoothly changes into an explanation of the price differences between Tenochtitlan and various Sectors in Denver, and how this compares to supply and demand in Chicago. ‘As much as I appreciate the data, it’s not me with whom you need to negotiate.’

‘What, am I supposed to negotiate with Steur? So she can again try to force us to work only with her gang, like last year? I’m too old for those games.’

‘Well, there was a turf war…’ starts Tonight, not wanting to pour oil at the flames, but Bill cuts her off with an impatient gesture and a puff of smoke.

‘There are always turf wars between gangs, we’re used to it. But Steur closed the market and kicked out everybody who didn’t bow to her enforced monopoly. She took the traders hostage. She forbade us to sell goods to anybody outside of BBs. This is not how we do business, Tomorrow.’

‘So how are you going to operate now? BBs own the market, that’s the deal they made with the Cutters.’ That’s the deal we told them to make. ‘I don’t see it changing.’

‘They do own it, yes,’ agrees the smuggler. ‘Tomorrow, who rescued the traders after BBs took them hostage?’

‘Cutters.’

‘Physically, yes. But who made the connections, planned the hit, and literally dug an underground tunnel to get them from there?’

‘I did.’ Tonight shrugs, knowing well how Tomorrow feels about the subject. Yes, the rescue mission was warranted, but both gangs took heavy losses; if she didn’t make it possible for Cutters to stealthily attack, maybe the situation would end with a stand-off and peace talks instead of escalating.

‘And who organized a second market in Best Western, keeping the trade alive?’

‘I did, but…’

‘And who negotiated the peace between the gangs, then finally made the situation stable enough so we can put the Shadowmarket back on the trade route?’

Tonight looks at the smuggler, no longer answering his questions. She really needs Tomorrow’s opinion on the matter, but birdie is about as stumped by this as Tonight has expected. Better to keep quiet, then, and others talk.

Bill smiles under his thick mustache and drives the message home: ‘Maybe it’s not the BBs who should run the market.’


July 6th, 2056

Tomorrow knows she has promised Adam to get some rest, and it’s not like she’s breaking her word by visiting her mentor. She isn’t knocking on Crowley’s door to avoid sitting at home. She isn’t going there to toil in the alchemy workshop, to study, or to plan a trip into the metaplane. She just needs to ask a simple question. She is resting.

‘I’ve been expecting you,’ says Crowley ominously when she enters. The spirit, as always in his immaculate suit of a respectable academic, sits in the chair by his desk and looks at her calmly. ‘Does your visit mean I should congratulate you on the removal of the threat to us all?’

She shrugs in response, taking a chair on the opposite side of the heavy wooden desk. ‘The hive is destroyed, together with the shaman and the queen. So yes, I suppose you can.’

‘Congratulations, then. On your passed finals as well. It must have been challenging, after the year you had. Well done.’

Tomorrow leans back in the chair and crosses her arms on her chest as she listens to Crowley’s kind, praising words. Placating words. ‘Thank you, sir. Now, what the hell did you do?’

A shadow of unease passes through the spirit’s face, one of the few remainders of his previously-human nervous system. ‘I caused an accidental mana flare from the rift. The wards didn’t manage to contain it all.’

‘Your mana flare blew up a third of my diagnostic equipment.’

‘I thought it might. My apologies, Sarah. I’ll help you replace it.’

Tomorrow waves a hand; she didn’t come for reparations. ‘It’s fine. Not like I didn’t mess with your research before. It’ll teach me to shield my experiments properly. What were you doing with the rift, sir?’

If anything, the unease deepens. ‘I was testing the mana resonance. Did you know that the rift throws back the spells at the force of about zero point eighty seven ratio? Me neither,’ he adds after Tomorrow shakes her head with a smile. ‘But that’s only until a certain point, after which the concentration is too high and everything that was stored there, pools out.’ Crowley suddenly smirks, the glint in his eye reminding Tomorrow of her own joy of magic research. ‘Violently.’

‘Awesome.’

‘It was. Sorry about your data.’

‘Don’t worry about it. I think I’m going to change my major anyway. No matter how much I try to study the environmental sciences, I end up working on magical security. Parashield has just bought my training program for hellhounds. I might as well embrace my destiny and get a degree in my field of work.’

‘It will be much easier for you. It’s still applied thaumaturgy, so most of your credits should transfer.’

‘And nobody will stop me from doing research on other topics when I feel like it.’ Tomorrow nods, relieved to find Crowley in agreement. Not that his opinion matters – only, it does. ‘I’ll just get to that degree much faster if I can use my work experience to propel it forward. Also… Experimenting with the wards, detection spells, and camouflage is so much more fun for me than testing the effects of mana on plant growth.’

‘Salazar and I were working on a new set of wards around the rift after that flare, actually. They’re better now, but far from perfect. I’m an alchemist. He’s a combat mage. We could use your help to make this place safer. Would you be willing to lend a hand?’

‘Maybe,’ she answers hesitantly. ‘I don’t work for the Cutters. And I don’t want to step on Sal’s toes. And…’

Crowley shakes his head. ‘Politics. Always impeding progress.’

‘Politics,’ agrees Tomorrow. ‘At this point of my life, I’m afraid, unavoidable. I’ll let you know if it changes, sir. Until then – I’m happy to help you in the lab or in the metaplane. But the security of the Cutters’ turf is very specifically not my job.’

The spirit nods, and Tomorrow is sure he understands. A former academic or not, Crowley has run the shadows for long enough. ‘You are an independent party,’ he confirms. ‘Unaffiliated. What exactly are you planning, Sarah?’

Tomorrow isn’t even trying to hide the smirk as she gets up and says her goodbyes. ‘Politics.’


July 7th, 2056

‘What’s wrong, Sal?’ 

‘Nothing’s wrong. Why would you think there is?’ 

‘We’ve been here half an hour and you didn’t call me a bitch even once. Also…’ Tomorrow gestures in the general direction of the fields around them. There’s nobody else in sight, just the vast stretches of green and blue. Not even a drone passing by, not that far in the countryside. ‘I like being outside. You don’t.’

‘You don’t know me, bitch.’

While she’s laughing, Salazar lies down on the grass, looking at the clouds swimming above them. The last month and a half in Best Western has removed the signs of malnutrition and constant tiredness. The razor-sharp wit is still there, and Tomorrow has no doubt Sal is, as always, ready to throw down at any given moment, but the underlying layer of aggression seems lying deeper than previously. 

‘Sal, we both know I don’t need a bodyguard. I’m just here for some reagents and fresh air. I get it was easy to sell to Adam, he’s overprotective as hell lately, but I’m not buying. What is this about?’

‘If you got a problem with Wheeler, keep me out of it. I’m just using you as an easy excuse not to work.’

‘I don’t have a pro…’ Tomorrow sighs and lies down as well; she always found it easier to talk without keeping the eye contact. The grass is soft and warm, reminding her about the field trips she used to take with Chloe and their parents back in Texas, before everything went wrong. How many conversations did she have with her sister just like that, staring into the sky, away from civilization? Funny that it’s Sal who is here now. ‘Don’t try to make it about me. Spill.’

Salazar puts his hands under his head. ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ he finally repeats, his tone slow and hesitant. ‘Nothing’s particularly great either. Which is, obviously, an improvement over the previous situation, so don’t think I don’t appreciate what you did for us. I do.’

‘You’re allowed to not love your new circumstances. I know this isn’t what you wanted to do in your life.’

‘You have no idea what I wanted to do in my life. Even I don’t know.’ Salazar considers his words for a while. ‘No, I’m out of invectives today. Think something awful about yourself for me.’

‘How old are you, Sal?’

‘Twenty-one.’

‘Seriously? Wow. Wait, you built a whole damn gang in the Warrens when you were eighteen and you survived?’ Tomorrow doesn’t even try to hide the amazement in her voice. ‘Lil’ baby criminal Sal.’

‘Didn’t you go to prison when you were seventeen?’ he shoots back without any anger.

‘Well, yeah, but that’s because my parents hated me. It was supposed to be a lesson, make me into a tame and obedient daughter. I’d say it backfired.’

‘You could say so, you Witch of the Warrens,’ laughs Salazar. ‘That’s how they call you, you know?’

‘Who does?’

‘People. That’s what you get for running peace talks, fighting fires, rescuing civilians, hunting bug spirits, selling magic food, and controlling the fucking weather. People notice, you dumbass.’

‘That’s not good,’ she mutters , concerned. ‘I got life outside of the Warrens. I got a legal business, Sal. I work for megacorps. I pay taxes. I can’t be…’ She sighs, then picks up a blade of grass and chews on it. The sweet, green, sunny taste floods her with nostalgia, surprising and unwelcome – just like the consideration of the mess she needs to solve at home. ‘This is gonna end so badly.’

‘Shouldda thought about it, before you decided to marry into a damn cartel.’

‘I… Well, screw you, Sal, I am not the topic of this conversation.’ Salazar’s sarcastic, self-satisfied grin makes her chuckle as well, pushing away some of the worries. ‘Although I admit, I am my favorite topic. What’s up with you?’

‘As I said, nothing. I just don’t like working for the Cutters. It’s boring as hell. I spend all days waiting for some alarm to go off, and they don’t. I cash in my paychecks. I have nothing to do. The highlight of last month was Crowley messing up with the rift, so we strengthened the wards a bit. That killed a couple of hours. When I think about spending the rest of my life working for them…’

‘You’re not working for the Cutters, you’re working for Adam.’

‘Sure, whatever.’

‘Cutters don’t hire elves, Sal. Not a single one, worldwide. You’ll never work for them.’

‘Cool, so I’m Wheeler’s personal bitch. That makes two of us. Other than my boss not being a racist piece of shit, how does it make it any better?’

‘And you keep telling me you’re the smart one.’ Tomorrow playfully elbows him in the ribs. ‘That means it’s just temporary, you bloody Hellhound. That means you can leave. Like, literally, whenever. Just don’t be a dick and give him some time to find a replacement.’

Salazar absentmindedly rubs his side. ‘I thought… Does he know this is how this works? Or is this a loophole that I can theoretically use but that’s gonna end in me getting shot anyway?’

‘Have you met Adam? Of course he knows. What, did you think I sold you into slavery?’ She laughs, but it sounds fake and hollow. ‘I mean, sure, as far as the cops are concerned, you’re a part of the cartel, but from the Cutters’ perspective? You’re a guy Adam has hired, because he needed to replace Friese and couldn’t be arsed to look around for too long. You have nothing to do with their business – and that’s all that matters to them.’

The mage stares at the sky, unblinking and deep in thought. ‘What am I supposed to do with this knowledge?’ he asks after a while.

‘Whatever the hell you want. You’re interested in advice?’ Salazar nods, so she continues. ‘Stay where you are for now. Do your job. Save and invest the money you earn – life’s cheap where we live, so you should have a fair amount left over each month. Use your abundance of free time to figure out what you and Gargoyle want to do in life. And once you have enough on your account to pull it off, go and do it.’ She thinks for a moment, trying to formulate the next part as friendly advice. She fails. ‘Unless something happens to Adam and me – then, I guess you’re shit out of luck and quite possibly dispatched as a security risk by whoever replaces him. In which case, cut and run.’

Salazar chuckles and turns towards her. ‘Message received, o, Witch of the Warrens. You got my undying loyalty, unless you mess with me and mine. Wheeler’s got some of that too, unless you want me to mess with him. Cutters can go shoot themselves behind the barn. You’re staying around for long?’

‘Hmm?’ She pretends to not understand, hoping he’ll drop the subject. He doesn’t.

‘Come on, I am the smart one. You wouldn’t care about your job and taxes if you planned on staying in the Warrens forever. Is that why Wheeler’s so tense or is it because you’re avoiding him?’

‘I’m not avoiding him. We literally live together.’

‘You’ve spent a month hunting down insect spirits in some dingy crack houses. Weren’t you supposed to get married by now?’

‘How’s that any business of yours?’ She retorts automatically, then forces herself to relax, seeing Salazar’s raised eyebrow. ‘We just… Adam and I are fine, thanks,’ she says finally. ‘There are just some things we need to work out first. Priorities and expectations.’

‘I don’t think you can do it from here.’

‘Can’t say I haven’t tried.’

‘Go home, Tomorrow.’

‘It’s Sarah.’

‘Yeah, I know. Move your ass, Sarah, I can feel my hay fever creeping up. That’s enough outdoors for this year.’


July 8th, 2056

She really can’t put it off any longer. She has stalled for a month. There were reasons, of course. It would be silly to make any decisions a month ago: they needed to focus on making sure nobody notices any changes in Adam’s personality, even as he was going through the BTL withdrawal, they needed to keep up all the appearances, they needed to get reacquainted…

She needed to stab somebody.

It’s been a month filled with long conversations, childhood stories, discussions about values and life expectations – and carefully, painfully absent of any plans for the future. But they can’t avoid this topic forever.

Sarah snuggles closer, putting her arm across Adam’s chest and resting her head on his shoulder. He kisses her hair reflexively, his eyes barely leaving the screen. It’s a good trid, she has to admit, but it’ll have to wait.

‘I’ve been thinking…’ Within a second, the movie is paused, and Adam’s full attention on her. The intensity makes her giddy, and she covers it with a chuckle. ‘Jesus, Adam, chill. I just want to talk, not deliver a verdict.’

‘I know. What’s on your mind?’

Sarah takes a deep breath and sends a silent plea to Raven, before finally saying what she was thinking about for a month: ‘We can’t keep living like that. I love you, Adam. I love you so much it physically hurts, but every morning I wake up wondering if today is the day it all comes crashing fucking down.’ Right now, for example.

‘It holds so far,’ he says quietly, but there’s no conviction behind it.

‘Adam, we can’t build a home in a liminal space.’ I can’t. ‘For all we know, this whole investigation might be shut down next week. Then what? We leave the Warrens behind? You get back to the army? We go into some witness protection system on a farm in the Bumfuck-Nowhere, Arizona? Or you keep working with the feds on a completely different case, constantly looking behind you, until Cutters catch up with you?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, this is unacceptable. Long-term is all that matters, and all we do is take this shit day by day. I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore.’

He looks at her in silence for a while, and Sarah knows exactly what he is thinking about. She doesn’t want him to worry about her leaving, but then – the situation really is unacceptable. He finally musters enough resolve to ask: ‘What do you propose?’

‘I propose nothing.’ Sarah really tries to keep annoyance out of her voice, yet it slips past her anyway. ‘What do you want to do with your life?’

Adam turns away, looking at the freeze-frame on the screen in front of them. ‘I want to live it for a change. With you. Without damn cartels, agencies, and commanders hanging above my head.’

‘You’re ready to leave all of this behind?’

‘I don’t…’ He stops and sighs. ‘I like it here. I even like – liked – I would like my job if it weren’t connected to this damn ticking bomb. I enjoy being in charge. People know their place, and I am, honestly, great at this. Much better than anybody expected.’

‘You’d take Cutters over the feds?’

‘I’d take my freedom over any of them. But… Yes. I don’t think I can ever get back to the military. Or to the agency. Do you know how many stupid people I’d have above me in the chain of command? Here, I just need to deal with the heads of other chapters. At this point, even Seattle has lost the oversight… This whole fucking place is mine. I earned it. I rebuilt it after Logan almost ran it into the ground. I personally hired most of those people. I got their loyalty.’

‘Would be a shame to throw them all into prison, eh?’

‘For what? For selling guns to the fucking gangers, so they can shoot one another?’ Adam smirks, his face full of disdain. ‘As if all the corps were doing something else. The only reason feds have a problem with the Cutters is unpaid taxes. The government doesn’t care about the violence and gang wars, they care about the lack of profit from the smuggling and arms dealing. They’d rather take over.’

‘Well, you would rather take over, too.’

‘I like my position here,’ he admits after a moment. ‘I like Best Western. I even like the Warrens. You like them too. We could make it our home, Sarah.’

‘A perfect place for a family,’ she laughs. ‘An astral rift, barbed wire, ghouls, hives of insect spirits, and more gangers and squatters than anywhere else in America. Exactly how I hoped my life would turn out.’

He knows her well enough to not mind the ironic tone. ‘It’s freedom. Isn’t it why you moved in here in the first place?’

‘I also like the lack of governmental oversight.’ Sarah grins, relieved. It looks like the whole thing won’t come crashing down today. It will get taken apart and rebuilt – into something they both can be happy with. Hopefully. ‘The t-jammers want me to take over the Shadowmarket.’

If it is a surprise for him, Adam hides it well. ‘Makes sense, they hate the BBs, and it’s you who’ve kept the trade alive when Amy shut it down. Do you want to do it?’

‘I wasn’t going to… I mean, I obviously couldn’t do it if you were working for the feds. Helping you secure your position is one thing – running a black-market hotspot is not something that I could easily explain once your investigation is over. But now… Well, I got zero interest in running the Shadowmarket, I don’t give a damn about money – but Tonight would be delighted.’

‘A black market run by an ally spirit. That’s new.’

‘A free spirit. The whole magical bondage never really sat well with me. It’s one thing with elementals, they’re just drones, but Tonight? She’s a person, not my property. I need to figure out how to set her free.’

‘I’m starting to see a theme,’ he teases.

‘Yeah, well…’ Sarah extracts herself from Adam’s arms and sits up on the bed, her head already in the planning mode. ‘We need to get you discharged from the military. Honorably, of course. The UCAS government doesn’t give a shit about the vets. And we need to get the feds off your back without them flipping and selling you out to the Cutters.’

‘Nothing that money cannot achieve.’

‘What, we’re gonna bribe the incorruptible CIA?’ she asks with a straight face, causing Adam to laugh. How she missed that sound. ‘Damn, I am so happy you don’t want to be a fucking cop. I don’t think I could live with that.’

‘They’re all bastards. One-fourth of my stock is the gear that Lone Star has seized in the gang war, then sold back to us. We got a carbine we’ve just sold for the eighth time. Guys are making notches on the barrel.’ He considers his options for a moment and finally nods. ‘It should be doable – Cutters are already bribing the feds, how would we operate otherwise? We’ll just bribe them a bit more. And if money’s not enough…’ 

‘We need an ally with enough political clout to secure our independence.’

‘We could probably use one. Who do you have in mind?’

‘Firewatch.’ Under Adam’s hesitant look, she continues: ‘Remember last July, when they – or whoever – dropped that bomb on Universal Brotherhood chapter? It was a hive. All chapters were, according to Phase. They tried to clear out the bug spirits that avoided the explosion, but they obviously failed. The fires pushed them out anyway, it was a bloody inferno. We barely managed to stop it.’

‘I remember.’

‘Well, Phase and I took out one shaman, but the Warrens are full of insect spirits. And this shit breeds quickly. I wouldn’t mind giving Firewatch a hand as a magic support and a guide to the Warrens. You could be their consultant, too. They often deal with ex-military. Warrens are a freaking labyrinth, full of ghouls and squatters. I don’t want it becoming a giant hive that’ll get nuked like Chicago. Firewatch probably wouldn’t mind securing themselves allies and help here. Ares has enough pull to get you out of CIA and ensure there’s nobody above us.’

‘Nobody but them, you mean.’

‘Adam, it’s the Warrens. This place officially no longer exists, it was left to rot. Megacorps can’t have any business here. Yeah, I expect us to deal with many corps, syndicates, and gangs, but if you want us to stay here long-term…’

‘It’s unavoidable,’ he agrees. ‘Sounds like we’re about to build our own kingdom here.’

‘Let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve already started.’ Sarah leans closer and seals the deal with the kiss. ‘But it’ll be much more fun when we do it just for us, babe. Cartels and governments be damned.’


The Independence Day

Came and went, it’s July 8th. But I finally know what to do with that Payout 75 Scenario.

  1. We need to extract Wheeler from CIA. As he’s a R5 Asset, that’s an extraction worth 15 Payouts.
  2. After that, we need to make sure CIA’s not going to do anything stupid – raising the Familiarity to 10 through negotiations, bribery, and pulling strings is a fair plan. We don’t have any Familiarity with them yet, so it’s time to roll it – we ended up with a neutral 6 for now, but extracting an Asset is always a Hostile project, which will reduce the Familiarity by the lost Asset value (5), which means we’ll be facing them at Fam 1 – not an easy Scenario to win! So, we should probably start by negotiating with CIA first and getting that Fam to 10 from 6 (at a cost of 1+2+3+4 = 10 Payouts), then extract Wheeler (causing the drop by 5 + extra 1 for a hostile project), then get back to a 10 again from a 4 (at a cost of 1+1+1+2+3+4 = 12). This maneuvering gets us to (10+15+12) 37/75 Payouts in the Scenario.
  3. Then, we want to get Wheeler out of the military; he’s not an Asset there, it’s more of a narrative thing. We want him to get his deserved promotion for five years of working undercover, an honorary discharge, and official status of a veteran, because yes. This sounds like three negotiation condition, rounding up the Payouts to 40/75.
  4. Then, we’ll try to get in touch with the Firewatch. We already have a contact who can facilitate that (Phase), but it’s up to us to make the case and negotiate a mutually beneficial solution to the problem of Tomorrow’s/Wheeler’s independence/safety and the removal of insect-spirit threat to the Warrens and Denver in general. Surprisingly, the now-established starting Familiarity is 8, so we only need (3+4) 7 Payouts to raise it to a 10 and make sure we’re covered. This gets us to 47/75 Payouts.
  5. Then, after we have powerful allies and Wheeler’s in our Faction roster, we’ll start taking over Cutters’ Assets – stealthily and quietly, probably starting with Salazar and Caw-Caw (+6 Payouts, 53/75), then the military wing (+9, 62/75), then R1 Fleet, Barracks, Command Center, and Habitat (+12, 74/75).
  6. That leaves us with 1 Payout worth of something, so I guess we’ll throw a wedding reception at the end of it. Because why not? All those Scenarios to Wheeler’s benefit will raise the Familiarity back to 10 from the CIA-induced drop to 9, so we might as well run with it.

I. I might run with it. I really don’t know where this plural is coming from. Anyway, thanks for reading this far, Dear Reader.
So, here’s the breakdown of the 75-Payout Scenario:

  1. Payout 10 negotiations with CIA
  2. Payout 15 Wheeler’s extraction
  3. Payout 12 social/political maneuvers to get back to Fam 10 with CIA
  4. Payout 3 military interlude
  5. Payout 7 forging the best-friends-forever connection to Firewatch
  6. Payout 6 extraction of Hellhounds
  7. Payout 9 extraction of Cutters’ gangers
  8. Payout 3 extraction of the Fleet
  9. Payout 3 extraction of the Barracks
  10. Payout 3 extraction of the Command Center
  11. Payout 3 extraction of the Habitat / Best Western
  12. Payout 1 Finale of the Complex Scenario with a Godfather-like wedding scene, I guess.

We don’t technically have to do it in this order – as you see, it’s rather front-loaded, with the hardest things to do first, and then some light clean-up, that can very quickly spiral into Faction-Reduction project with Cutters, so we’ll need to be smart, stealthy, tactical, and not scared of throwing Scenarios on the Fly, projects, and Resources between the stages of the Complex Scenario (a mini-campaign at this point, I suppose). I think we’ll also start with the Firewatch.

Let’s quickly create the one Faction we’re missing from the game and we can start!

26Ares Firewatch5Investigative (hostile defense)
R3 Intelligence Center
Scientific (exclusive growth)
R2 Fleet
(beneficial defense)Conservative Faction add 2 priority to Projects with the lowest Payout.

Connections: Us, Fam 8 + Phase, Fam 6 + CIA, Fam 5. Yes, I rolled the CIA connection. The universe, the metaplot, and the emergent gameplay have approved of my plan. So did Raven.


Coming Up!

We have a lot to prepare before we can get to this Complex Scenario. People to talk to. Places to see. Facilities to purchase.
We’re building a kingdom, yo!

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