Aphelion: Chapter 15, Prickly little thing.

In which… quack.

Sophya came to understand that a neck brace and an aching body were the sorts of things that liked to keep fretting minds awake. Especially with a sofa so inhospitable, she wouldn’t have been surprised if it decided to stand up and dump her on the floor. Failing that, it chafed at her arm where she lay squashed against it and resorted to being generally unpleasant to her back.

But those were unkind thoughts towards a borrowed kind of bed and Sophya figured you shouldn’t be unkind to things you were borrowed like that. Even if they made sleep a distant thing. Coveted, but denied.

She tried to toss. To turn. Got nowhere with either, since the neck brace/collar thing had teamed up with the sofa and was diligently disagreeing with every move she made.

Subdued, Sophya huffed up a dramatic sigh.

Silence pressed in around her. A complete thing; one that stations did not have. Not entirely, anyway. If it wasn’t the air filtration system labouring or the constant murmur of the station’s large bodies buzzing with activity, then it was their whispers that had always— unfailingly —kept her company. Their murmurings. Their telling her about the Einling scuttling through a vent, teeth nipping at cables. Their tales of aching hydraulics for joints.

Yes, stations were chatty, and she’d lived on them long enough now to have forgotten what it was like to have silence.

Oh. And then there was the light. Even in the dead of night, a light had begun to pour through the panorama windows, where it splashed against the ceiling with a dirty and almost pink glow. It wasn’t very bright, no, but it was enough to make her wish she could slap her hand against a light switch and it’d go out. Which, with stations, was exactly how light worked.

Not so on planets.

・・・“Are you going to lie there and be miserable all night?”

SIN had draped herself over the sofa’s backrest, her paws dangling lazily. She’d been observing the storm which pushed the odd, pinkish light ahead of it ever since it’d gotten dark.

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APHELION: CHAPTER 13, Mall-evolent

In which Varrett’s shopping trip turns abys-mall.

Varrett sat his haunted ass down on one of Olof’s hard plastic chairs, folded one leg out over the other, and fell into fidget-hell, his foot bouncing and his fingers tapping out a rhythm against the knee he’d stuck out to the side.

Two Runners shared the station with him. One up at the desk, arguing with Olof about how it wasn’t his fault verge coils looked like fuel injectors (they didn’t), and one sitting a chair off on the left, a WreadSheet in his lap. Varrett’s eyes slid from one to the other. The first dude was Buzz (not his actual name, but, like, his Runner’s nick). The second one was plain old Dave, who’d been a nine-to-five accountant with a love for extreme sports at the side. Buzz had started out as a street racer.

Varrett’s fingers kept drumming.

Oh, he was fine.

Absolutely fine.

Peachy, really.

Wasn’t like he hated waiting and wasn’t like he had only one singular thought running itself ragged in his head.

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Aphelion: Chapter 12

We begin Episode 3: Any Other Way.

“We’re creatures of habit,” Ellen said, her tone a bit wry. “God forbid we don’t get lied to by a politician for too long or don’t have to pay rent. We’d go feral.” She motioned to the sofa. “Go on. Sit.”

Sophya manoeuvred through the miniature city, and when she sat, a cheese grater shaped tower had itself toppled by a large, stomping reptile kind of thing.

Dinosaurs, the Earthers called them. They were fascinating, in a way, what with how some looked eerily similar to Reaper Devils; a mystery about as thick as the one about how Earthers had known dragons as nothing but figments of their collective imagination.

“We even have bars.” Ellen leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. She was studying Sophya and Sophya, predictable, disliked that. “Restaurants, too, though you’re hard-pressed finding a big selection, a bit like our markets.”

What was she trying to do? Comfort her? Reassure her? Get to the point of everything is going to be alright, even though that’d be a horrible lie and she really had no one but herself to blame?

“There’s even theatre, if that’s your kind of thing, with nightly shows over in the first tower. They perform old Earther plays on even days and Aestling ones on odd days.”

・・・“Oh! Can we go? We must go.” SIN had stretched herself over the back of the sofa, her whiskers twitching and her paws kneading at the air. “There’s absolutely no way we are not going.”

Sophya winced.

“See,” Ellen continued, unaware of Sophya having herself peer-pressured, “Horizon’s Crown isn’t the end of the world. I like to think of it as end of world adjacent, if you will.”

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Aphelion: Chapter 9 – 11

We conclude Episode 2: Welcome to Horizon’s Crown.

At the tender age of fifteen-and-something Varrett had given in to peer-pressured curiosity and bought what he’d assumed to be a flake of dragon scale.

He’d squeaked his way through the purchase with the elegance of a freaked out teen, and then he’d carried the thin, red chip in its tiny tin for weeks before he’d finally worked up enough rebellious courage to lock himself into his room onboard the Dream of Neverland. She’d been moored at an orbital island above Yaer’Ard right then, her navigation and communications systems in pieces after a rough ride through the Well. Repairs had been slow. Money tight. And he’d been too young to care about any of it.

He’d dimmed his room’s lights to the point of them being useless, had laid back on his bunk, and plopped the flake on the tip of his tongue. Then he’d waited. And waited. And waited, the Neverland quietly cycling through her routines beyond the cabin bulkheads.

Dragon flakes were meant to crack your eyes open, to let you see through those mortal trappings blinding you so you could spy on people’s souls. Including your very own. That’s what it said on the tin, anyway. Literally.

Well. That’d been a load of bull, hadn’t it?

When the dragon scale had finally hit him (hard), it’d been shit. He’d hallucinated for hours, had seen the Neverland’s walls turn liquid and threaten to drown him, and watched in helpless horror as squirming tendrils made from molten iron had tried to squeeze the life out of him.

But it’d all just been in his head. The hallucinations had sat on the surface, a trip hardly any worse than his first horror VR flick experience, with the exception that he hadn’t been able to unplug. Fucked up as the shit he’d seen had been, he’d known it hadn’t been real, even if it had done its very best pretending.

This? This shit right now?

It was worse. Oh, it was so much worse.

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APHELION: CHAPTER 7 (2)

Of panic attacks and sorely needed naps, part 2.

Varrett woke to a tap of pressure against his stomach. Or, rather, a series of them. He nudged the headband up onto his forehead, cracked his eyes open, and watched Collin lob another balled up piece of paper across the room. It landed on Varrett’s midsection, bounced, and rolled to the floor. A pile of about a dozen more were scattered on the carpet.

“You were out,” Collin said as he scooted from one end of the room to the other, propelling himself forward with one foot while kneeling on his rolling chair. He upended a tray of surgical tools into a bucket, spun around, and kept scooting.

“Yep. I had a day, okay? This man earned a nap.”

“Hey, I don’t mind you chilling on my couch, but I got this feeling that’s not why you’re here? And you know I get a lot of feelings, so what can Col do for you?”

“I need de-dusting,” Varrett said, bribing his ass vertical (You’ll get a proper bed in your new future, promise).

“Hooo—” Collin spun his chair one more time before finally holding still and fixing Varrett with a genuinely curious look. The way he leaned on the chair with one knee and bent slightly sideways made him look even wirier than he actually was. “You got Pixie Dust up your ware? How? Watchu do?”

“Ehh, long story. Something-something don’t jack into a NetCaster.”

Collin cleared his throat. “That’s a very dumb thing to do. But, whatever. Come. Sit.”

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Thank you for reading. You still rock :3

APHELION: CHAPTER 7 (1)

We return for Episode 2: Welcome to Horizon’s Crown, in which we find out just what Sophya has gotten herself into and what has gotten into Varrett. Or at least we get an idea.

Once reasonably dressed and armed with a snack, Varrett left Mom with the Caster and went to get his ware un-dusted. The snack? A protein bar out of a box he’d looted an entire week ago, which supposedly came in all sorts of punchy flavours. Chocolate. Nuts. Assorted fruit and berries. Broken hopes and crushed dreams, etc. This one had come in a blue wrap with blue bubbles printed on and so he’d wagered blueberry (or one of the countless intergalactic variations of it anyway). But what he’d ended up with after scarfing down half had been 99% cardboard and 1% idea of blue, if blue had indeed been assigned a flavour.

Bleh.

He choked down another bite. His stomach roiled. Some of that was hunger and lingering exhaustion. The rest was a queasy unease over how the daemon was getting its grubby code all over his ware. But he’d cope. He had it figured out. Really. Collin would fix the daemon and then— right after getting scrubbed —he’d get a proper meal and crawl into bed. Or crawl into bed with a proper meal. Either way, he couldn’t fucking wait.

Walking a bit faster, Varrett circled halfway around Sixty before turning sharply into a wide stairwell.

・・・ “Elaya’s delicate little toes be blessed, that’s pretty,” the daemon exclaimed, right as Varrett got swallowed up by the stairwell’s colourful decoration.

He grunted, his eyes flicking left and right.

Children’s drawings crowded the stairwell’s base. There were dogs. Cats. Einlings. Dragons. Stick-figure people and stick-figure robots, and all the other what-have-yous that occupied a child’s imagination, all applied using lots of crayons or sloppy furniture paint with a too wide brush. Bleeding from the children’s art, like an innocent dream swelling into a neon haze steeped in pent up emotion, was a wealth of psychedelic graffiti. More of the same swept down the steps.

Surprising no one, the Distribution assigned janitors had once been at war with this particular stairwell. But its artists had been relentless and the art had kept coming back. By now, the spectacle followed Varrett all the way down to the next floor, exploding outwards to contrast the otherwise fifty-nine shades of professional desperation.

It was neat, alright? Which made the daemon’s comment more unsettling.

Why bother giving the thing taste?

He left the colours (and musings about code with artistic preferences) behind and followed the hall wrapping around the central courtyard into a crowded Fifty-Nine. Down here, restaurants, overpriced shops, and tacky bars had been gutted to make room for everything one might need if one was trapped on three floors of shared misery. But that didn’t make it a bad walk, all things considered.

Even with the daemon falling in step with him, its naked feet padding over the dirty floor.

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Thank you for reading, you rock.