APHELION: CHAPTER 19, Mercy

This concludes Episode Three!

Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow.

She’d waited for it. Day by day. Hour by hour, even, and she’d expected it to come much sooner than this. But now it was clear. There’d be no more tomorrows for Marlijn Boerhof.

She pressed her forehead to the hard wall, her searing hot skin desperate for the cool touch of concrete.

It had taken two days for the fever to hit. Another for the tremors to follow. If she’d not been the one shivering and seizing on the cot, she’d have been fascinated by the delay. Ecstatic. Those who fought Deimos for that long were rare; if only some good could come from her clinging on so tight.

Marlijn’s fingers twitched.

No. No good would come from her fighting. 

Her stomach cramped. 

Her leg muscles spasmed. Her joints, her bones, her spine, her tendons; they sang with agony and there was a constant thudding against her ears. With it, came a faint, high pitched wavering tone that would not let up. And the air— the air, it tasted like barbed wire: metallic, sharp, painful.

Marlijn wished to weep.

But He would not let her.

Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow not only because her body had begun to change, but how He had come to be a constant in her thoughts. He crowded them. Him and his Endless murmurs and whispers.

Mercy, she heard.

       Mercy.

The word bared itself like a bleached bone being broken in half. Mercy that she lived. Mercy that He allowed her thought. Mercy for everyone He’d lead to ruin.

She couldn’t shut him out, and ever since she’d heard Him for the first time— ever since she’d begun to change —Marlijn had wanted to end.

He had refused her. And continued to. Over and over again, He gripped her spine with cold-clawed fingers and made her watch— her eyes wide open —as her body failed to do as she told it to. He stopped her from slamming her head against the wall. From tearing open her arms. He held her prisoner in the failing, tattered shell of her body as much as Dr. Kobvik Eli held her prisoner in his pens.

Marlijn pressed herself tighter to the wall. A mewling sound wormed its way up her throat.

Oh, what she would give for tears. But He did not allow her those, either.

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Today we wrap up Episode Three. Which. You know. Is a big deal for me. That puts Aphelion’s first draft at 107170 words altogether, which I did not expect to happen. But here we are 😀

Aphelion will now be paused for a while as I draft Episode Four. I don’t know how long this will take, but oh GOSH, I am maybe three parts/episodes from ending book one and this is EXCITING.

My excited bouncings aside though, please leave all the comments you’d like! Ask me questions, theorize. Anything at all, including pointing out inconsistencies. Like when Varrett told Sophya about how only Castle Guard, Monarch, and Runners are allowed to carry weapons, but we see Ellen with a shotgun. WELL, I HAVE AN EXPLANATION FOR THAT which will make it into draft number two. Ellen’s shotty is loaded with rock salt or an equivalent of it :3

Anyway.

Thank you to anyone who has read this far. Varrett and Sophya and SIN (and Col, and Ellen, and Gabriel, and Sebastian, and our tortured Marlijn) will return soon.

ALL THE LOVE,
Taff

APHELION: CHAPTER 18, Turn the Pages

In which Sophya is bothered by the bumbling of one Varrett Vild Vickers.

Day 6

3rd day of the storm

I have a job.

A tiny drum had been sketched underneath the declaration, with two even tinier drumsticks tapping at its top. The sketch was hasty, the proportions terribly off, but it got the job done. So Sophya thought, at any rate. Drumroll, please she’d written in heavily leaning cursive next to the hasty sketch.

It’s composting sorting.

I’ll start tomorrow.

Sophya wished she had more to write. Or maybe she just wished she had something meaningful to write. A triumph of a sort, maybe, about how she’d gotten closer to Krisi; or that she’d unravelled the mystery of her dreams; or, rather, that she’d unravelled herself from one Varrett Vild Vickers, who remained stubbornly tangled with her and SIN and refused to let go.

None of that.

She’d not even gotten any closer to figuring out if whatever she’d seen back when Pete had died; that thing she’d thought to be a figment of her overtaxed mind back then and which’d come to ruin that theory when something near-identical had appeared in the crowd on Castle 5’s bottom floor.

SIN remained unhelpful on any of the above. The most she offered was a variation of I have got not the faintest. Yet.

Yet.

Yet.

SIN’s patience was a horribly endless thing. No doubt brought on by how she’d lost count of how many hundreds of years she’d been around. Why feel the pressure of time when all you had was time?

Sophya didn’t have that luxury. Neither did Krisi. So, yet? That was awfully hollow.

Presently, Sophya pondered the lot of that, and then wondered why she wasn’t writing down any of it. Why the pen hovered a hair’s width from the paper, rather than scribbling out all her frustration. Why she’d committed to only a few lines after a day spent being useless.

Voices rose in the living room behind her. They slipped under the door, mixed into the constant din of the storm, and told her that V had returned from his escapades up and down the Castle.

And because she didn’t feel like being asked how she’d been and didn’t fancy asking him, she hurriedly turned off the lights on the desk, bumbled out of the chair with a clumsy lurch, and scurried off into bed.

By the time the door to the room opened, she’d pulled the blanket over her ear and was pretending to be asleep. Which meant a lot of even breathing while her ear got tickled by the sound of careful footsteps drawing nearer and then turning into squeaky creaks as he climbed the short ladder and hoisted himself into the bunk above her.

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APHELION: CHAPTER 17, Dilemmas

In which Sophya thinks there ought to be a limit on how often you were allowed to be existentially redecorated. And we meet Crimp.

Day 5

2nd day of the storm.


Sophya flicked the pen up, tilted her head at the letters, and chewed on her bottom lip. No, this isn’t right, she thought and set the pen back down to turn the small s bigger and bolder and positively fat.

2nd day of the Storm, it read now. Better.

Her eyes fixed on the top of the page. Five days? Really? Only five days?

The pen’s butt end found its way into Sophya’s mouth. She chewed on it, her mind absent.

SIN insisted that it’d been no more than that since the crash; rather than the hundred-something which Sophya had expected, because there was no way someone’s life could get so quickly turned around twice in a single mortal lifetime.

Honest, there ought to be a limit on how often you were allowed to be existentially redecorated.

Her teeth clicked down on the pen once more.

・・・ “Darling,” SIN purred from where she was curled up next to Sophya’s elbow; an echo of how this had all started: in Sophya’s small room in front of a fake viewport, surrounded by all she owned. Back then she’d not known how she’d been one positive message away from ruining her life.

Today, she sat in V’s room. At V’s desk. None of which was right.

・・・ “You have got no idea where this pen has been.”

Mildly horrified, Sophya slipped the pen out of her mouth and put it to work instead, its tip scratching over the cheap paper.

And once she started, it seemed like she might never stop. That she’d keep writing until her hand fell off or— more likely —she’d run out of pages. And the more she wrote, the more of the unthinkable happened: the perpetual tightness in her chest unknotted; like a badly bundled length of wire being slowly pulled apart.

She wrote about the Jack of Hearts. About the Well (The Cataract, SIN complained). About Pete and the crash and then Pete again.

After three paragraphs about him, she wondered if maybe she was spending too much time on a boy she’d hardly known.

No. She spent too little on everyone else, she decided, ashamed how she’d forgotten all their names.

Three pages filled.

Then another.

And another.

Her fingers grew tired. Her neck— still wrapped in the collar —got heavy. But she couldn’t stop yet. She’d only gotten started. And she’d only just now caught up.

I’m ready to admit that sleeping in a bed is better than sleeping on a lumpy sofa, she eventually wrote. even if there’s a second person in the room with me and I’m not sure how to cope with that.

Sophya raised her eyes from the page. They landed on the stacked bunk bed, with its stubby ladder (one rung played host to two headbands looped around it) and crumpled sheets hanging off its edge. Her bed, the one at the bottom, had neatly folded sheets and a fluffed-up pillow. Then she shifted in the seat and looked to the door. Voices snuck under it. And noise. Lots of noise. Cartoon violence, she assumed, which had been on all morning now that Sophya had been given a place to retreat to and there was no longer a need for silence in the living room.

And retreat she had.

She didn’t belong out there, after all.

Where do you belong?

Back to the page.

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Book Review: The Calling

An action-packed mystery set in an icy future in which humanity’s survival isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The Calling by Branwen Oshea

By Branwen OShea. Buy it on Amazon!

I’m slapping four and a half hearts on this one. And it looks great on my bookshelf :3

Humanity’s wake-up call. Answer it or face extinction.

When Bleu’s little sister shows symptoms of the deadly Sickness, a strange vision directs him to leave humanity’s subterranean haven and seek the cure on Earth’s glacial surface. Joining the expedition team, Bleu expects extreme temperatures, not a surface ruled by ingenious predators.

Rana and her fellow star beings have co-existed with Earth’s top carnivores since the humans disappeared. But when her peers transform into Crowned Ones, the final stage of star being development, she fears remaining Uncrowned like her parents. To prove her worth, she undertakes a dangerous mission—contacting the hostile and nearly extinct humans. But Rana’s plan backfires, and Bleu’s team retaliates.

As war with the more advanced star being civilization looms, both Rana and Bleu separately seek a way to save their people.

The Calling is a hefty adventure. It takes place after the Earth has fallen to ice and humanity has had to hide in underground havens to survive, which, by itself, sounds simple enough. But there’s a lot more to it; from humanity’s struggle in their haven (the Sickness, a dwindling gene pool, politics) to the mystery that surrounds the star beings who have lived in harmony with Earth’s remaining wildlife in the human’s absence on the surface.

And gosh, I adored the world-building on both ends: the star beings and their abilities, their culture, and how humanity has managed to survive, as well as what’s driving them to reclaim the surface. It all comes together to shape a great backdrop to the character’s adventures.

Oh! Yeah! The characters.

I think the book has two main characters, of a sort. Bleu and Rana. Most of the story centres around them, but we get to know a cast of different POV characters who provide us with a view of the story from different angles. They all bring a different flavour and show us more of the world from their unique perspective. Plus, their personalities are varied, which makes switching back and forth entertaining since it keeps it fresh. OH! AND! We get villain POV! And okay, okay, hear me out: the arguable, air-quotes open, villain, air quotes closed, of the story? I am not about to spoil a thing, but I got so dang mad at him. Furious. I wanted to grab the guy by the ankles and feed him to the book’s (adorably murderous) cave diggers. And that’s a compliment because that dude worked. He’s not evil as much as he’s committed to humanity and the survival of the species and it shows.

The book also doesn’t pull its punches: characters will die. And they’re characters that get introduced to us in ways that give us plenty of time to care for them. More importantly though, their deaths aren’t only there to have us go “Oh no!” and then move on, nope. They have consequences and they move the story forward, adding tension and conflict and I think that’s really neat.

Anyway, so, our main characters: Bleu is a young and adventurous soul who yearns for being up there. To breathe something else than recycled air. To be rid of the constricting walls. He’s also an exceptionally good brother and loves his sister dearly. The same sister who is struck by the mysterious Sickness, which threatens to kill humanity’s future: their children. Soon after, a mysterious vision strikes him, convincing him that his sister’s survival depends on him going out there and locating the cure. Rana’s, our second central character, has her own yearning to contend with. She fears she’ll never crown, a fear which preoccupied her. A lot. Seriously. She’s on about it so often I sometimes felt the urge to sit her down and tell her to take a deep breath. But it’s an understandable worry, all things considered. It’s also that fear that drives her to want to set out on a dangerous mission and to eventually be directly tied up in the disastrous first meeting between the star beings and the frightened and hostile humans. Though on a lighter note: she gets to be wooed by two young men. And it’s adorable. And the way she handles it towards the end had me enjoy her as a character even more.

And that’s it, really? I recommend The Calling to anyone who enjoys post-apocalypse stories with a cast of younger heroes who get wrapped up in a high-stakes conflict. There’s action. Gunfights. Fascinating magic. An adorable cave digger baby named Digga. Tragic world-building on humanity’s side and what they’ve got to do in order to survive. And, yeah, if you like well-fleshed-out characters and villains who all come with their individual wants and needs and goals.

Now excuse me while I order book two in the series. I’d missed its release!

Buy it on Amazon!

APHELION: CHAPTER 16, Smörboll.

In which Varrett peeks where he shouldn’t peek and Sophya is informed she’s an ‘overall kinda gal’.

Varrett— being a man with a very curious nature —kept most of his attention on the bruise shuffling through his unit. Whatever he had left he shared between not looking at the holes in his front door and rummaging for coffee at the same time.

Yep.

He could do a number of things at once, he was versatile like that.

Anyway.

Sophya looked lost, he thought.

Not untethered in her head kinda lost, but airdropped into IKEA without a map lost. A settled systems IKEA, mind you. The kind you needed a three day pass for and a local guide. Plus a backpack full of snacks for the long stretches between themed restaurants. With their themed meatballs.

Varrett, for his part, preferred the traditional and (almost) reasonably sized Earther IKEAs, where he’d come to find an almost unreasonable amount of love for the word smörboll back when he’d been a kid.

Smör.

Boll.

. . .

Varrett snorted, cleared his throat, and wagged the coffee tin he’d been holding in his hand while his auto pilot malfunctioned and had him idle like an ass (and staring). So maybe he couldn’t do a number of things at once. Whatever.

“Hey, Fi,” he called.

Her attention snapped to him and her eyes pinched every so slightly.

Cute, he thought. Which’d come out of nowhere and he bundled the thought up, carefully shoved it behind him, and decided to revisit it later.

But it’d worked. The calling her Fi bit. It’d thrown her out of whatever loops she’d gotten stuck in.

Alright. I got this, he reassured himself. He was, after all, fantastic at distracting women. Or so he liked to think.

“Sophya,” she corrected him.

“Mhm. Wanna help me make breakfast?”

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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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