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 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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APHELION: CHAPTER 14, Soulwho?

In which everyone is tired and Collin drops a shoe on Varrett’s head.

After he had ditched the aether with Olof and given the whole Runner’s station a beat-by-beat retelling of his Too Close Encounter Of The Choking-Kink Kind, Varrett finally dragged his aching bones back into the unit. Barely in and he pulled to a halt, with the sliding doors snapping shut maybe half an inch from his ass, and then he kind of just stood there. Motionless. His pack hung awkwardly from his left shoulder. His headband had ridden down onto his forehead at a lopsided angle. And his right sock had slipped down and was all bunched up under his heel.

. . .

Varrett sighed.

The empty unit responded with resounding silence.

Which was nice. Really nice. The hush felt like a goopy, cool balm on his nerves; not unlike that moment when you stepped out of a party where they’d been blasting music at ungodly volumes all night, giving your thoughts a chance to hear each other again.

Or when you killed your Hawk’s engines. Let it drift. Gave yourself up to its trajectory, with the void of space stretching on around you, reaching for that elusive concept of infinity.

But then there was the ever-present full-body pinch on his insides, that reminder of his haunting. Had it dulled? Yeah. A bit. The closer he’d gotten to CA5TLE, the less in his face it’d been. But it was still there. Still itched.

Varrett absent-mindedly scratched at his chest. That did nothing to help, naturally.

Anyway. Shower.

He kicked off his shoes. Threw his pack aside. Shed his clothes and gear, and then he endured yet another cold shower with the dignity of a two-year-old whose favourite cartoon had just been turned off mid-episode.

Once a squeaky, shivering clean, Varrett wandered his naked ass into his room, where he threw on whatever clothes he could find without having to go hunt for them, and flopped down on the bed. A bed that came with the unfamiliar scent of dusty feathers stuck to the pillow and blanket. Because, yeah, he’d had a girl in here and— tragically —it’d been the first one since he’d moved in.

Something about thin walls.

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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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