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 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 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 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.

APHELION: CHAPTER 5 & 6

We close Episode one with Varrett lamenting how he’s the one who always gets to do the heavy lifting in a relationship.

“Fine.” Varrett got his madly spinning head down to turn the Caster over onto her stomach. “See this?” he complained, slid his arms under her shoulders, and pulled her against his chest. She was heavier than he’d anticipated, what with how she’d barely reached up to his chin when she’d thrown herself at him earlier. Not quite heavy enough for his knees to file a restraining order as he got up, but enough to make him go hmmm as her dead-to-the-world weight hung off his front like one of those boneless couches he’d been pondering this morning.

This is why we broke up,” he continued and draped one of her arms around his neck so he could heft her up on his shoulders in a passable carry. “We go on a date, who gets saddled with the work?”

Seb snorted, turned around, and headed for the door.

“Me,” Varrett said. He stomped after him. “That’s who. Cooking? Me. Go on an assignment?” He turned his chin to look at her head rolling against his shoulder. “Wanna take a guess?” A pause. “Mmhm. That’s right. Me,” he said while carefully navigating through the door without clipping the frame with her head. “And you?” he added quietly, addressing the unconscious Caster. “You are going to bleed all over my backseat, aren’t you?”

Her head kind of wobbled, which— if he squinted —passed for a nod.

“Awesome.”

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This finalizes Episode One! I’ve got two more chapters of Episode Two to write before I start posting it, so, for a while, Aphelion’s updates will consist of worldbuilding nuggets and art. To anyone on here who picked up reading it so far though? Thank you.

Aphelion: Chapter 3, Urban Decay

In which Varrett considers therapy and has a very profound epiphany about bean bags; and we learn what the life of a Runner in Horizon’s Crown looks like.

Preview:

Varrett hauled his reluctant ass out of bed. 05:02 his bedside clock said with an obnoxious neon-orange flash of light and a quiet buzz. He swatted for it — and much like every other morning, the stupid clock dodged him. All while being perfectly immobile.

Oh, how he’d have liked to be immobile too; stay flat on his back in his room and let Horizon’s Crown do its thing out there without him for a day or two. Yep, of course he had a room. Nothing near as spacious as Naemie’s bedroom (which he’d totally been in before), but big enough for a low bed with a reasonably comfortable mattress, a desk of the orderly, yet cluttered variety, a dresser with the drawers never closed, a standing mirror in a corner, and enough floor space left to allow for one Varrett-sized klutz getting laid out face first.

Because sitting up had been one thing. Blearily rubbing at his face and forgetting he’d dropped his pants next to it? That was a different story altogether. One that ended with his feet tangled up and the floor saying Hi by smacking him in the chin.

“This is going to be an amazing day,” he mumbled into the dusty carpet and wondered if, maybe, just maybe, he should have stayed in bed.

But then who’d earn all the credits he’d thrown at Clive yesterday?

Ten minutes later, and he’d herded together his work gear, slapped it on, and was busy latching his vest shut while he sifted through a handful of messages that’d come in overnight. They scrolled by at the edge of his vision: two repair offers for the water boiler, a garage bill with a countdown crawling towards zero at the bottom of the message, three variations of Hey, V, would you mind [insert errand here], and one from Naemie with a— woah, hello —attachment. Plus a bunch of spam. Because where would civilization be if no one tried to sell you snake oil cures for the known universe’s most terrifying virus or add another inch or so to your dick?

It’d be— once and for all —over.

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Exploring Horizon’s Crown as I write it is so much fun. There is a lot to see and not enough words that fit into one chapter. Though what’s even better? Exploring it with Varrett. He has got just the right amount of fucks to give and his optimism helps me through the grimmer places.

I’ve also got to say I am really enjoying Campfire. It helps me keep my own facts straight and I’ve reached a point in Aphelion where that’s beginning to be really important.