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 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 8

I am way too excited about those two dorks meeting.

A man barged in.

While the door had slid open with a quiet hiss, the man who stalked through had a look about him that said he’d have rather thrown it open. With a bang.

He was tall, had wide shoulders and long legs, and came dressed in streetwear thrown together from high-top sneakers, jeans, and a white linen shirt. Nothing on him wasn’t in one way or the other crumpled, from the bunched up folds on his jeans to the scrunched up bandana sitting snug against the sides of his head. Black hair grew in a thick bushel down the middle of his skull and was only partially kept in check by the turquoise bandana. The rest was in wild disarray and did its best to cover up the implant extension sitting above his right brow; the sort you got when you didn’t want more wires and chips crammed into your brainpan. It was arranged in three small triangles fitted against each other in a neat row.

Sophya noticed all of that because the man stared at her with an intensity that convinced her she’d suddenly gotten smaller. A lot smaller.

Fear ballooned in her chest.

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