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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Kyle Crane vs The Hulk

If he’d had the strength left to stand, he’d have done just that. He’d have stood there, raised his— Ah shit. —now missing pipe, and bellowed at the top of his lungs, loud enough to put Russell Crowe to shame.

As it were, Kyle barely had enough left for a muted mutter of “Are you fucking entertained now you mother-fucking shitmuffins?”

Kyle Crane vs the Hulk

Kyle Crane vs The Hulk, as seen in Latchkey Hero. This amazing illustration is by hummingdead, who has been an absolute treasure bringing scenes out of Latchkey Hero to life for me.

Dying Light: Post Zombie Apocalypse Self-Care

a Paper Crane

Home is where the WiFi auto connects, they say. It’s where the shoes reliably come off, all the hats are hung in order, where the right type of jam is stocked in the fridge, and you know where the remote control is (most times, anyway).

More importantly though, home is where there aren’t any zombies trying to gnaw the meat off your bones and where you can slouch on the sofa, uninterrupted.

That’s how she finds Kyle Crane: slouching his worst slouch on the sofa. His ass is near hanging off, that’s how far forward he’s slipped, and his long legs are doing that thing where they take up too much space extended as they are. He’s wearing a forest green kinda t-shirt that’s a size at least too large for him, a pair of plain grey joggers, and a white sock on his left foot. The second sock is orange. It has white ducks printed on it.

His feet wiggle.

(Because there are a lot of things Kyle Crane can be, motionless is never one of them.)

So, there he lounges, feet wiggling, with his chin turned down to his chest in a way that probably means his neck will start aching soon, and a Nintendo Switch held up under his nose.

She parks herself by the door and watches him.

He’s focused. Very focused. Like the entire world has shrunk to the tiny screen in front of him. He’s also wildly expressive, she thinks. Sometimes his brows shoot up. Other times his entire face gets all pinchy. That’s when he leans his torso left or right and tilts the Switch alongside him. The buttons gets smashed harder then, too. And the thumbsticks get a vigorous workout.

Never mind all that though.

The best bit are the smiles. He has a wealth of those ready to go at a moment’s notice and now is no different. There are wide ones, the ones where he shows teeth and when his cheeks get all bunched up. And the quick ones. And the lazy ones. They all curl into his three-day-old beard and they are what end up tugging her away from the door, across the room, and reel her in to sit on the sofa next to him.

Crane doesn’t exactly look up. He throws her a quick, sideways kind of glance from where he’s halfway down the sofa, and then he’s back to playing.

That is when she notices he has three giant Haribo Dummy candies stuck on his fingers.

Yeah.

He does that.

Sticks them on— preferably a whole ten of them —and then slowly works his way from left to right, beginning with the long ends until only the rings are left. Eventually, those get chewed off too and then he repeats the exercise until he’s run out. The empty bag sticks out from where he’s squeezed it into the band of his joggers. She extracts it, balls it up, and chucks it onto the coffee table.

. . .

Or tries to, anyway. Plastic doesn’t chuck well. It gives up flying halfway and falls to the floor.

She sighs.

That gets Crane’s attention and it earns her a smile. Not just any smile, either. It’s that smile; the private one; the deceptively languid one; the one which mostly sits in his light brown eyes, where it’s unapologetically fierce and beelines right for her heart.

He scoots up. It’s an awkward, wobbly motion, involving lots of grunting and shoulder-rubbing into her direction until he’s finally in a position where he can drape an arm around her.

See, Kyle Crane is a cuddle bug.

Give him any indication you’re up to get nuzzled at and he’ll be right up in there, happy as a clam. (It’s a phrase he dropped on her at some point and it’s stuck, though she can’t for the life of her figure out what makes clams particularly happy.)

Anyway.

He pulls her in close, rubs his cheek against hers, and drags her into his world of— ah— Terraria.

She blinks.

There’s a tiny sprite dude blasting other tiny sprite dudes to bits with what she assumes to be a boomstick of sorts and— she blinks some more.

“Are those zombies?” she asks.

“Mhmm,” he hums. The noise rumbles around in his chest, deep and comforting so close to her ear.

“Isn’t that a little, I dunno—“ She gives her arm a half-hearted lift, gesturing lamely.

“—cathartic,” Crane says. “That’s what it is. Cathartic. Wanna try?”

“No. I’m good.”

“Kay. Hey. Lemmi show you something.” His fingers squish some buttons. The thumb sticks get a wiggle. And suddenly Terraria!Kyle is standing in a ginormous tree. A tree that is also a house, she assumes. Rooms are held up by wide branches and ringed in by leaves and there are lanterns dangling on the outside — and, honestly, there is so much to see, she can’t process it all at once.

“Tada. My tree house. ‘cus it’s a house. And a tree.”

“It’s very intricate,” she admits.

“Right? I been working on it all week. Look—“ He zips up the middle of the tree’s very wide trunk, right along a chain. “—top floor, bedroom.”

It does, indeed, have a bed. In front of a large window looking out across a jungle. She nods quietly to herself. He’d do that if he could get away with it. Have a bedroom real high up somewhere. With the wall facing it being nothing but glass. There’s also a bookcase though. Which is very him, too. Plus more books on shelves. And starfish. And shells. And a pink piggy bank. Also very him. The clutter. The hoarding.

Crane zips back down. “Armoury.” With, well. Armour. On mannequins. And chests full of weapons, or so he says. Further down there’s the dryad and the zoologist. The first one is a lass in nothing but some vines covering her private bits and the second one is a fox lady. Or a cat lass. She can’t tell.

He ships them, he says.

She snorts.

Next, he shows her a kitchen. Then a crafting room. After that, a bathroom with an actual tub and a toilet (“Where does the poop go, Crane?” “Shut up. It’s magic.”) and eventually the bottom floor, where he’s built a deck over a pretty jungle lake off on the left.

For fishing.

He’s an avid fisher, she’s found out. Has a soft spot for fly fishing in particular and often whinges how he doesn’t get to go as much as he’d like.

There’s more to the ‘tree house’. A lot more, and, eventually, something catches her attention. She worms her hand up until she’s able to wiggle a finger at the far right of the small screen.

“What’s that? They look like tombstones?”

“Oh. He-he.” He clears his throat and taps the first one.

Kyle couldn’t put the fire out, it reads.

Her right brow quirks up.

Kyle’s flailing about was finally stopped, says the next one.

“That’s a miracle,” she comments. Crane bumps his head against hers. Gently.

Kyle forgot to run.

Kyle discovered gravity.

       Kyle tried to swim in lava.

And so on and so forth.

“Wow,” she says. “Little Kyle isn’t having the best of times, is he?”

“Little—“ Crane pauses.

His mouth snaps shut. And, after that, it’s a miracle she can’t actually hear the worn-out gears in his head turning. Though she can most certainly feel how the lips he’s pressed to her temple curl up into yet another smile. This one’s cheeky, she imagines.

“Yeah. He’s having it rough. Wanna help cheer Little Kyle up?”

. . .

Okay, she walked into that one. She admits that, readily, but even more so readily she pokes at his ribs with her finger. Once. Then twice. At the third jab he huffs. At the forth the huff turns to a laugh and he twists awkwardly away from her — while not actually going anywhere and always snapping right back.

“I hate you,” she lies, her voice flat, and bites at his nearest finger with one of the candy rings still stuck to it.

“Thief,” he accuses and pulls her in tight again, his chin back to rest against her head. “Fine. Wanna help with decorating instead?”

She nods while idly chewing on the candy.

“Sweet. Okay— so—“

Yeah. Home is where the WiFi auto connects. Where you got all your favourite jam. Where the hats are all in order. And, sometimes, home is tiny and it’s also a tree, and you watch it grow while wrapped up in the arms of a man who can’t wear two matching socks.

a Paper Crane

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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