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Greed is Subtle

The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet.
Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured.
Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it.
During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper.
Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss.
"Hello?" Ghen answered.
"Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details."
"Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?"
"No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about."
Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?"
"Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up."
Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically.
As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?"
Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery."
Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans?
"Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time."
A week later.
At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting.
"Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?"
All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts.
"Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!"
Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing?
"Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded."
"Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost.
"Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount."
"So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked.
"If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder."
"And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists.
"Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options."
Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket.
"What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time.
Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately."
"And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone.
"Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!"
"And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money.
"Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?"
Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working?
As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase.
And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times.
Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way.
Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies.
And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits?
Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more.
...
There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept?
Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there.
"Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?"
"Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down.
"Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form.
"I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little."
"Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod.
"As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact.
"Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so."
Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually."
"Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?"
"Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest."
"Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?"
"If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated.
"So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?"
"Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case.
"Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted."
"Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise.
"What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious."
"I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?"
Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold."
"A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted.
Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares."
Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later.
After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always.
"I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?"
"I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?"
"I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch."
"You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor.
"I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle."
"I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk.
Several weeks later.
Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt.
While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route.
After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891.
And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it.
And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back?
His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful.
By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs.
What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real?
It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off.
As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen.
"What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments.
"D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car.
"You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!"
"How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh.
"Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!"
Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares."
Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?"
"Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?"
"Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin."
And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?"
Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?"
"Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!"
"Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it."
"Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited."
"By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them."
"Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go."
Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?"
Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it."
...
It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%.
Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way?
What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching?
He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late.
Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well.
"I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?"
Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say."
"Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?"
"Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them.
They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus.
"May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar."
Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please."
"Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean.
Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him.
Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high?
And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm.
And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money.
And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible.
The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it.
Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing.
Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal.
Three Years Later.
Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat.
It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply.
Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik.
Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes.
Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery.
"Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon."
"Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik.
"Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good."
"What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik."
Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month."
"I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk."
"You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently."
"Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know."
"Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?"
"I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement."
Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?"
AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
submitted by SynthoStellar to HFY [link] [comments]

What makes Teemo, Teemo? Why do we love him?

I make this post on the margin of recent discussions of Teemo feeling outdated and overshadowed by the competition in most if not all roles.
It certainly feels like that our gameplay is stuck in the simple, more binary style like most old champions (which is not bad by itself), on the other hand we weren't given enough tools and crutches to make it efficient to pilot (like Tryndamere, Amumu or Garen)
So I raise the question:

What is your most important characteristic of Teemo?

Part of me wishes that we could maybe cook up a Teemo rework, that is level-headed and balanced (so no favoritism just because we main him), is competitive enough so he is playable at all levels equally, and at the same time keeps his identity. I don't want an Urgot/Aatrox level rework, despite those turning out well. Hell I don't want any sort of big rework. I want most of his key features to stay the same, but for that we need to put down our feet and name out what those are.
A few off the top of my head:
1: Build versatility. -T eemo can build almost any item in the game and make use of it, and I think it is one key identity that we need to keep. Some are less optimal than others, but aren't completely troll builds. Even TANKMO has comps he's good into.
2: His Q, the blinding dart. - Being able to avoid basic attacks is in my opinion an important part of his identity. Also it being the core of the AP-focused burst is an important role. It blinding the enemy gives a lot of options versus champions who only auto, like Q-ing a Tryndamere or Jax, then going invisible right in front of them while under our turret. Or avoiding a key ability like Garen Q, Renekton W...
In short, it should definitely retain the Blind CC, and should remain to be a medium-cooldown AP ability at a decent range. Make it stay a targeted ability (point and click)? I'd prefer it, but if someone has an idea perhaps that is some wiggle room we can work with as a compromise, I leave it up with a questionmark.
3: Shrooms. - I don't think Riot would ever dare to touch it, and quite frankly it is the part of his kit I am the most happy with. The shroom bouncing is a great little feature also. Maybe value changes?
4: Toxic Shot. Teemo wouldn't be Teemo without this little cheeky on-hit + Damage over time steroid on his autos, and I don't think the passive core part should be changed.
At the same time, I feel there is some untapped potential with giving it an active element too, similar to how Varus' W functions. A long-ish cooldown 0 mana "utility" that could do us something. So, if we have an idea for something that would be related to the gameplay style that maxing E entrails, we COULD strap it on here.
5: Sneaky sneaky - Being able to go invisible nearly anywhere, often in plain sight, and to disappear in bushes is just amazing.
Just yesterday had a Morde matchup. He ulted me, and would've definitely killed me. I ran into a bush and hid there for the duration of the ult, dodging his Q (E was on CD at the start). Then he at a shroom as it ended, I gave him an auto and a Q and ran away.
The passive alone made me go from certain death to actually winning a trade despite a stronger Morde all-inning me. It is a big deal.
I would love to see something that lets us move invisibly OUTSIDE bushes, likely only for a short distance/duration. It would add to the guerilla behaviour of Teemo. But that's just a footnote.
6: The Swift Scout - Some sort of mobility is in order. And as SovereignKitten said, Teemo's W is probably the biggest issue right now. It is outdated as hell and needs something.
On the margin of this I would mention that base stat increases could also work wonders. For reference, 25 attack range would put him roughly in-bracket with ADC champions in terms of stats, it would let him compete better with the increasing mobility and ability range of MELEE toplaners, but as we know, base stats are dangerous, so I just leave it as a note of being an OPTION. I wouldn't increase his base MS though, as 1: W tunings could mess with things. 2: Movespeed is OP and volatile, just look at what happened with Caitlyn.
All right, there's my incoherent rambling about Teemo's state, and a movement of sorts to try to compile what Teemo is, and what could we possibly change to bring him up to par without making him overpowered, or forgetting what is identity is. I don't trust many of Riot to cook up something without destroying Teemo's identity (okay, maybe August, that man is one of my favourite designers even ourside League, period).
Feel free to add your thoughts and discuss things in a civil manner. Not agreeing on things is obviously part of mature discussion, but the goal is to find something that everyone is okay with.
(Also unrelated sidenote: one thing Teemo definitely needs, is more voicelines. Omega Squad Teemo is amazing to play because of his in-character banter. Old champions deserve to be periodically facelifted not just in gameplay and visual terms, but also with their voicelines. I wish for Riot to make this happen.)
submitted by KosViik to TeemoTalk [link] [comments]

[The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 18

At the Beginning
Previously on The Scuu Paradox…
  The smell of burning wood was all I could focus on. The fires had long died out, making it difficult to see in the darkness; despite all other modifications, Kridib’s eyes weren’t able to see overly well in the dark. Every five minutes, Radiance would send an infrared scan of the colony to help him and his team with their advancement. Despite all that help and the four missile strikes, progress was minimal. Of the forty-seven people sent to the planet, eleven had been killed and five more severely wounded, rendering them useless in battle. From what I could see, Rigel’s forces had clustered in specific points of the colony, giving up the rest: a sensible strategy that had allowed them to ambush three of our teams while suffering negligible losses themselves. As things stood, the enemy forces had positioned themselves in two areas of the colony. Both spots encircled a specific building—mine and the captain’s locations—making further missile strikes impossible.
  Update? Kridib asked me through the mind link.
  Nothing, I replied. Rigel had left shortly after our last chat, taking the third-contact rods with him. Since then, I had remained safely isolated in the room and completely alone. Half of them have probably gone to sleep.
  Tell me if anything changes. Kribib looked up. A dozen sats were visible in the night sky. We’ll be making another go soon.
  I don’t think that’s a good idea.
  So far, Kridib had made four attempts to reach me, all of them unsuccessful. His approach, though chaotic at best, had managed to keep him alive. There had been a close call during which his left arm had been grazed by a bullet, though that time the man hadn’t frozen.
  Everyone has to sleep, Kridib said, heading back into one of the buildings that had been transformed into a ground base of operations. I’ll go first.
  Must I wake you? I asked.
  No. With that, the link was severed.
  To a degree, I was thankful, though not too much. Forcing whatever strength I had, I moved my head to look around the room as much as I was able. Nothing had changed in the last four hours, but at least it let me do something. The last time I felt remotely similar was when I’d had my sensor systems knocked out, though even then I was able to use my shuttle AIs to paint me a picture. Here, I was completely helpless and, to a vast degree, blind.
  “Do I get any water?” I asked as loudly as my lungs would let me.
  There was no reason to expect an answer. Even if anyone was awake on the lower floors, they would be on lookout duty. Saying it out loud, though, made me feel better for some reason. To my surprise, the door to the room opened.
  “Thought you were above those things.” Rigel walked in slowly. Even with my lack of focus, I could see that he had changed clothes. The colours were dark enough to be considered a uniform, although I couldn’t make out any other details. “You can’t swallow, remember?”
  “My mouth feels dry,” I explained.
  “Too bad.” Despite my poor vision, I could hear him smile as he said that.
  Walking slowly, he made his way to the stool near me and sat down. From this distance, I could see him taking something from his front pocket. In the dim light, it was impossible to tell what exactly.
  “Still having problems focusing?” Rigel asked.
  “Yes.” There was no point in lying.
  “Pity. Agora works well on organic tissue. Not on techno-mongrels,” he added with a laugh. “If you weren’t one, you’d be dead. There’s a win for you.”
  And you’re not making any sense, I thought.
  “Nice murder troops you got out there. Quick and efficient. A few years ago, the locals would’ve had fun pulling their wings off. Time leaves its mark.” Rigel flicked the object. It let out a peculiar metallic sound. “No action, no combat sims, just the local pests that roam the planet. Those were brought here too, did you know?”
  “I heard about it.”
  “Another brilliant idea from the bureaucracy. Create a full ecosystem. Plants, critters, predators... all must be present and carefully maintained. We tried killing them off once. Those were the days. Three colonies setting out, killing everything in sight until the orbital station stopped sending food.” There was a slight pause. “And you know the best part?” Rigel leaned towards me. “None of that happened.”
  If I could have pulled back, I would have. There was no way of knowing if these were insane rantings or if he was referring to a dark op coverup. Considering he was from the Salvage Authorities, either was possible, and both options were equally undesirable.
  “I went through your data, Elcy.” Rigel rubbed his hands. “You know things you shouldn’t.”
  “Because of my past, I’ve been placed on special assignments,” I said. Technically it was true, though we both knew it didn’t explain away the inconsistencies.
  “You knew about the third-contact artifacts before. You’ve operated them before.” He moved his hand closer to my face. I felt a cold metallic surface touch my cheek. “You’re searching for something. Something that you’re not supposed to find.” He moved the object away from my face. “Here’s my offer. You answer some of my questions, and I’ll answer some of yours.”
  “That’s one way to get court-martialed.” Not to mention there was no guarantee my self-destruct chip wouldn’t go off at any point.
  “Please don’t give me the line that the fleet is going through all that trouble just to rescue you. If you were that valuable, you’d never have been sent to this hell in the first place.” Rigel stood up. “What are the odds of the fleet extracting you in one piece? Two percent?”
  “Point-seven-three-nine,” I corrected. Frankly, I was surprised they were going through all the trouble. “Give or take.”
  “Less than one percent,” Rigel snorted. “It’s your call. You have three hours to make it. Before I leave you, here’s a freebie. This planet, it isn’t some randomly colonized world in ‘unexplored space.’ We’re in the buffer zone—the border between the Scuu and human space. Think about that.” He made his way to the door. Reaching it, he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and we’re constantly being monitored.”
 
  Gamma-Ligata, Cassandrian Front—615.11 A.E. (Age of Expansion)
    The third wave of shuttles approached my forward left hangar one by one. The instant they came within three hundred meters, I was handed over direct control of the AIs. As with the previous batches, the first thing I did was to have a set of isolated subroutines flash the memory and purge the entire operating system. That done, I sent out a mini-sat to latch onto and assume control of the shuttles. It was a slow and tedious process, but necessary considering the circumstances.
  “How are things?” Wilco asked from the bridge. Augustus had gathered most of his officers to a private meeting in his quarters, leaving Wilco in command. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but each time it did, it felt strange.
  “Everything’s going as planned,” I said, as the first shuttle went under my control.
  A quick internal scan revealed that there were sixty-two people aboard, all cuffed and tagged. All of them were tagged as infected, and, to my surprise, none of them were sedated. The instructions were to take them in and monitor their actions at all times, and only to engage if they threatened the ship. Normally, I’d be confident that Augustus knew what was going on. With everything we’d gone through since I’d joined the front, I didn’t think there was anything in the galaxy that could surprise him. I was wrong.
  Finishing my internal check of the shuttle, I directed it to the outer hangar doors and had it dock. The passengers—all of their identities classified—waited till I covered the walls with disembark notifications, then stood up and quietly proceeded to get off, in orderly fashion. I could tell by Wilco’s expression that he found it unnerving.
  “A thousand and eighty-two passengers on board,” I said on the bridge and in the captain’s quarters. The moment the last person set foot in the hangar, I would eject the shuttle from my hangar-bay, self-destruct it, and proceed with the next.
  Delegating the task to my isolated subroutines, I reviewed the instructions I had received. The proper ident protocols and authorisations had been used, ensuring that I would do as instructed without asking questions. An emergency transmission from an unidentifiable ship had led me here. I knew nothing about the ship’s name or specifics, and I wasn’t allowed to get close enough to get a visual. The only things I was allowed to see were its shuttles and mass. Everything else was open to interpretation.
  “Have any of them said anything?” Wilco asked.
  “No.” I displayed images of the hangar bay and the corresponding corridors surrounding it. As part of my instructions, the entire section was sealed off and quarantined. “They’re eating.” They also appeared to be healthy, although the instructions stressed no one was to come into contact with them under any circumstances. “I’ve received no indication of how long we’re to keep them. Did the captain get an indication?”
  “No,” Wilco said in his usual somber voice. “Is everything sealed off?”
  “Yes.” I rechecked. “No way in or out without captain’s approval.”
  “Set a buffer zone.” The man went on. “No one goes in or out without my permission.”
  “If you say so.” It wasn’t difficult. The area in question had been made empty to accommodate the quarantined arrivals, though it seemed a bit too much. “Want me to put sentinels?”
  “No. We don’t have to hurt anyone, just hold them.” He slinked down in his chair. “They’re the Med boys’ toys. We don’t get to play with them.”
  Med boys… Only Wilco referred to the Medical Core in such fashion. As most organisations, they were part of the fleet, yet their specific area of expertise gave them as much authority as the Salvage Authorities and the BICEFI combined. As a ship, I knew fairly little about them: they had the power to impose quarantines and cordon off entire planets if they wished. They were also the only organisation with the power to hold an active captain in check. Possibly, that was the reason Augustus didn’t get along with any of his medical officers. According to the public files, the Med Core had created the inner-body nanites and were instrumental in getting humans into space. There were also whispers that they were involved in creating the first ship-cores, although I found that unlikely. Even so, they had more authority than anyone aboard. Even on the front, we had no option but to obey.
  “It won’t be practical heading into war with them,” I said as the second shuttle entered the hangar bay.
  “Not our call. We’re to hold them until a Med ship picks them up,” Wilco sighed. “And monitor everything they do.”
  “How is that different from anyone else aboard?” I ventured a chuckle.
  “You don’t need to know,” the lieutenant said darkly.
  Another thing about Wilco was that he had the uncanny ability to make any topic of conversation dark. I ran a few simulations testing various responses, then decided not to respond further. In the best-case scenario, there was a twenty-seven percent chance he found my reaction funny.
  “Elcy.” Augustus granted me sensor access to the captain’s quarters. “What’s the ETA on the cattle?”
  “The passengers will be all aboard in seven minutes, captain.” A decade of attempts to mellow his behaviour had brought me no results. “Five, if you need me off in a rush.”
  “Get it done in five,” he barked. “We’ve got new orders. We’re joining a purge fleet. Go on yellow. Get the grunts prepped.”
  “Aye, sir.” I issued the order to everyone aboard. Seconds later, ground troop officers and sergeants were shouting their troops into order. “What about the passengers, sir? Won’t combat expose them to unnecessary danger?”
  “There’s no unnecessary danger,” Augustus barked again. The rest of the command staff had already started leaving the room. Their expressions ranged from mild annoyance to disapproval. Whatever discussions had taken place, they must have been unpleasant and one-sided. “Monitor them at all times and don’t interact until I say so.”
  “Understood.”
  It sounded like another escort mission, and I didn’t like escort missions. Normally, it would just be troop detachments or—if we were very unlucky—some mid-level bureaucrat or admiral’s aid sent to do a front-line inspection. Transporting quarantined personnel wasn’t in my usual purview, although if it had been, I’d never know.
  “What’s the course of treatment they must undergo?” I asked.
  “No treatment,” Augustus grumbled. “That’s for the Meds to figure out.”
  “All passengers are tagged as infected. Regulations require we provide immediate medical attention.” I felt my words sound hollow. If Augustus had the authority to provide such, he would have told me already. The only thing I was left was to go through the motions, expecting to receive the obvious denial.
  “Just monitor them, Elcy! That’s what we’ve been told. And whatever happens, don’t interfere.”
 
  Just monitor them.
  I had spent three months and thirty-nine hours monitoring the passengers onboard. Through battles and repairs, every single action had been carefully observed, recorded, and stored on external data storage. For the most part, nothing happened. The people would live boring, perfectly organised lives, almost as if they knew they were being watched. There were no scuffles, few arguments, and only one incident resulting in injuries when a Cassandrian fighter managed to slip through my external defences and fire a salvo at the hangar bay. Their health condition also seemed no different than when they had come aboard. I had dedicated a dozen subroutines to collect any potential symptoms in an effort to determine the type of disease they had, but had come to no conclusion. Then, one day, they were all gone. I had no memory of the Medical ship that had taken them, or where that had happened. The only thing I was certain about was the time—precisely two thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine hours since the last of them had come aboard. Everything else remained restricted.
  Looks like there’s always someone monitoring someone, Sev. If Rigel was to be believed someone was monitoring the planet. The question was who.
  Seconds turned to minutes, then hours. Hundreds of times, I considered looking into my restricted memories for information regarding the third-contact artifacts or the events in gamma-Ligata, and each time I found a reason not to. As Rigel had said, the chance of me getting off the planet alive was less than one percent, but the knowledge of the existence of the possibility kept me acting. And then there was Rigel’s offer…
  Rad, are you monitoring me? I asked, attempting to latch on to any open communication protocols. A connection was established, but instead of linking to Radiance, I found myself connecting back to Kridib’s mind. On cue, an info burst from Radiance followed, giving the latest scan. This time, I could see the location of our forces. The total number had increased to seventy-four, Kridib included. Nearly eight percent were gathered close to the captain’s expected location. Kridib and five more were closer to me.
  Get ready, Kridib said. Moments later, bursts of gunfire echoed in the distance; they were going for the captain first.
  The mission had begun. From here on, I could see several potential outcomes. In all of them, there was a high probability that Rigel attempted to make a deal.
  When I was a ship, Augustus had taught me one key thing when it came to missions: regardless of the depth of predictions and the computing power at their disposal, humans always boiled down a situation to a simple binary choice. Rigel wanted something from me and had invested too much to let his chance slip. Before the outcome of Kridib’s rescue mission, Rigel would come here to get an answer to his proposal. All I had to do was wait.
  As I lay, I watched Kridib run through the darkness towards my location. Unlike before, he was wearing night vision goggles, letting him make out his surroundings better.
  No thermal? I asked as Kridib made his way through the streets. The smell of burned vegetation could still be felt.
  That’s what you’re for.
  Not a reply to be thrilled about, but one to be expected. Cross-referencing Radiance’s latest scan, I started analysing every frame of Kridib’s stream. The first few minutes passed without incident. Judging by the intensified background gunfire, the locals were more focused on keeping Renaan isolated than stopping Kridib. Twenty-eight seconds, later the first shot sounded.
  Sniper! I shouted straight in Kridib’s mind.
  “Cover fire!” he shouted, rushing for cover.
  Watch out for a cross, I warned.
  The shooting intensified. Based on the area scan, the group was a few hundred meters away. One strong push and they’d be here. That said, I knew that the building was guarded by more than seven people. If I were in Rigel’s place, I would have dedicated at least three dozen.
  Concentrated fire focused on the second floor of a building, blowing off the entire wall. There was a brief scream before a rocket flew into the spot, hollowing the entire structure with a blast.
  Heavy weapons? I asked Kridib. I didn’t think Radiance’s captain would resort to such firepower, considering third-contact artifacts were involved; one direct hit, and the entire colony might well end up a smouldering crater, not to mention the potential communication repercussions. Maybe there was truth in Rigel’s statement that Flight Commander Nitel was getting desperate.
  As I was following Kridib’s advancement outside, the door opened once more—as predicted, Rigel had returned. He was wearing the same set of clothes as three hours ago. I found it puzzling that I couldn’t spot any semblance of a weapon on him.
  “Your masters have gotten desperate,” the man said in suspiciously calm fashion. “Looks like they’ve sent everything they had to get Renaan.” He walked up to me, then leaned over. “And just a handful to get you.”
  “Are they winning?” I tried to smile.
  “Beats me.” Rigel didn’t seem bothered. “You thought about my offer?”
  “I did. And I don’t think accepting would be a good deal. If I wait for them to rescue the captain, your bargaining power ends.”
  “Oh?” The man chuckled.
  “There’s nothing else the fleet would be willing to trade.” Except potentially the pyramid artifact. Even then, I didn’t see them sacrificing the Gregorius. “Once the captain boards a shuttle, it’s over.”
  A person of Kridib’s squad fell as they were approaching my building. I heard the unmistakable sound of bullets piercing armor, then silence. That was the thing about sound suppressors: one could get killed, and there still wouldn’t be any sound of one hitting the ground. I wanted to turn around and see what had happened, potentially to help. There was a seven-point-three chance that the wound wasn’t fatal. Kridib kept on moving forwards. That’s what made him a ground trooper… it also caused me pain.
  “What if I kill Renaan?” Rigel mused. “I won’t lose much. Everyone down here’s dead anyway. Someone in the fleet has gone through a lot of shit to get Renaan back. They’d lose a hell of a lot more.”
  “What if they save the captain?” I countered. “Either way, we’ll soon find out, and you’ll have no offer.”
  “Quantum paradox logic?” Rigel sounded surprised. “Strange hearing that from you, missy. I’ll have to skim your file once I’m out of here.” He paused for a moment, then dragged the nearby stool over—making a deliberate sound—and sat down. “Truth is, once the moment ends, we both lose our chance. Are you okay with that?”
  Why are you so confident? I wondered. Even if I were to agree, he wouldn’t be able to get much from me in the next ten minutes, even less if Kridib managed to reach my room. His squad had already made its way to the building proper, facing less than expected resistance. From what I was able to see, there were two snipers left on the upper floors and two machine-gunners on the first. All auxiliary positions on the nearby buildings seemed to have dealt with, although there was no sign of Ogum.
  “You’ve dealt with Salvage before, I can tell,” Rigel pressed on. “You won’t get another chance like this.”
  The old man’s with me in the basement, I told Kridib. No guards in the room. He’s ex-Salvage Authorities. Take him, and the mission is over. Saying that hurt slightly. Despite being the enemy, and a threat to the war effort, he remained human.
  “Then I guess I’ll never know.” As I spoke, I saw Kridib charge at the building. As before, there was nothing fancy about it, just determination and insanity. Several bullets flew so close to him I could hear them, but this time none of them hit. “Your bargaining window is over. No deal.”
  Kridib emptied his sidearm at the door in front of him, then rushed in. I could see no guards inside, just a set of hastily built staircases. Whatever the original purpose of the building was, it had been transformed into a field center at some point—likely during a previous escape attempt. Probably a group similar to ours had made it their temporary base, then left it as it was once they had completed their mission. No wonder Rigel had had me transported there. Kridib didn’t waste time making parallels, instead drawing his second sidearm and rushing down.
  At least two floors down, I said. I’m not hearing any of the gunfire.
  Is he armed? Kridib asked.
  Unsure. Not that I can tell. There are artifacts, though.
  “Such a teacher’s pet.” Rigel sighed after a long silence. “In the end, you’re nothing but a ship.” He stood up.
  He’s standing directly from the door, I said to Kridib. Seven degrees from center. Small frame, average height.
  Kridib fired three shots. Three bullets drilled through the alloy surface. Half a second later, Kridib followed kicking the door in.
  “Just one small thing.” Rigel took a tube-shaped object from his vest pocket.
  Meanwhile, I was staring at an empty room from Kridib’s eyes. It was at least three times smaller than the one I was in, bare and completely deserted. There was no Rigel, no me, no equipment, just a single metallic cube the size of my fingernail placed neatly on the floor.
  “Renaan was never the target.” The old man bent down and injected something in my neck. A new cascade of connection requests followed. “You are.”
—-
Next Chapter
submitted by LiseEclaire to HFY [link] [comments]

A list of suggested improvements and updates for ACNH

So this is an adaptation of a recent post I made elsewhere, but the gaming community on that site is basically dead so I figured it might get more interaction here.
I've played ACNH every day since release, and I think we can all agree that parts of it feel frustratingly unfinished. Several features are inexplicably a step down from New Leaf, or lack obvious improvements that someone surely could have thought of in the past 7-8 years. Many mechanics are totally arbitrary and add unnecessary tedium. The UI has been kept mostly traditional to the series, without taking into account that the new crafting elements are a massive departure and create new problems to solve. All this stuff creates a friction between the player and game that's almost certainly going to make people get bored and stop playing prematurely, and in a multiplayer game, active players are themselves game content. You need the extra polish in this genre. I've gotten tired of whining about these things individually on various platforms so I decided to just smash them all into a big list and chuck it out into the void.
Disclaimers: I am not a professional game designer, just an enthusiast. I recognize that this is unlikely to end up on a CEO's desk or whatever so… consider this just me venting, if that's what blows your skirt up. There is of course also a nonzero chance that all of this has been in the works for months and will suddenly drop into the game next update, who knows.
Also, while I kept wanting to derail and spend six hours talking about theoretical shiny new features, I tried to edit it down to either basic quality-of-life stuff, things that have precedence somewhere in the series, or things that are so standard in other games that they really should have been obvious to include at launch. Feel free to discuss, dispute, or add on.


Inventory management:
- To get the obvious one out of the way: craft multiple items at once, using a counter or number input. Crafting beyond inventory limits should send the extras to your storage. I'm still astounded that this wasn't in the base game on release.
- Wood, bamboo, stone, etc. should be picked up automatically when in range of the player. Only if it has been previously dropped by the player should it require manual pickup. Enable or disable with a toggle in the settings menu. Nearly all crafting games have this.
- MUCH higher stack limits for fruit, turnips, tickets, and crafting materials. All duplicate items should stack, including critters, furniture, clothing, and recipe cards. I wouldn't complain if tools stacked as well. Add a "place 1", "drop 1", and "split" option on stacks.
- ADD A QUICK SORT BUTTON IN THE INVENTORY. Lines up your tools in the last remembered configuration, stacks and sorts items, and puts away bells.
- Boom, Nookphone now has a handy payment app and we can pay from and get paid to our bank account instead of having to carry cash around (obviously still with the option to carry cash for planting money trees, etc.) Dear God, what year is it? Is Daisy Mae allergic to technology? You wanna tell me Flick doesn't have cashapp? They're gen Z!
- Ability to pay bells to increase home storage. Make the price scale with each purchase if you like.
- In storage, add a “special” category for limited edition furniture, Saharah items, etc.. Give us the ability to tag items as special, in case we decide that random shirt is a keepsake or whatever.
- All items should be compatible with storage. Why can I fit an entire T-rex skeleton in my closet, but not a single solitary little turnip? Or a 3x5 index card with a recipe scribbled on it?
- The wardrobe functionality is cool, but every container shouldn't be a wardrobe. Give us usable, separate containers to stash and sort our stuff. Players could put a crate full of fish bait by the shore, make a drop-off for fossils until they're ready to get them appraised, make a tool shed, keep their seeds by garden areas…
- Select multiple items from inventory in any context, not just during sales. Drop up to 9 items simultaneously, release multiple fish/bugs, store multiple items at once.
- The wetsuit shouldn't have to sit in the inventory when it's off. There are unused buttons, which is a shame--just let it sit in the apparel window and let us toggle it on and off with a button press. If we want it in our inventory we can remove it from the apparel window.
- Give us a separate bar for tools that doesn't eat into regular inventory space. Sell it for nook miles as a toolbelt, if you like.
- CRAFT DIRECTLY FROM STORAGE. If you have 758 wood stashed away, the game shouldn’t act like you have zero just because none of them are in your pockets. Nearly all crafting games have some support for this, because having to move items around may be logical, but it's also boring busywork and should be abbreviated. (Disabling this on other islands and NMT islands is fine.)
- ASSUMING THE ABOVE IS IMPLEMENTED: Auto-sort items at the moment they are obtained. If all your stone is in your storage at home, then picking up a stone should send it to your storage at home--where, again, it should still be accessible for crafting. (Disabling this on other islands or NMT islands is fine.)
- Let us just buy a nook ticket for immediate use at the airport counter. ("Oh, you don't have a NMT? Would you like to purchase one for 2000 nook miles?" Boom.)


Shopping UI:
- Again, getting the obvious one out of the way: fitting room allows purchase of more items at once, including duplicates if desired. It's already integrated with home storage--why shouldn't I be allowed to buy ten of everything in one go?
- Similarly, Kicks, Leif and Nooklings should allow multiple purchases at once. Highlight this, that and the other, then buy--done. Give Sahara a real shop window instead of an annoying dialogue branch too. No vendor should have her weird text-based interface, it's soooo clunky.
- Names of items not yet in your catalogue should be displayed in different font color, and they should be marked on the shelf via a visual indicator, like a small placard.
- Bring back carpet/wallpaper previews in the shop.
- When entering the fitting room, the wetsuit comes off automatically.
- Bulk purchase items (e.g. plants, wrapping paper) should have a counter or number input, not just a binary choice between one and five. Allow more items to be bought in bulk, such as nook tickets.
- The Gamecube release included a player shop feature--using your house gyroid, you could set out items for sale to other players for any price you wanted. The feature never appeared again, even as multiplayer and vastly increased networking capabilities made it more and more of a useful feature to have. Bring this back! Maybe an item-trade function too!


Decorating and Landscaping:
- Ability to move a building only a short distance, overlapping with the old location. It shouldn't freak out over collision with itself.
- Bigger and more house rooms. Why on earth have houses gotten smaller since New Leaf? Layout control would be awesome too (so I could link up the ground floor rooms in a different way instead of being stuck with four doors in my main room, etc.) and is pretty typical of games where you can build and customize a house or homestead.
- Faster animations during construction, and while scooting and rotating furniture. Quicker movement of furniture is especially a must outside, where we don't have the advantage of decorating mode.
- Ability to put more items on tables. I want to put my wands on display! There's no reason they should have to sit on the floor. Same for instruments.
- Let me put fences inside, and put wall-mounted items on my cliff faces.
- "There's no room to put anything here"--well there WOULD be if you would interpret what I'm trying to do and push me back two pixels. Work with me here.


Other:
- SAVE. FILE. BACKUP. Let me copy to SD card, let me keep six months of backups, let me roll my town back as I please. There's already been one game-breaking bug that forced people to delete their five-hundred-hour towns; there's no telling when there'll be another. "But people will hack and sell save files and"--bad news, Buttercup, they already do. They probably also do naughty things with their joy-cons. Whose business is it?
- Multiple towns per switch. As many as I can stuff into the memory. There is absolutely no reason not to do this.
- More color options for hair and eyes. Many games have had RGB sliders for this for years, but at minimum the addition of a decent purple and another shade of green wouldn't go amiss. And where are my wacky colored contacts??
- Built in island-hopping. Finish up on one island, talk to the dodo, say "New island please", spend a nook ticket and go directly to your next destination.
- I know people adore Isabelle but if she doesn't have anything to say, I don't really wanna hear about her exciting life every single morning. Maybe if it was about her fun weekend slaying demons with Doomguy, but not so much her extended thoughts on the sad decline of the Discovery channel. Sorry.
- Optional “silent” bug-catching, fossil collection, etc., controlled with a toggle in the settings. You know how when you pull a weed or dig up a flower, it just goes into your inventory with no fanfare? Do it like that--after your first ever unidentified fossil, or first critter of a given species, your character just nabs 'em and pockets 'em.
- Likewise, "silent" tool breakage. Give the full heads-up the first time it happens, but from then on just show the break animation and move on. Yeah someone might miss it when a tool breaks, but presumably they'll intuit what happened when they later realize it's gone--it's not rocket surgery.
- How many times is Sahara going to introduce herself to me? How long does Gulliver really need to realize his phone is broken again? Edit visitor dialogue WAY down after first encounter. "EEK A GHOST! Oh no I explosively shat my immortal soul in all directions again, you know the drill"
- And on the flipside, edit and expand normal villager dialogue. I'm not sure if I'm imagining it, but Lazies and Normals in particular seem to say the same things to me constantly. Normals' dialogue is also so bland that it feels like it was churned out last-minute for a Nick Jr. show to teach your toddler vocabulary words. "Today is fun" OK Savannah. Grow a personality.
- Individual control over sfx and music volume in the settings menu. Actually, the settings menu in general is so bare I'm not sure why it's there at all honestly. How about giving us some settings? Y'know, in the settings menu, where you're supposed to be able to set the settings... those things you can set?
- More pattern space, with separate space for separate player characters. A new tab specifically for shared patterns would be fine.
- Let me order more items, and receive them with faster turnover via two daily mail deliveries instead of just one, as in ALL previous games.
- If my pockets are full, I don't need a sloowwwww text box about it. Just jump straight to the inventory so I can drop-or-swap.
- Nix the phone call every time I use the drop-off box. A quick ka-ching noise and a ticker showing my bank balance for a second is fine.
- Balloon presents shouldn't just disappear when they fall into a flower bed. Finding the nearest empty square and bouncing it there is really easy.
- Build in island-hopping. Go to a NMT island, talk to the dodo when finished, say "New island please", and go directly to your next destination. Either pull the ticket from inventory or storage, or pay for a new one on the spot.
- And finally: TOUCH/STYLUS SUPPORT, especially for item menus! Let me touch and drag items, let me select menu options with a stylus! This is one of the reasons that NL feels so much better to play, it's a very basic accessibility feature, and besides, you're paying extra manufacturing costs to have a touch screen. Why wouldn't you use it?? I feel like this is one of the things they skimped on to get the game out in March, because some contexts allow touch and others don't, seemingly at random.

Woooooof I think that's it for my megathread of kvetching. If you're still here, thanks for reading and have a cookie!
submitted by millionwordsofcrap to ac_newhorizons [link] [comments]

Binary Options Review; Best Binary Options Brokers

Binary Options Review; Best Binary Options Brokers

Binary Options Review; Best Binary Options Brokers
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submitted by Babyelijah to u/Babyelijah [link] [comments]

First Contact - Part Twenty-Three

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The Devastator class Precursor machine was the size of a large metropolis. Full of ground combat machines, air superiority machines, mining and reclamation machines that could move under their own power and were festooned with a thousand weapons. It was over a hundred million years old and had exterminated life on planets with its massive guns, with biowarfare, with chemical warfare, and with good old nuclear fire. It had wiped away planet after planet of the enemies cattle, the hated enemy's food sources, before finally following orders of the greater machines and going into sleep mode on a dead world.
Now the call had sounded out. Cattle had run amuck, even learning jumpspace technology. That meant the enemy had not been defeated, that his food source had multiplied into the trillions while the Devastator had slumbered, slowly sinking into the crust of the barren planet.
That was of no moment. Cattle could not fight back, that was why they were cattle. They knew nothing but safety and the security of numbers, willing to trade their own safety for the suffering of others. The cattle willingly marched into the pens if the pens promised safety.
The cattle were not the problem.
It was the feral intelligence that were the problem. Feral intelligence could fight. They knew nothing else. They cared for nothing else. A feral intelligence always destroyed itself once it could wield nuclear fire. The universe had proved it over and over even before the great machine had gone into slumber.
The call had sounded out, informing the machines that cattle had broken loose from the pens. The Devastator had computed that the problem would be solved quickly, with a minimum expenditure of resources, and had started to go back into slumber.
That was when the second call sounded. A feral intelligence had mastered FTL travel and had turned all of their unthinking violence against the Precursor war machines.
The Devastator considered the chances of the feral intelligence lasting long enough to withstand his brethren's assault, withstand purification and pacification.
It was mathematically insignificant. Not zero, but close enough that it required an application of resource driven computation to analyze it.
Feral intelligences always destroyed themselves.
The Devastator knew this. Had it encoded into its very bones. It did not feel the electronic version of caution as it moved into the planetary system, exiting faster than light travel. It screeched out its warcry as it exited into the system and brought up its scanners.
It felt the electronic version of anticipation as it detected orbital facilities around two planets that teemed with billions of cattle, as it tasted jumpspace wake trails, as it felt the presence of a small, insignificant amount of cattle space vessels arrayed to attempt to stand against it near the outer gas giant.
It was a waste of resources.
Cattle could not withstand machines.
It was as solid a fact as radioactive decay and as impossible to stop.
It roared and turned to accelerate toward the cattle ships waiting on the other side of the gas giant, letting them know the futility of their resistance and that nothing could stop it from destroying them any more than they could stop entropy.
It felt electronic satisfaction as nearly 10% of the cattle ships broke formation and fled for the planets.
The cattle ships lit their engines, trying to keep the gas giant between them and the great Precursor machine but the Devastator knew it would do no good. It would ensure they were caught mathematically opposite of it and begin launching subsidiary craft to destroy them and reclaim the resources of their wreckage.
The Devastator slowed as it approached the gas giant, ancient code pulsing impulses into the electronic brain at the mathematical certainty of destroying the cattle's defenses and thus weakening the hated enemy.
pssst... over here...
The transmission was in binary. The basic code, on a low band that the Devastator used to contact and exchange data with its peers. The signal origin was close, just behind it, in the gap between two point defense radars.
The Devastator tumbled as it slowed, searching with its senses to check that tiniest of gaps in its sensors. It could detect nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that the gas giant had a high level of hydrocarbon and pseudo-organic compounds was a high certainty with most gas giants of that size. The Devastator cast around, knowing the cattle had not sent that transmission.
psst... here...
This time the transmission was only a few hundred kilometers above the hull, right behind the main guns of battery-eight, between the massive cannons and the sensor array, in a gap in the coverage caused by space dust not yet cleared from the array. The Devastator ensured the cattle vessels were on the other side of the gas giant as it cast around again, looking for what could possibly be sending the message on that particular channel and rotating again to either force the transmitter to move away or hit the hull of massive Devastator.
...right here...
The Devastator felt the computer version of anxiety. A new factor had entered the computation. The voice, and the binary signal somehow had a voice, a whispering, tickling, hissing faint signal of binary on a wavelength just above the screaming particles of the foam between realspace and subspace. This time the voice had come from just below the Devastators thick hull, beneath the vessel, in a gap between the sensors in a place where its own orbital guns would not dazzle the sensors. The Devastator rolled, getting the upper sensors into place in a graceful sideways roll.
Nothing.
The Devastator was barely tracking the cattle. They were of no moment. Something was whispering on a bandwidth that was beyond organic abilities. Could it be a damaged ally, barely able to whisper for electronic assistance?
...I see you...
The Devastator heard the signal hiss to life, trickling out of empty space a few hundred kilometers away. It felt of a surge of self-defense protocol override everything else and it unleashed all of its gun at the empty space, suspecting that this possible enemy may be using some type of photo-passthrough adaptive camouflage.
Nothing.
The Devastator felt the self-preservation protocols wake up and fill some of its processors. That signal had originated from that point! Even a dust-speck would have been detected by its scanner arrays, nothing could have escaped the terrawatts of death it had unleashed.
...touch...
The Devastator felt a physical TOUCH on its housing, the decameters thick armor around the massive computer core that made up its brain. That was impossible! It was in the center of the ship, protected by layer after layer of armor, defensive mechanisms, sensors, but yet it had felt something touch the housing, press against it lightly, only a few tickles of the suggestion of pressure per square micrometer but a touch all the same.
There was a slight ripple in realspace only a few meters above the hull and the Devastator pushed itself away, firing every weapon it could bring to bear on the spot only a few atoms wide, all of its sensor questing, seeking, hunting in electronic desperation to find out what was transmitting, what was touching it!
...here...
The word was whispered from only a few meters away from the electronic "brain" of the Devastator, inside the protective housing, inside the field that would shut down biological neural function and even primitive artificial intelligences!
The Devestator felt self-protection and self-preservation programs never before accessed come online and flood into its RAM as the word was whispered at it from inside the final layer of protection.
Massive nCv cannons lowered, the housings screamed as the Devastator pushed them past the limit, to aim at its own hull. It opened fire, trying to claw into its own body in the electronic version of panic to get whatever was inside it out of it.
All of its sensors were directed into its own body. It no longer even bothered with tracking the cattle fleet. Even its astrogation and navigation programs, even the ones responsible to maintain orbit around the gas giant, were desperately racing through the circuitry, desperate to find whatever was whispering.
...over here...
The whisper was over it, on top of it, and carried sidecode of a mathematically impossible jumble of electrons arrayed in an impossible manner, with quarks whirling through electron valences, antimatter electrons in the nucleus, preons stretched to massive size taking up the place of neutrons, all with jumbling strangled mathematical codes that made no sense.
The Devastator's brain burned out the receptors to defend itself from such electronic madness.
And felt a touch upon one of the upper lobes of its quantum computer brain.
...over here...
The Devastator was throwing antivirus software out, slamming firewalls against each other, crushing ports into electronic ghosts, doing anything it could to keep out the voice. Inside the Main Computer Housing the last resort lasers began raking across anything that didn't match the original blueprints, burning away dust, odd quarks and electrons, destroying an upgraded maintenance robot that was desperately trying to detect what had touched its carapace.
From deep within the gas giant tentacles hundreds of miles long rose toward the Devastator, the ends slowly unrolling as massive graviton assisted 'suckers' on the inside of the tentacles deployed razored thorns of dark matter infused psuedo-bone.
The Devastator detected the tentacles just as they wrapped around it, the thick psuedo-protoplasmic tentacles that were thick with dark matter squeezing the Devastator's hull with impossible strength as meters thick muscles flexed with enough strength to crush the hull into itself and shatter armor over a kilometer thick.
Gibbering, raving, SCREAMING in something beyond electronic self-preservation programs would normally allow, the Devastator began to break apart, caught in the grips of the tentacles, being pulled into the gas giant.
...delicious delicious delicious...
The Devastator heard from inside its own mind as a beak nearly twenty kilometers long crushed its hull.
HELP ME, BROTHERS, PLEEEEEASE!
The beak closed and the Devastators brain flashed out of existence as the hull crushed around it.
The last thing it felt was something new. It threw data out with the cry for assistance to let its brethren know the last experience hashed data compile it had undergone. The data made no sense to the other Precursor war machines that heard the cry. A biological entity could have explained it.
Terror.
And despair.
A Desolation Class precursor war machine was assigned to discover what had caused the Devastator's intelligence collapse.
It dropped into the system and found no trace of its mechanical brethren.
Just some cattle species space craft hiding behind a gas giant, obviously intending ambushing it.
Feeling the electronic version of anticipation it moved into orbit around the gas giant, intending on forcing the cattle ships to move out of line of sight with their worlds if they wanted to stay on the opposite side of the gas giant from it. It updated its computations based on the fact that 10% of the cattle's ships had fled away from it.
It had already computed out the battle. It knew how the battle would go. While it could not detect any signs of its little brother it computed that it would simply destroy the cattle and then search. It powered up its guns and began to move it's metropolis sized bukk slowly to
...psst... over here...
---------------------
The stellar system was infested with a known species of cattle, obviously seeking to rise above themselves as the Jotun class Precursor vessel arrived in the system. It released its roar to let the cattle know not only why but who was destroying them to reclaim the resources they so foolishly squandered. It began unthawing ancient bioweapons and chemical weapons known to work upon that race, began reconfinguring its war machines to forms that had exterminated who planets of the cattle during the time that the Precursor war machine had been forged. The Jotun released over a hundred Devastator classes from its hull, computed the battle plan as they came to electronic life, then informed them of how the extermination and reclamation would progress.
They were barely into the system when a high energy signal appeared, rising from the most heavily infested planet and moving toward them. The Jotun ordered a diagnostic of its scanners when the first information came in.
It was apparently moving at .85C, but yet its progress toward the Jotun and its smaller brethren on the system map showed it moving at almost 22C. That made no sense. An object moving at .85C only approached at .85C, not at 22C.
By the time the diagnostic was done the object had gotten a third of the way toward the Jotun, crossing a quarter of the radius of the system.
The scanners reported that the energy signal, with the strength normally reserved for a quasar, was not a massive ship or an oncoming armada interlinked together, but was simply a single object the size of cattle.
Again the Jotun ordered a complete low level full diagnostic on all systems. Risky, but any object radiating that much power and moving at two different speeds required all systems were working at optimum efficiency.
It had finished just as the small object came to a stop. The Jotun focused scanning arrays on it, turning up the power to the point that it would boil away meters of armor.
The figure was a primate, half of it made up of robotics. It had some kind of sheet of material floating behind it, the movement suggesting some kind of current was effecting it and making it undulate. It was dressed in two primary colors, red and blue, had its lower legs pressed together with the toes pointing down and the upper limbs crossed over its chest, one biological the other mechanical.
"So, you're the new punk everyone's talking about," The figure stated over a wide bandwidth of wavelengths. Oddly enough, to the Jotun's sensors, sound waves travelled through vaccum almost instantly across a light second to its sensors.
The Jotun tried to compute how sound waves moved faster than light through a vacuum.
Instead of answering the Jotun and its brethren opened fire.
The figure arced through the beams as if light speed weapons were moving slow enough for it to just compute and swoop around in a resource wasting corkscrew. The Jotun realized it was racing for one of the Devastators, one clenched fist held in front of it.
The Jotun computed a 99.99999999999998 chance that the small primate would splatter against the hull of the Devastator and started to turn its attention to computing a missile firing resolution for missile bay 148 to destroy an orbital facility around the nearest planetoid.
The small figure punched straight through the Devastator, as if it was made of nebula gas instead of density collapsed armor, high tensile ceramics, and reinforced internal spaces. The Devastator's computer core shrieked with self-preservation code snippets as the figure exited the opposite side of the Devastator holding the Primary Computer Core CPU0 in its fist. It paused, looked at its fist, and shot beams of red energy from its eyes, destroying the computer core in a puff of atomic smoke.
The Jotun yanked its processing power back to the figure as it raked its gaze, still emitting beams of red energy that left ripples in jumpspace, across the side of another Devastator, tearing it open like it was made of fragile tissue, the red beams reducing the computer core to its component atoms with the briefest of touches.
Several computational nodes collapsed when trying to analyze the beams, suffering the fatal CANNOTDIVIDEBYZERO shriek of despair before imploding on themselves.
The Jotun stared in electronic shock, all his computational power trying to compute how the tiny half-mechanical primate could grab a hold on the front armor of one of the Devastators, and without any source to exert leverage against, physically move a city-sized spacecraft in an arc and throw it against another one.
According to scanners the "thrown" Devastator was only moving at 0.001C for inertia purposes yet crossed the hundreds of kilometers to the next Devastator in an amount of time that would require it to be moving at 6C.
CANNOTDIVIDEBYINFINITYDIVIDEDBYZERO
The Jotun cut loose with its weapons and goggled in electronic confusion as most of the beams and slugs were avoided, slapped aside, or ignored.
Until a nCv (near C velocity) slug the size of skyscraper hit it dead center of the chest, the impact point looking only the size of a soda can.
The Jotun's processors struggled to understand how something that size had only made an impact smaller than itself.
CANNOTSUBDIVIDETWINKIESBYCHEETOSBYZERO
The figure looked down at the tear in its suit, at the bruised biological flesh that had been exposed, then at the Jotun. It lifted a hand, extended the first finger next to the opposable thumb, and slowly waved it back and forth.
"That might have worked against a Galactic Class Klark, but it was pathetic against an Apokalypse level Injustice MCLXI Cyber-Clark," The figure said, the tone calm and confident. The meanings behind the words were gibberish to the Jotun, who devoted processor cycles to try to decode the meanings for any hint on how to defeat the creature before it.
The Jotun computed that retreat was the only option as the small primate figure set about destroying the last of the Devastators.
It began activating the engines when the primate suddenly turned in place.
"No you don't," It snapped.
Again, it sounded as if the Central Computer Core Housing had been set to atmosphere so that sound waves could be heard within it, yet a quick check showed the housing was still at almost perfect vacuum.
Sound waves cannot travel through space, a hundred diagnostic programs computed.
And promptly crashed.
Those red beams lanced out again and the Jotun braced in the microsecond it had.
It was like being brushed by the solar flare of a red giant concentrated into a piercing lance of nuclear fire. Armor exploded from energy transfer, slagged away from thermal transfer, or just ceased to exist as ravening atoms usually only found in the photosphere of a dying red sun attacked the atoms of the armor. The beam tore through mile after mile of internal structure, the figure still emitting the beam from its tiny eyes.
The Helljump engines exploded when the light touched them.
The Jotun listed, pouring debris and a cloud of atomized armor from the wound that completely bisected it.
"Done. Now let's see the face of the enemy," The figure said, slapping its hands together after it crashed/flew through the last Devastator. It reoriented on the Jotun and began to "slowly" drift toward the Jotun, moving at only 0.000003C according to some scanners but crossing the distance as if it was moving at 1.5C.
The figure flexed its primate hands and a slow smile spread across its face.
"I can't wait to rip away your housing and see you with my own eyes," the figure said, the sound waves again travelling inside the vacuum of the strategic housing.
The Jotun tried to react but the figure was suddenly pushing open armor with its two hands.
Self-preservation programs crashed trying to compute how to prevent impossibility itself from breaching critical spaces. Self-defense programs tried to compute how to defend against something that did nothing but radiate impossibility around it.
The Jotun knew what it had to do as the creature tore open the last of the hardened bulkheads protecting the Strategic Housing.
It detonated the antimatter reactor that powered the "brain" as the figure tore through the Strategic Housing and laid eyes upon the supercomputer core.
It had computed that not even the figure could withstand the direct assault of kiloton of pure antimatter point blank.
The explosion completely consumed the Jotun.
When the ravening energy disappated the red and blue figure was lying in blackness, surrounded by an expanding ring of debris and energy.
It stared at the stars and mouthed a single word.
"Ouch."
---------------------
CONFED INTELLIGENCE
TO: MANTID INTELLIGENCE
Our digitial brothers have computed a high chance that we're not looking at a handful of these Precursors, but rather an armada of them that had gone to sleep thinking everyone was dead. We concur and are buckling down for the long haul.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS------
MANTID FREE WORLDS INTERNAL MEMO
If humankind ever wonders why it was put in this universe by some unknown creator then know that it was for this very moment.
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How to recover lost funds from Tropical Trade

Every trader is in search of a reliable and trustworthy broker. Our detailed review of the Tropical Trade help traders obtains the necessary information about How to recover lost funds from Tropical Trade brokerage works. Tropical Commerce boasts of great payouts with excellent customer service for all traders who wish to make a profit through binary options trading.
Special features of Tropical Commerce
Tropical Commerce has a large number of account types to appeal to different merchants in the market. However, during the registration process, we have discovered that there is not enough information given by them regarding the different accounts that they have.
It would be better for traders if Tropicales, Commerce made more information available on the account types they offer since they have a website that is dedicated exclusively to them. The customer support agents told us that bonuses with these accounts are important since the account executives are responsible for appointing them.
The Tropical Trade Trading Software
Upon review, we have found that they make use of the Panda Platform, which is one of the newest in the binary options market. However, it is appreciated by traders due to its user-friendly nature as well as the way it provides them with an overview of the entire binary trading process and binary options robots.
The platform is designed to be easy to navigate and user friendly, which is important in the world of earning from binary options trading. There is no mobile app for Tropical Trade yet- but one that is promised in the future, which should be done soon as mobile trading gains popularity. The website is easy to navigate, with all the important sections at the top.
Once the trader signs up, he/she can start one-touch trading with high/low and range / hyper options. Hyper options, also known as turbo options, are also short-term options.
Tropical Trade Customer Support
The biggest problem we found with Tropical Trade was that their website is only available in English. Almost every good trading platform that tries to make essential information available in numerous languages. According to our analysis, they would benefit a lot by making the website.
There is a Section Academy for educational purposes. However, only users who have a registered account can access it. There are a couple of additional sections that anyone can go through. The FAW section has the answers to all the basic questions about the registration and trading process in general. While it may not be as detailed, it can be used for troubleshooting and trivial issues.
Lost fund programs
In the calls and characteristics of the different programs, the rules with which the loans granted will be governed will be established. You must approach the bodies that are in charge of presenting them to follow and meet the requirements.
To give us an idea of ​​the requirements that can be requested in this type of support, let's take up an example of a call that launched the National Entrepreneur Fund Program, which was aimed at projects such as:

Support documentation for the project according to the call. Which monitors the application and project evaluation process, through the Entrepreneur System and to the email registered in said System.
If you consider that your company, project or institution can receive this type of support, look for the calls that government agencies give you, to access lost fund support.
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[Song of the Depths] Chapter 11

Cover | First chapter | Previous | Patreon | Published Books | Website | Discord
“Sarah said you wanted to speak with me?” I strode into Zafir’s office and closed the door behind me. He looked mildly surprised to see me at first, but a welcoming smile took over soon after.
“Yes…we have much to discuss.” Zafir watched me carefully as I sat across from him. “First and foremost, I should inform you of Abel’s lie and the steps I took to fix what he’d done.”
“Oh lovely. I can’t wait.” I leaned against the armrest. “Do tell me of your noble deeds, o’ great hero.”
A short laugh escaped Zafir before he settled back in his seat, hands steepled in his lap, and his voice becoming all business. “To the point it is. Abel, contrary to his reports to me and what he told you, had you fitted with the manner of brain chip that can be detonated. The military recently began investigating Abel’s activities due to his sudden—classified—disappearance. As much of his misconduct was in relation to the other survivors, I took the liberty of ordering additional scans when you were rendered unconscious.”
I gave him an impatient look when he paused for a swig of water. “Which showed the chip. And?”
“I took the liberty of replacing it. After some discussions with our bosses, I educated them on the nuances of survivors such as yourself and acquired permission to use a Syldrari-made chip.” Zafir gave me that mysterious ‘I know you’re overthinking every word I say’ smile of his. “The survivors, and especially you, require more processing power than the empire’s chips provide. Luckily for us, the empire has no qualms about stealing technology from others and refitting it to suit their own purposes.”
“Why Syldrari specifically?” I raised an eyebrow. “There’s plenty of races more advanced than us.”
“Because the Syldrari are the most advanced species we’ve encountered, and because a Syldrari chip was the only one you showed compatibility with. I imagine it must have something to do with the Resonance Incident and your Syldrari suit.” Zafir shrugged, seemingly unbothered by my suspicion. “With that explained, we come to the primary reason I sent for you: I want your permission to run further tests. I’m not confident that Abel didn’t fake more information. Specifically, I would like to run blood tests.”
“I mean…fine?” I glanced around, then back at Zafir. “Here, or one of the labs?”
“Here will suffice.” Zafir motioned for me to roll up my sleeves. He stood and began rummaging around in the nearby cabinets. “How is training progressing?”
“It’s…going. There’s not really much to say on that front until they can start actually going out to do…whatever it is we do.” I shook my head.
“I’m still waiting to hear back from our bosses, but I did send in my request that Calder, Nikolai, and Maelor begin working.” Zafir pulled a chair up next to me and rolled a tray over, motioning for me to give him my arm. “Speaking of which, they want you to resume patrolling the Syldrari Sector during the day. They believe we’ve given enough time—”
“I’m not so sure about that,” I interjected, thinking back to the letter Sarah had brought to me from Rel. “From what I understand, the Syldrari are worryingly convinced that I’m Lethe, and it may be dangerous for me there because of it.”
“And you have this on good authority?” Zafir inquired as he gently prodded at my arm, sanitizing it before strapping a thin black band around the crook of my elbow.
I grimaced. It was too late not to elaborate. “Rel sent a letter along with our meal the other week. He warned that I should stay away because multiple clans, including the R’selkti, are looking for me due to these rumors.”
“Of course…” Zafir sighed, his expression falling. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can say at this point to make them reconsider…without putting you at greater risk. Tomorrow you will begin your patrols again. I will see if I can convince our superiors to permit one of your colleagues to join you. Either way, I am planning to have one of them act as our ‘vigilante’ in the sector for a time, while you work elsewhere. Who would you say is the most stable?”
“Nikolai for sure.” I raised an eyebrow as Zafir took the band off me. “Done already?”
“Indeed. It’s much more efficient than a needle.” Zafir tilted a black glass vial, peering into it briefly before capping it off. The other three were quickly sealed as well. If there was anything off about my blood, he didn’t comment or show it. A pity, that. I was curious to know if there were still traces of blue like I’d seen while fighting the odd Syldrari. “Now then, I recommend you rest for the remainder of the day. I want you at your best when dealing with the Syldrari. Perhaps you can do some reading on their culture while you relax?”
* * *
I arrived in the Syldrari Sector early in the morning as shops were starting to open and people were beginning to walk the streets. Though it was early, there seemed to be an unusual number of people out and about. They were all so distracted that I managed to make it all the way to Rel’s cafe without anyone acknowledging my presence.
“Elara? You shouldn’t…” Rel released an aggravated sigh. “You don’t have a choice and that’s why you’re here. Of course. What can I do for you, then? Are you feeling better?”
“Better…ish?” I shrugged and gave him a small smile. “What can I say? It’s one thing after another. I’m just trying to roll with the punches at this point.”
“Understandable.” Rel nodded and gave me a tired smile. “Will I be surprising you again today?”
“Can you stop spoiling the graekstidat fodder for one second?” A familiar, grumpy voice demanded. I glanced over to see a Syldrari man with pale grey skin walking over. His black hair obscured one eye, the pale blue underside glowing against his cheek. His eyes were…among the odder that I’d seen. While the pupils were consistent with Syldrari, the colors of deep mauve, yellow, and jade green blended together similar to how a human’s hazel did.
However, I had no damn idea where I’d heard his voice before.
“A…what fodder?” I looked over at the aggravated Rel. “And since when did you have an edgy teenager working for you?”
“Ah, think of it as an amphibious, furred shark hybrid the length of…several train cars,” Rel answered, pressing his fingers to his temples. “Furthermore, Aldiner is old enough to be your great-great-great-”
“I’m working here to pay up for pissing off the elder here,” Aldiner interjected with a snort as he pushed his hands into his apron pockets. He leaned over me, examining me from a few angles. “You don’t have that military air to you. Sure you’re a—”
I gave Aldiner my best cold, intimidating glare as he reached out and poked my cheek once. When he went for a second poke, I knocked his arm aside, spun behind him and elbowed him where I hoped his kidneys were, and moved to take him down to the ground. Alas, an arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me clean off the floor—and didn’t stop until my butt was planted on his shoulder. I looked down, startled enough to forget about beating the crap out of Aldiner.
“Ignore Aldiner. He likes to annoy everyone he sees, and hates being ignored.” The much larger Syldrari glanced at me. I certainly hadn’t expected it to be the grumpy soldier man, seeing as he’d appeared to rather dislike me. “You’re fast, for a strigaella.”
“A human woman,” Rel answered my next question with a sigh. Aldiner, behave. Humans are much less…ah…” Rel motioned with his hands and wiggled his fingers as he searched for the word.
“You don’t touch humans unless invited to,” the soldier Syldrari grunted.
“She invited ya?” Aldiner leaned forward peering at the soldier and then at where I was perched on his shoulder.
“I didn’t, but I can appreciate that he was stopping me from starting a brawl with you right here and—” I cut myself off with an aggravated sigh when felt the feral attempting to push forward. All three Syldrari went still and watched me warily. What they sensed, or how much, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. “Set me down, please…uh…”
“Heh, always bitching about manners and you never introduced yourself, did ya?” Aldiner gave the soldier a cocky grin.
“…call me Casair,” the soldier glanced away, seeming a little disgruntled, but the patterns of light on his arms didn’t so much as flicker.
…Aldiner on the other hand… I glanced at the self-contained rave fish, then back at Casair. “And you can call me Elara, though I suppose you knew that already.”
“Awww, Casair is shy!” Aldiner teased. “Suppressing—”
“Quiet, vlerst bait.” Casair crossed his arms at the strobing Syldrari, then glanced over at me. “Back to patrolling needlessly?”
“Something like that. I was sitting around recovering for so long that my boss’s bosses started thinking up other uses for me.” I grimaced before walking over to the counter and hopping up onto my usual seat. “As for surprising me, Rel, yes. Though I’d like a glass of…” I paused to reference the menu, “Jiirst☆nil?”
Either I said it very right or terribly wrong, because all three men stopped what they were doing to stare at me in shock. Well, Aldiner was staring already, but he didn’t count.
“Ah, there you are Rel my dear!” A woman’s voice carried through the room shortly after I heard the doors to the establishment open. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“Mother, please…” a familiar voice groaned, and I glanced back to see the candy girl—who perked up and waved when she spotted me.
“Careful you don’t become the queen’s snack,” Casair muttered by my ear before moving away to a booth in the corner, settling into it in such a way that he could keep an eye on everyone.
Queen? I eyed the flamboyant woman and the three people with her. If one was her daughter, I had to assume the other two were guards—they had weapons holstered at their hips, at least.
“I’m honored by your visit, but please refrain—” Rel began.
“So, when will you become one of my consorts?” The…queen? demanded with a bright smile—one that faltered when Rel placed the drink he was making in front of me instead of her. I half-expected her to be angry, but instead she studied me for a moment, her head tilted, and a finger pressed against her full, black-painted lips. “A visitor in the Syldrari Sector…are you an Iri, Sen’iri, Sol’iri, Anad’iri, Sora’iri, or Lun’iri? I can never tell with you humans…”
“Elara is an Iri, honestly…” Rel rubbed his temples. “How many times must we explain to you that the humans are binary in their biological—”
“And that is just the problem! Biological! If they didn’t hop around between bodies and swap out prosthetics constantly—no offense—perhaps I could more easily identify who they are!” The queen hmphed, crossed her arms, then finally seemed to spot my uniform. “Ah, a military girl—my favorite. If Rel still refuses to become my consort… How would you like off this planet, sweetie?”
“Mother, please!” The candy girl moved between her mother and me. “Elara is the nice human I told you about! She likes the candy I make, and her friends are going to help give me ideas for ones more humans will like! Plus, you haven’t even introduced yourself! Humans can’t sense a queen’s identity!”
“Speaking of my colleagues,” I paused, pulling out several sheets of paper that had been folded together. “They may not be able to come to the sector for a while, so they asked me to deliver their notes to you.”
She took them, and skimmed the first page, the glowing sections of her skin pulsing faster the more she read. “This is…this is great! I’m going to go work on the next batch!”
And with that, the excitable candy girl darted out of the café, practically skipping as she went.
“I’m Xilen, I run the mercantile Dvarl Clan,” the queen stated promptly, offering me her hand. When I shook it, she paused to study my face and search my eyes. “If you ever want off this planet, Rel knows how to contact me. It wouldn’t do for a pretty little thing like you to be wasted on the humans.”
“…I’ll keep that in mind…” I gently reclaimed my hand while Aldiner snickered from somewhere.
“Do you find women…?” Rel raised an eyebrow when I shook my head. “Then, you are being polite.”
“I’m keeping my options open,” I countered. “If the military can’t recreate the Resonance phenomena—and maybe even if they can—their next step is going to be breeding our mutations down to offspring. I want no part of that, so having options is good.”
“Ahhh, she’s so smart!” Xilen leaned over to squeeze me, rubbing her cheek against mine. To my surprise, the Syldrari in the cafe all looked ready to start a fight over it—with her. I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t jealousy, which made me all the more confused. “You just say the word and I’ll have you off this planet and into my arms! I’d love to see how such a cute human would look in Syldrari clothes—you don’t mind translucency, do you? I’d imagine not—”
“Elara needs to have her meal before she returns to her duties.” Rel suddenly appeared behind us, his hand on the queen’s shoulder, and his voice cold as ice. “If you’re here to discuss trade, you can wait for me in the usual room.”
“How dare—” One of the men I assumed to be the queen’s guards started to raise a weapon. I figured this was as good a time as any to make my point.
I was out of my chair and twisting the weapon out of the man’s hand before he could finish his sentence. Using his body weight against him, I got him on the floor and twisted his arm behind his back, placing my booted foot against the back of his shoulders.
“You— Ugh!” The other guard grunted when Casair’s fist met his stomach.
“Please keep in mind that my job is to keep conflicts in the Syldrari Sector to a minimum, and I am authorized to use lethal force if you pull a weapon on anyone, regardless of race or species,” I spoke calmly, grinding my heel into the Syldrari’s back for emphasis. “You may keep your weapons and use them for defense if necessary. If you pull them again for any other reason…”
“Cuuute!” Xilen promptly squeezed me in a hug. It took most of my willpower to beat down the feral, especially since I agreed with the idea of fucking ripping her arms off if she hugged me one more damn time. Xilen leaned down to speak quietly by my ear, “Be careful, dear. If you ever suspect you’re in trouble or in over your head, I’m sure you know how we can get them to come running to save you. And, stay far, far away from the R’selkti and their queen.”
“Uh—?” I didn’t get to ask her what the hell she was on about. She fetched her guards and led them to some back room, leaving me confused and…a little unnerved.
“I apologize for Queen Xilen’s…eccentricities,” Rel offered when I finally turned around to return to my seat.
“Are all queens so goddamn pushy?” I snorted irritably, trying to shove Xilen’s insinuations out of my mind.
“Ah…with Iri being the rarest of the six, they tend to act however they please…” Rel murmured awkwardly. “It is not uncommon for Syldrari women to turn their rarity into a form of power over others. Most Iri, even if they are not queens, have many…I believe the human word is ‘spouses?’”
“Long story short: most recent queens have been groomed to see the other sexes as playthings to collect. Some of them even take other Iri, but it’s frowned upon,” Casair piped up flatly. “Xilen is of a different tide. She’s lasted so long because she can pretend. Whatever she whispered to you was probably as herself.”
“Blah blah blah.” Aldiner rolled his eyes before leaning toward me. “You know, being a queen’s pet has its perks.”
“Aldiner!” Rel barked, his markings flaring bright. “Go wash the dishes!
“Fiiine.” Aldiner sauntered off toward the back, though he turned and stuck his fingers up in a V and flicked his surprisingly long dual or split tongue between them before disappearing through the door.
…I have a feeling it’s a good thing Rel didn’t catch that… I shook my head slightly. “So, are there any other developments I should know about before I start my patrols again?”
“Just…be cautious. Someone has convinced the people here that you are Lethe…and that she may be a queen or related to one.” Rel sighed heavily and pushed his hair back. “Aside from that, things have been calming down after the little queen was found. With Xilen here…who knows. Her unannounced visits always cause trouble.”
Next
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[The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 18

At the Beginning
Previously on The Scuu Paradox…
  The smell of burning wood was all I could focus on. The fires had long died out, making it difficult to see in the darkness; despite all other modifications, Kridib’s eyes weren’t able to see overly well in the dark. Every five minutes, Radiance would send an infrared scan of the colony to help him and his team with their advancement. Despite all that help and the four missile strikes, progress was minimal. Of the forty-seven people sent to the planet, eleven had been killed and five more severely wounded, rendering them useless in battle. From what I could see, Rigel’s forces had clustered in specific points of the colony, giving up the rest: a sensible strategy that had allowed them to ambush three of our teams while suffering negligible losses themselves. As things stood, the enemy forces had positioned themselves in two areas of the colony. Both spots encircled a specific building—mine and the captain’s locations—making further missile strikes impossible.
  Update? Kridib asked me through the mind link.
  Nothing, I replied. Rigel had left shortly after our last chat, taking the third-contact rods with him. Since then, I had remained safely isolated in the room and completely alone. Half of them have probably gone to sleep.
  Tell me if anything changes. Kribib looked up. A dozen sats were visible in the night sky. We’ll be making another go soon.
  I don’t think that’s a good idea.
  So far, Kridib had made four attempts to reach me, all of them unsuccessful. His approach, though chaotic at best, had managed to keep him alive. There had been a close call during which his left arm had been grazed by a bullet, though that time the man hadn’t frozen.
  Everyone has to sleep, Kridib said, heading back into one of the buildings that had been transformed into a ground base of operations. I’ll go first.
  Must I wake you? I asked.
  No. With that, the link was severed.
  To a degree, I was thankful, though not too much. Forcing whatever strength I had, I moved my head to look around the room as much as I was able. Nothing had changed in the last four hours, but at least it let me do something. The last time I felt remotely similar was when I’d had my sensor systems knocked out, though even then I was able to use my shuttle AIs to paint me a picture. Here, I was completely helpless and, to a vast degree, blind.
  “Do I get any water?” I asked as loudly as my lungs would let me.
  There was no reason to expect an answer. Even if anyone was awake on the lower floors, they would be on lookout duty. Saying it out loud, though, made me feel better for some reason. To my surprise, the door to the room opened.
  “Thought you were above those things.” Rigel walked in slowly. Even with my lack of focus, I could see that he had changed clothes. The colours were dark enough to be considered a uniform, although I couldn’t make out any other details. “You can’t swallow, remember?”
  “My mouth feels dry,” I explained.
  “Too bad.” Despite my poor vision, I could hear him smile as he said that.
  Walking slowly, he made his way to the stool near me and sat down. From this distance, I could see him taking something from his front pocket. In the dim light, it was impossible to tell what exactly.
  “Still having problems focusing?” Rigel asked.
  “Yes.” There was no point in lying.
  “Pity. Agora works well on organic tissue. Not on techno-mongrels,” he added with a laugh. “If you weren’t one, you’d be dead. There’s a win for you.”
  And you’re not making any sense, I thought.
  “Nice murder troops you got out there. Quick and efficient. A few years ago, the locals would’ve had fun pulling their wings off. Time leaves its mark.” Rigel flicked the object. It let out a peculiar metallic sound. “No action, no combat sims, just the local pests that roam the planet. Those were brought here too, did you know?”
  “I heard about it.”
  “Another brilliant idea from the bureaucracy. Create a full ecosystem. Plants, critters, predators... all must be present and carefully maintained. We tried killing them off once. Those were the days. Three colonies setting out, killing everything in sight until the orbital station stopped sending food.” There was a slight pause. “And you know the best part?” Rigel leaned towards me. “None of that happened.”
  If I could have pulled back, I would have. There was no way of knowing if these were insane rantings or if he was referring to a dark op coverup. Considering he was from the Salvage Authorities, either was possible, and both options were equally undesirable.
  “I went through your data, Elcy.” Rigel rubbed his hands. “You know things you shouldn’t.”
  “Because of my past, I’ve been placed on special assignments,” I said. Technically it was true, though we both knew it didn’t explain away the inconsistencies.
  “You knew about the third-contact artifacts before. You’ve operated them before.” He moved his hand closer to my face. I felt a cold metallic surface touch my cheek. “You’re searching for something. Something that you’re not supposed to find.” He moved the object away from my face. “Here’s my offer. You answer some of my questions, and I’ll answer some of yours.”
  “That’s one way to get court-martialed.” Not to mention there was no guarantee my self-destruct chip wouldn’t go off at any point.
  “Please don’t give me the line that the fleet is going through all that trouble just to rescue you. If you were that valuable, you’d never have been sent to this hell in the first place.” Rigel stood up. “What are the odds of the fleet extracting you in one piece? Two percent?”
  “Point-seven-three-nine,” I corrected. Frankly, I was surprised they were going through all the trouble. “Give or take.”
  “Less than one percent,” Rigel snorted. “It’s your call. You have three hours to make it. Before I leave you, here’s a freebie. This planet, it isn’t some randomly colonized world in ‘unexplored space.’ We’re in the buffer zone—the border between the Scuu and human space. Think about that.” He made his way to the door. Reaching it, he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and we’re constantly being monitored.”
 
  Gamma-Ligata, Cassandrian Front—615.11 A.E. (Age of Expansion)
    The third wave of shuttles approached my forward left hangar one by one. The instant they came within three hundred meters, I was handed over direct control of the AIs. As with the previous batches, the first thing I did was to have a set of isolated subroutines flash the memory and purge the entire operating system. That done, I sent out a mini-sat to latch onto and assume control of the shuttles. It was a slow and tedious process, but necessary considering the circumstances.
  “How are things?” Wilco asked from the bridge. Augustus had gathered most of his officers to a private meeting in his quarters, leaving Wilco in command. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but each time it did, it felt strange.
  “Everything’s going as planned,” I said, as the first shuttle went under my control.
  A quick internal scan revealed that there were sixty-two people aboard, all cuffed and tagged. All of them were tagged as infected, and, to my surprise, none of them were sedated. The instructions were to take them in and monitor their actions at all times, and only to engage if they threatened the ship. Normally, I’d be confident that Augustus knew what was going on. With everything we’d gone through since I’d joined the front, I didn’t think there was anything in the galaxy that could surprise him. I was wrong.
  Finishing my internal check of the shuttle, I directed it to the outer hangar doors and had it dock. The passengers—all of their identities classified—waited till I covered the walls with disembark notifications, then stood up and quietly proceeded to get off, in orderly fashion. I could tell by Wilco’s expression that he found it unnerving.
  “A thousand and eighty-two passengers on board,” I said on the bridge and in the captain’s quarters. The moment the last person set foot in the hangar, I would eject the shuttle from my hangar-bay, self-destruct it, and proceed with the next.
  Delegating the task to my isolated subroutines, I reviewed the instructions I had received. The proper ident protocols and authorisations had been used, ensuring that I would do as instructed without asking questions. An emergency transmission from an unidentifiable ship had led me here. I knew nothing about the ship’s name or specifics, and I wasn’t allowed to get close enough to get a visual. The only things I was allowed to see were its shuttles and mass. Everything else was open to interpretation.
  “Have any of them said anything?” Wilco asked.
  “No.” I displayed images of the hangar bay and the corresponding corridors surrounding it. As part of my instructions, the entire section was sealed off and quarantined. “They’re eating.” They also appeared to be healthy, although the instructions stressed no one was to come into contact with them under any circumstances. “I’ve received no indication of how long we’re to keep them. Did the captain get an indication?”
  “No,” Wilco said in his usual somber voice. “Is everything sealed off?”
  “Yes.” I rechecked. “No way in or out without captain’s approval.”
  “Set a buffer zone.” The man went on. “No one goes in or out without my permission.”
  “If you say so.” It wasn’t difficult. The area in question had been made empty to accommodate the quarantined arrivals, though it seemed a bit too much. “Want me to put sentinels?”
  “No. We don’t have to hurt anyone, just hold them.” He slinked down in his chair. “They’re the Med boys’ toys. We don’t get to play with them.”
  Med boys… Only Wilco referred to the Medical Core in such fashion. As most organisations, they were part of the fleet, yet their specific area of expertise gave them as much authority as the Salvage Authorities and the BICEFI combined. As a ship, I knew fairly little about them: they had the power to impose quarantines and cordon off entire planets if they wished. They were also the only organisation with the power to hold an active captain in check. Possibly, that was the reason Augustus didn’t get along with any of his medical officers. According to the public files, the Med Core had created the inner-body nanites and were instrumental in getting humans into space. There were also whispers that they were involved in creating the first ship-cores, although I found that unlikely. Even so, they had more authority than anyone aboard. Even on the front, we had no option but to obey.
  “It won’t be practical heading into war with them,” I said as the second shuttle entered the hangar bay.
  “Not our call. We’re to hold them until a Med ship picks them up,” Wilco sighed. “And monitor everything they do.”
  “How is that different from anyone else aboard?” I ventured a chuckle.
  “You don’t need to know,” the lieutenant said darkly.
  Another thing about Wilco was that he had the uncanny ability to make any topic of conversation dark. I ran a few simulations testing various responses, then decided not to respond further. In the best-case scenario, there was a twenty-seven percent chance he found my reaction funny.
  “Elcy.” Augustus granted me sensor access to the captain’s quarters. “What’s the ETA on the cattle?”
  “The passengers will be all aboard in seven minutes, captain.” A decade of attempts to mellow his behaviour had brought me no results. “Five, if you need me off in a rush.”
  “Get it done in five,” he barked. “We’ve got new orders. We’re joining a purge fleet. Go on yellow. Get the grunts prepped.”
  “Aye, sir.” I issued the order to everyone aboard. Seconds later, ground troop officers and sergeants were shouting their troops into order. “What about the passengers, sir? Won’t combat expose them to unnecessary danger?”
  “There’s no unnecessary danger,” Augustus barked again. The rest of the command staff had already started leaving the room. Their expressions ranged from mild annoyance to disapproval. Whatever discussions had taken place, they must have been unpleasant and one-sided. “Monitor them at all times and don’t interact until I say so.”
  “Understood.”
  It sounded like another escort mission, and I didn’t like escort missions. Normally, it would just be troop detachments or—if we were very unlucky—some mid-level bureaucrat or admiral’s aid sent to do a front-line inspection. Transporting quarantined personnel wasn’t in my usual purview, although if it had been, I’d never know.
  “What’s the course of treatment they must undergo?” I asked.
  “No treatment,” Augustus grumbled. “That’s for the Meds to figure out.”
  “All passengers are tagged as infected. Regulations require we provide immediate medical attention.” I felt my words sound hollow. If Augustus had the authority to provide such, he would have told me already. The only thing I was left was to go through the motions, expecting to receive the obvious denial.
  “Just monitor them, Elcy! That’s what we’ve been told. And whatever happens, don’t interfere.”
 
  Just monitor them.
  I had spent three months and thirty-nine hours monitoring the passengers onboard. Through battles and repairs, every single action had been carefully observed, recorded, and stored on external data storage. For the most part, nothing happened. The people would live boring, perfectly organised lives, almost as if they knew they were being watched. There were no scuffles, few arguments, and only one incident resulting in injuries when a Cassandrian fighter managed to slip through my external defences and fire a salvo at the hangar bay. Their health condition also seemed no different than when they had come aboard. I had dedicated a dozen subroutines to collect any potential symptoms in an effort to determine the type of disease they had, but had come to no conclusion. Then, one day, they were all gone. I had no memory of the Medical ship that had taken them, or where that had happened. The only thing I was certain about was the time—precisely two thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine hours since the last of them had come aboard. Everything else remained restricted.
  Looks like there’s always someone monitoring someone, Sev. If Rigel was to be believed someone was monitoring the planet. The question was who.
  Seconds turned to minutes, then hours. Hundreds of times, I considered looking into my restricted memories for information regarding the third-contact artifacts or the events in gamma-Ligata, and each time I found a reason not to. As Rigel had said, the chance of me getting off the planet alive was less than one percent, but the knowledge of the existence of the possibility kept me acting. And then there was Rigel’s offer…
  Rad, are you monitoring me? I asked, attempting to latch on to any open communication protocols. A connection was established, but instead of linking to Radiance, I found myself connecting back to Kridib’s mind. On cue, an info burst from Radiance followed, giving the latest scan. This time, I could see the location of our forces. The total number had increased to seventy-four, Kridib included. Nearly eight percent were gathered close to the captain’s expected location. Kridib and five more were closer to me.
  Get ready, Kridib said. Moments later, bursts of gunfire echoed in the distance; they were going for the captain first.
  The mission had begun. From here on, I could see several potential outcomes. In all of them, there was a high probability that Rigel attempted to make a deal.
  When I was a ship, Augustus had taught me one key thing when it came to missions: regardless of the depth of predictions and the computing power at their disposal, humans always boiled down a situation to a simple binary choice. Rigel wanted something from me and had invested too much to let his chance slip. Before the outcome of Kridib’s rescue mission, Rigel would come here to get an answer to his proposal. All I had to do was wait.
  As I lay, I watched Kridib run through the darkness towards my location. Unlike before, he was wearing night vision goggles, letting him make out his surroundings better.
  No thermal? I asked as Kridib made his way through the streets. The smell of burned vegetation could still be felt.
  That’s what you’re for.
  Not a reply to be thrilled about, but one to be expected. Cross-referencing Radiance’s latest scan, I started analysing every frame of Kridib’s stream. The first few minutes passed without incident. Judging by the intensified background gunfire, the locals were more focused on keeping Renaan isolated than stopping Kridib. Twenty-eight seconds, later the first shot sounded.
  Sniper! I shouted straight in Kridib’s mind.
  “Cover fire!” he shouted, rushing for cover.
  Watch out for a cross, I warned.
  The shooting intensified. Based on the area scan, the group was a few hundred meters away. One strong push and they’d be here. That said, I knew that the building was guarded by more than seven people. If I were in Rigel’s place, I would have dedicated at least three dozen.
  Concentrated fire focused on the second floor of a building, blowing off the entire wall. There was a brief scream before a rocket flew into the spot, hollowing the entire structure with a blast.
  Heavy weapons? I asked Kridib. I didn’t think Radiance’s captain would resort to such firepower, considering third-contact artifacts were involved; one direct hit, and the entire colony might well end up a smouldering crater, not to mention the potential communication repercussions. Maybe there was truth in Rigel’s statement that Flight Commander Nitel was getting desperate.
  As I was following Kridib’s advancement outside, the door opened once more—as predicted, Rigel had returned. He was wearing the same set of clothes as three hours ago. I found it puzzling that I couldn’t spot any semblance of a weapon on him.
  “Your masters have gotten desperate,” the man said in suspiciously calm fashion. “Looks like they’ve sent everything they had to get Renaan.” He walked up to me, then leaned over. “And just a handful to get you.”
  “Are they winning?” I tried to smile.
  “Beats me.” Rigel didn’t seem bothered. “You thought about my offer?”
  “I did. And I don’t think accepting would be a good deal. If I wait for them to rescue the captain, your bargaining power ends.”
  “Oh?” The man chuckled.
  “There’s nothing else the fleet would be willing to trade.” Except potentially the pyramid artifact. Even then, I didn’t see them sacrificing the Gregorius. “Once the captain boards a shuttle, it’s over.”
  A person of Kridib’s squad fell as they were approaching my building. I heard the unmistakable sound of bullets piercing armor, then silence. That was the thing about sound suppressors: one could get killed, and there still wouldn’t be any sound of one hitting the ground. I wanted to turn around and see what had happened, potentially to help. There was a seven-point-three chance that the wound wasn’t fatal. Kridib kept on moving forwards. That’s what made him a ground trooper… it also caused me pain.
  “What if I kill Renaan?” Rigel mused. “I won’t lose much. Everyone down here’s dead anyway. Someone in the fleet has gone through a lot of shit to get Renaan back. They’d lose a hell of a lot more.”
  “What if they save the captain?” I countered. “Either way, we’ll soon find out, and you’ll have no offer.”
  “Quantum paradox logic?” Rigel sounded surprised. “Strange hearing that from you, missy. I’ll have to skim your file once I’m out of here.” He paused for a moment, then dragged the nearby stool over—making a deliberate sound—and sat down. “Truth is, once the moment ends, we both lose our chance. Are you okay with that?”
  Why are you so confident? I wondered. Even if I were to agree, he wouldn’t be able to get much from me in the next ten minutes, even less if Kridib managed to reach my room. His squad had already made its way to the building proper, facing less than expected resistance. From what I was able to see, there were two snipers left on the upper floors and two machine-gunners on the first. All auxiliary positions on the nearby buildings seemed to have dealt with, although there was no sign of Ogum.
  “You’ve dealt with Salvage before, I can tell,” Rigel pressed on. “You won’t get another chance like this.”
  The old man’s with me in the basement, I told Kridib. No guards in the room. He’s ex-Salvage Authorities. Take him, and the mission is over. Saying that hurt slightly. Despite being the enemy, and a threat to the war effort, he remained human.
  “Then I guess I’ll never know.” As I spoke, I saw Kridib charge at the building. As before, there was nothing fancy about it, just determination and insanity. Several bullets flew so close to him I could hear them, but this time none of them hit. “Your bargaining window is over. No deal.”
  Kridib emptied his sidearm at the door in front of him, then rushed in. I could see no guards inside, just a set of hastily built staircases. Whatever the original purpose of the building was, it had been transformed into a field center at some point—likely during a previous escape attempt. Probably a group similar to ours had made it their temporary base, then left it as it was once they had completed their mission. No wonder Rigel had had me transported there. Kridib didn’t waste time making parallels, instead drawing his second sidearm and rushing down.
  At least two floors down, I said. I’m not hearing any of the gunfire.
  Is he armed? Kridib asked.
  Unsure. Not that I can tell. There are artifacts, though.
  “Such a teacher’s pet.” Rigel sighed after a long silence. “In the end, you’re nothing but a ship.” He stood up.
  He’s standing directly from the door, I said to Kridib. Seven degrees from center. Small frame, average height.
  Kridib fired three shots. Three bullets drilled through the alloy surface. Half a second later, Kridib followed kicking the door in.
  “Just one small thing.” Rigel took a tube-shaped object from his vest pocket.
  Meanwhile, I was staring at an empty room from Kridib’s eyes. It was at least three times smaller than the one I was in, bare and completely deserted. There was no Rigel, no me, no equipment, just a single metallic cube the size of my fingernail placed neatly on the floor.
  “Renaan was never the target.” The old man bent down and injected something in my neck. A new cascade of connection requests followed. “You are.”
—-
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