A Player’s Guide to the World of Financial Betting

The Happiest Place Stole My Little Brother (Part 3) (FINAL)

Part 1 Part 2
As I was putting on my clothes to get ready for school, I grabbed the pair of jeans I had worn the night before. On inspecting my pockets for my house keys, I found a small piece of paper wrapped around something solid. Opening it up revealed the words "Under Place. 33" and a set of small keys.
"What the hell?" I thought, "Under Place? Did Dizzy do this?" This was definitely a mystery for later, but for now I had to get to class.
The first thing I made sure to do when I got to school was to look for Jose and tell him that he wouldn't be getting his flash drive back. He said it was okay, that, if anything, he was fascinated by what happened to me. We agreed to talk about things more in-depth after school, but for now, we'd just go to class.
What I was most concerned with that day was how I'd tell Mark and Chloe about what happened. At first, I didn't know how I'd bring it up, but they brought the subject up at lunch.
"Dude," Mark said with a look of concern. "Kristen Georges mentioned how there were police officers at your house at like four in the morning. What the hell is going on? Don't give us some bullshit about how everything is fine because clearly it's not."
"Brandon, you've been acting so strange lately." Chloe reached out to touch my arm. "You need to tell us what's happening because if you're in trouble, we want to help."
There wasn’t any escaping this conversation. And I knew I owed them the truth. They deserved the truth. I told them everything from Ms. Turner and the missing kids, to the break-in, to the abominations that chased me down at the park and what Dizzy left me.
I couldn't tell if they really believed me. Chloe and Mark just stared in awe at the insanity of it all.
"Brandon. This is so..." Chloe began to talk.
"Fucked." Mark cut in.
"Yeah," She resumed. "I may not really understand any of this, but we're here with you either way. I can't even imagine how terrifying this must all be."
"You mentioned that Dizzy gave you keys?" Mark asked. "Do you think I could see them really quickly?"
I reached into my backpack and handed them over for Mark to inspect.
"These look like keys we'd use to operate the rides. But what would he give you those for?"
"Don't know. But it doesn't matter because I probably won't be allowed out of the house for a while. Which, by the way, Clo, I don't think I'll be able to make it to the party on Friday."
"It's okay." Chloe cut in. "The important thing here is that there's obviously something going on. Whatever it is, those creatures seemed deadset on not letting you find out what it was."
"But why would Dizzy let him go then?" Mark asked. "If what the park is hiding is so bad, then why not just kill Brandon while he was there?"
Chloe shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe they don't all agree with how the park is run? Or maybe some of them have some humanity in them?"
A few minutes before the bell rang, we agreed to briefly meet up with Jose after class. After our classes ended for the day, we grabbed a library conference room, and I showed him the note.
"Under place? 33?" Jose thought for a moment but then shook his head. "Nah, no idea. How do you guys know this isn't a trap?"
I took the note back and shoved it into my backpack. "Why would they trap me when I was already captured? Dizzy easily could've given me to Ronald or Nina or killed me himself. Instead, he let me go. Look, the note is obviously referring to something underground. Maybe under the park like a ride that takes you underground?"
Jose thought again. "Maybe it's referencing the catacombs? The original creators of Cheesy's really wanted to do their best to emulate other parks. Legend has it they even included their own underground system for the workers. Maybe that's what it's referring to?"
Chloe crossed her arms in thought before turning to Mark, "Mark, you worked there, right? Do you know anything about catacombs?"
"Yeah. But from what I know, they were only really used during the park's heyday. In modern times they've had to downsize staff a lot, so the employee tunnels weren't really used. The most legitimate thing I've heard about them is that maintenance used them to keep supplies."
"Okay, well, that's a start, at least." I looked down at the note on the table. "It makes the most sense, right? But what about 33?"
To this, both Mark and Jose were stumped. '33' didn't register as anything of significance to either of them, no matter what I tried to connect it to. After banging our heads against the wall for half an hour, we had to pivot back to the catacombs.
"Okay, so in theory. How would I get down there?" I asked Jose.
"We," Chloe stated. "If you're going, Mark and I are coming with you."
"Wait, Mark is going with who to where?" Mark said softly. "We can uh, talk about that, right?"
Chloe gave Mark a look that could turn Medusa to stone, and he quickly reneged on his statement.
"Chloe, I'm not gonna argue this. You guys can only help me to a certain point."
"I'm not gonna argue it either!" She shot back. "You literally almost died last time, let us help you and..."
"Guys!" Jose cut in. "Maybe before you decide who goes where you should figure out where you're even going?"
"Right," I looked around the room expectantly. "So, how do we get in?"
Jose shouted. "Oh! Easy! There was a rumor about being able to access it through the Black Beard Adventure water ride. Supposedly if you get off at the part where Black Beard is sitting in his chair surrounded by his treasure, there's a secret door behind him."
"That must be what the keys are for!" Mark replied enthusiastically. "If you can start up the ride, then you should be able to get to it."
"Sounds like we have a plan then! Jose, is there any way you could help us get to the catacombs?" I asked.
He laughed. "Fuck no. I'll stick to reading creepy stories on the internet. But you guys feel free to live your best lives! Well. At least as long as you're alive."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Anyway. One problem. Our happy fuzzy buddies. They'd probably be crawling all over the place, and who knows what's hanging out inside those rides?"
She had a point. If I couldn't make it to the security office, what were the odds that I could get to the Black Beard ride and make it to the catacombs? And if I did, who was to say that they wouldn't be waiting for me down there? Jose told us he needed to study but wished us luck, and we concluded our meeting with that. We had made progress, but I knew that I needed to talk to Ms. Turner.
Mark dropped me off at home, and I immediately went up to my room to call her.
"Hello?" The familiar voice picked up on the other end.
"Hey, Ms. Turner. It's Brandon again. I went back to the park, and I saw something that I think you should know about." I proceeded to tell her about the events of that night and most importantly, about how I think I found her son. Or whatever remained of him.
"I'm really sorry, Ms. Turner. I ..."
"No. Don't be. You found him. Thank you."
"Even though I found him like that?"
"Whatever remains is what remains. But that's my journey to deal with. What you've told me just strengthens how I've felt. That place is pure evil. Nothing about it can remain."
"And that means what, exactly?" I asked.
"Doesn't matter yet. Did you find anything else?"
"When, Dizzy or... Daniel grabbed me, he put something in my pocket. Turned out to be a note with the words 'Under Place' and two keys that go to the ride control panel. We think that he wants me to go to the catacombs, but I'm not sure what I'll find there."
"So when are you going back?"
"I don't know. My parents aren't too happy at me for sneaking out, so I'm not sure when I can safely leave the house again."
"Brandon!" The way she raised her voice caught me off guard for a moment. "This is a hell of a lot bigger than your parents grounding you! Your brother and countless other kids are at stake."
She was right. Even though I was scared of what my parents would do to me, I was terrified of what that park would do to Amari. The truth was, I didn't know if I could save him. But I had to do everything I could to try and get him back.
I asked her if we could meet at a local restaurant to talk about it in person and she agreed. I let Mark and Chloe know about my plans and decided to let them tag along.
After class the next day, we drove over to the agreed-upon spot and caught her smoking a cigarette in the parking lot in front of her car. As soon as she saw us, she promptly stomped it out and made a remark about how weird it felt to be talking to teenagers. To be fair, the feeling was very mutual, but we both knew that we had a goal that could only be accomplished together.
With the somewhat awkward greeting out of the way, she got down to the real reason we were there. "When are you going back?"
The answer was clear, no matter how I felt about it or how absolutely terrified I was. "I have to."
"Good." Ms. Turner said with no emotion. "And your friends?"
Chloe didn't hesitate to answer, "Yes, we're going with him."
"Okay, timeout," Mark interjected. "Can we talk about this? Like, all of this? Isn't this more of a job for the police? And how do we know that those people were really monsters or whatever you want to call them? What if the park just fucks with people?"
I rolled my eyes. "Mark, what cop is going to believe that I saw what I saw there? And you think they'd do all of this to mess with people on the rare chance someone breaks in? I was in the costume, man. There literally wasn't a person in there to 'fuck with' me."
"I don't know, man! I really don't. What if we just told the cops that something was going down at the park? They come and investigate, and everything is fine?"
Ms. Turner cut in. "I doubt those things are going to let any cop see them. Besides, even if they did, they'd probably just think they were employees. It wouldn't prompt any investigation."
"Okay then how about this," Mark began to retort. "How do I know that this isn't all crazy bullshit? Guys, we're talking about breaking and entering. Brandon, you're my bro, and I do want to believe you. But this all just seems so crazy. How do I know for a fact that this isn't just some story to get revenge on a park that you think took Amari?"
He had a point, I had no proof of what I saw. And there was definitely a motive for me to try and do some damage by any means necessary.
I stepped forward. "You don't know. You can't until you see it for yourself, and frankly, I don't want you guys to see what I saw. So here's the deal. You both have an out. I don't want you there with me, and if either of you doesn't want to be there, don't come. Simple as that. I'd be more than happy to let you be safe."
As expected, they took some time to weigh the heavy consequences of their decisions. But after a few moments of silence, they looked at each other and nodded.
"We're here for you, man, all the way," Mark stated.
"So, what's the plan then?" Chloe asked.
No sooner had she asked that question had Ms. Turner spotted a rat circling her foot. She yelped in surprise and immediately told us all to go home and we'd discuss the plan later. Confused, we watched her run to her car and speed off without so much as a goodbye.
"She's an odd lady," Chloe mentioned.
"She definitely doesn't inspire any kind of confidence for whatever we end up doing," Mark added.
I agreed. But she also had the best knowledge of the park. She could potentially give us access to resources we weren't likely to get by ourselves. She had been in this for far longer than any of us had, and it didn't feel right to take the personal stake she had away from her.
Later that night, I got a text message from Ms. Turner saying that we should all get together Saturday night. The plan was to meet up at a park near my house at around two in the morning. From there, we'd discuss everyone's roles and how we'd go about this. I pressured her into giving me something to prepare for, but she kept saying how it was only safe to talk about these things in person, where there were no rats.
Out of sheer curiosity, I asked Ms. Turner about what her aversion to rats was all about. She explained that it was just personal paranoia and that whenever she'd talk about something, and there was a rat or a mouse present, bad things would happen.
Oddly enough, the days leading up to Friday were completely normal. I think that subconsciously, Mark, Chloe, and I wanted things to be that way. We all knew how drastically our lives could change on Saturday, and we tried to keep things as light-hearted as possible. It was almost like an unspoken rule that the last day before the shit hit would be spent in peace.
As an unexpected surprise, Chloe even came over Friday night completely unannounced. She convinced my parents that she needed help with a project in a class that I was actually doing well in. Though I thought Chloe would use the night to party and de-stress, I accepted her visit without a second thought.
As soon as we got to my room, she mentioned how there actually wasn't a project. As fun as the party sounded, she ultimately wanted to spend some time with me before Saturday. We spent that night talking about everything. Not just about the park but about life, growing up, the world, and eventually, our feelings about each other.
That night enforced how much I cared about her. My emotions toward my friends might be irrelevant to the bigger picture. Still, I genuinely believe that her visit was the only reason I could go into the next day with the confidence I had knowing that she'd be there with me.
And when that time came. I was as ready as I could be. I was still completely terrified. But I was still going to go in there and do everything possible to get my brother back.
I donned the same black clothes that I had worn last time and pocketed the keys and the note. On my way out, I made sure to stuff my sheets in case someone glanced in and closed the door for an added security layer. My parents were both fast asleep, and I managed to sneak out of the house by 1:30 a.m.
By the time I made it to the park, I could see that Chloe and Mark were already waiting, and both were also dressed entirely in black. Chloe ran up to give me a hug, and Mark gave me a simple nod. I could tell that he was on edge, which, given the circumstances, was completely understandable.
"You guys ready?" I asked.
Mark shook his head, "Definitely not. But I'm here anyway because that's what friends do."
"Let's just be really careful," Chloe added.
Before we could reply, we caught Ms. Turner arriving in her beat-up minivan. She promptly hopped out and motioned for us to come over.
"Just out of curiosity, what're the chances she's actually the bad guy and murders us?" Mark whispered. This prompted Chloe to elbow him in the stomach while she told him to stop being ridiculous.
But as soon as we walked up to her car and saw the supplies she had inside, Mark's suggestion didn't seem too far off. Before us was a pair of bolt cutters, a pocket knife, and gloves. But the most serious part of Ms. Turner's arsenal was the handgun she had holstered.
"Jesus!" Mark yelled. "That's a fucking gun! What the hell are you doing with that?"
She glared at him. "For protection. If one of those things came at us, then..."
"Then nothing! We aren't fucking shooting anyone! I don't care if you think those things in costumes aren't human. If they are, then we go down for fucking murder. Brandon, Chloe, please tell me you're not with this crazy chick?"
Chloe agreed, "Mark is right. Exploring this place is fine, but I'm not okay with anything involving a gun."
She rolled her eyes and opened the passenger side door to pop the gun in the glove compartment. "Fine. It's gone. No problem. But can we get going?"
The three of us agreed and we hopped into her car with me taking the front seat next to her. The vehicle had a distinct smell of gasoline and cigarettes. The interior looked like it had seen better days and, I'm pretty sure empty beer cans were rustling around at my feet.
Part of me felt awful for Ms. Turner. Here she was relying on kids to help her heal the trauma she had been dealing with for years. To this day, I can't even imagine how desperate she must've felt, seeing as she was willing to go through all of that.
The ride over was quiet. I didn't know if it was nerves or focus. Probably a mixture of both. I can only vouch for myself, but there were multiple points during the ride where I wanted to ask Ms. Turner to pull over and take us back. The closer we got, the more my anxiety started to rachet up as the vivid images of those things flashed through my mind.
When we finally arrived in the empty parking lot, my heart was damn near beating out of my chest. There wasn't any turning back now. Chloe and Ms. Turner were the first to exit the car. I sat in silence, staring at the front gate, reliving every horrible moment I was there. Mark asked me if I was alright, and I told him I needed a moment. He nodded in understanding and grabbed the bolt cutters and spray paint as he got out.
I was alone now with my thoughts. Here was my moment. I had my chance to take back my brother and never see this awful place again. And yet, I was sitting in the car doing nothing. I don't think of myself as a brave person. I don't have a particular level of resolve or heroic character. At the end of the day, I was desperate. But that desperation was the only thing that was going to get Amari back. Before I stepped out of the car, I eyeballed the glove compartment. It was stupid. I knew I had never shot a gun before in my life, but if I was going to get Amari back, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have it. I quickly opened it up and stuffed the barrel into my waistband, hiding the handle under my hoodie.
I took in one big breath and exhaled before popping out of the car into the frigid cold air. The sting of it almost sobered me from my emotions.
Ms. Turner looked me up and down. "You ready?"
I nodded. "So, what's the plan?"
"Mark and I will try and draw some attention from those things. You and Chloe need to get to the Black Beard ride. She can operate the ride while you hide in one of the tubes and wait until you have to pop out."
"Wait, why doesn't Mark go with me?" I asked. "He has experience with the rides, so he'd know how to operate it, right?"
"I do." Mark agreed. "But if this plan relies on us being chased around, my cardio is going to last a lot longer than Chloe's. Besides, turning on the ride is easy, I told her how to do it while you were in the car."
"Fine." I relented. " But you are out of there as soon as the ride starts. You and Mark."
"What if I want to go with you?" Chloe asked.
"No. You guys will have already done enough. Clo, as soon as that ride gets moving, bail. Mark, I'll text you, and it'll be the same deal."
"So, where do Clo and I go?"
"Best spot is off-campus. Are you gonna go with them, Ms. Turner?"
She shook her head. "No, I'll leave the keys with Chloe. As soon as Mark gets to the car, you guys take it just off-campus. I'll meet you later."
"And what're you gonna do while they're leaving?" I asked. "You're not gonna go with them?"
"We all have our goals, Brandon. You guys just worry about staying safe."
As curious as I was about what she planned to do, I honestly didn't have much time to think about it, and that was fine by me. I just wanted to get Amari back.
We walked to the front gates and spent a few minutes cutting the padlocks. As soon as it broke and fell to the ground with a distinct thud, we knew we were at the point of no return. We slowly creaked the door open and waiting for us on the other side was the silent hellscape masquerading as an amusement park.
Mark took point in leading us to the Black Beard ride. We moved methodically through the park, doing our best to not make any noise. At first, it seemed to work. I actually had some hope that we could make it through this without seeing any of the characters.
But just as I was starting to let my guard down, we spotted Nina, waiting on top of the Spinning Soda Cup ride. Chloe, Mark, and Ms. Turner looked on in horror as they saw the spider-like abomination perched on top of the ride, peering down at us. And as soon as it registered who we were, she moved viciously fast towards us.
We broke off into two groups as planned, but Nina didn't care. She tore after Chloe and me until Mark picked up a nearby stone and hurled it in her direction. It landed just in front of her, and without hesitation, Nina spun around and gave chase to Mark. He was already running in the opposite direction and screaming as he went.
Chloe called after him, but I grabbed her wrist and screamed that we had to go. We ran in the general direction of the Black Beard ride and didn't see any more of the characters. We knew from looking at park maps beforehand that it was a straight shot down and then a sharp right. If we hurried, we could easily make it there.
We took off towards our destination, but just before we had to make the right, we spotted Ronald standing in the middle of the walkway. Chloe quickly pulled me behind a set of trashcans, and we watched as Ronald slowly sauntered around, scanning the area.
Sweat poured from my brow as I peeked around the trash can to see that soulless husk drag its body forward. It moved silently down the path, and even though its eyes were faced forward, it felt like it was still taking stock of every tiny movement around it.
But just as it was about to pass by us, it stopped. My heart dropped, and I quickly retracted my head and made myself as small as possible so that no part of me was visible. I squeezed my eyes tight, praying that it'd go away. I had the darkest feeling that it knew that we were there, and we had nowhere to run. All we could do was stay silent and hope that it turned away.
A strange cold came over me, and just as I imagined him reaching over the completely meaningless barrier we were sitting behind, I heard a voice yell out from a distance.
Mark was on the other side of the pathway, screaming to get Ronald's attention. Without hesitation, it moved towards Mark. Chloe and I took our opportunity to go. We could feel multiple pairs of eyes watching us and some shadows starting to close in on our position as we went. We were exposed, and we knew it. Our best bet was to get to the Black Beard ride and complete what we came here to do. As soon as it was in our sights, an extra burst of adrenaline kicked in, and we dived into the empty building that contained the ride.
A slim figure slithered towards us and slowly rose up on thin legs out of the darkness. The character resembling a tall decaying doll with melted facial features and pinpoint red eyes stared directly at us. Still, it didn't dare to enter the ride. I could feel the tears streaming down my face as it paced the entrance and never for a second looking away.
We were entirely still watching it stare us down, and then for an utterly unexplainable reason, it moved on. Chloe and I both needed a moment of rest. In the near darkness, all I could hear was the moving water and her light sobs.
"Clo," I whispered. "Are you okay? Look..." I reached for the keys in my pocket and tried to find her hand in the darkness to pass them off. "The second you start this ride, run back to the car, and you'll never have to see this place again."
Once I found them, I placed the keys in her hand and helped her to her feet. Without warning, she pulled me into a tight hug and told me that if she had to leave me to the catacombs that I had to promise that no matter what, I'd come back safe.
"I promise, Clo."
Using her phone's light to guide her to the control panel, she went to work on trying to get the water ride to start up. There were six small boats lined up in a row. Not knowing what awaited me inside the animatronic world of Black Beard, I took the last boat and tried to lay as flat as possible under the seat.
I waited until I heard the distinct buzzer indicating that the ride had started and I was off. The ride jolted forward, and the world of Black Beard came to life. I could only peek out of my spot, which allowed me to watch the animatronics dancing and singing to the cheesy pirate music and bad voice acting.
I had honestly forgotten how long the ride was as I was waiting. Still, when it got to a portion where there was simulated cannon fire between opposing ships, I knew it was halfway over. All I had to do was hold out until then.
Among the booming cannon fire came a piercing scream that sounded like it had years of pain and anguish behind it. A large dark figure rose behind the smoke, and my eyes grew wide as I heard the bellowing screams of the now visible animatronic that drew near.
The animatronic pirate had big vacant white eyes and a large hook nose that mimicked a beak. His massive hands each had two long human fingers in the shape of claws, and he was riddled with holes exposing a body covered in coral.
I hoped he wouldn't see me, but my hope was dashed when he screamed my name and jumped into the first boat.
"Brandon!" His voice boomed. The robotic nature of its voice was made apparent through the multiple times his sentences would skip. "Where's my F...ING treasures? YOU LITTLE SH...T. I'll F...ING K... YOU."
I could see him looking through the first boat but to no avail. He screamed in frustration. Without warning, he jumped into the second boat and, using his grotesquely long fingers, flipped the first boat out of the water, causing a loud BOOM.
"I'll flip every F...ING boat, sailor." BOOM. Four left. But we were almost there.
"I'll break your F...ING neck as soon as I find ye." BOOM. Three remaining. I knew I was right around the corner.
"You little piece of S..T. Where's my G.D D..M treasure, boy?" BOOM. Just two. I could see I was slowly coming up on Black Beard's treasure room.
"You're going to die today." BOOM. He was on my boat. The treasure room was just in front of us, I took a chance and exploded out of the boat. In one big leap, I made it onto the Black Beard's platform. The animatronic screamed after me, and I could see it starting to move towards me. I quickly scrambled around the treasure and found a hatch. I flung it open and started climbing down the ladder into the catacombs. I heard a loud thud as the hatch closed above me from something slamming it down.
Once my feet reached the ground, I ran forward a bit and peeked over my shoulder to see if Black Beard had followed me down, but he never did. I was completely alone.
I exhaled a deep breath of relief. "I always knew that ride was wack."
What I was faced with was essentially a concrete service tunnel. I noticed my footsteps echoed as I walked, and I didn't hear any other voices or footsteps in front or behind me. For the first time in a while, I was sure that I was alone.
I checked my phone real quick to see if I had any service, and it was weak but there. I wanted to send a message to Mark but noticed he had already sent me a ton of text messages. My eyes grew wide as I read them.
Mark: Dude. Wtf?? I think this lady is trying something. Mark: She disappeared when we split up. Saw her later pouring gasoline Mark: DUDE SHE'S GONNA SET THIS PLACE ON FIRE HURRY THE FUCK UP AND GET OUT OF THERE
Ms. Turner was going to set this place ablaze. If I didn't get Amari and get out, all of this would be for nothing. I texted Mark to run back to the car if he hadn't already and that I'd meet him and Chloe soon.
For the first time, I thought I had a chance to breathe, but my sense of urgency came back with a vengeance. I jogged forward through the bleak tunnel, watching the rats scurry by me. They seemed to be the only form of life in a place that went on for God knows how long.
Eventually, my jog slowed into a fast walk as I ran out of breath. It was only after I started to cool down did I realize how freezing the place was. Even though I was wearing warm clothes, it felt like I was walking in a damn freezer.
I don't remember how long I walked or when I came to the end of the tunnel. Almost out of nowhere, a door that looked like it belonged to a janitorial closet appeared in front of me. But when my eyes focused on the very clear "33" engraved near the top. I had finally made it.
Everything was leading up to this. Every moment of terror, every tear shed, all the pain, everything was going to culminate right here. I reached for the knob and slowly opened the creaking door to reveal the wretched sight on the other end.
A morbidly obese man sat on a rotting wooden throne at the end of a small concrete room. He wore a soggy molded Cheesy mask whose typically large smile had deflated into an apparent frown. His body was mostly covered with what looked like stitched together clothes. Despite his exceedingly large frame, his fingers were long and bony, and they clung desperately to the throne. At his feet were small mummified corpses. Hundreds of rats running about through little tunnels scattered around the room. The smell of rot and cigarettes wafted through the air, and my eyes stung as soon as it hit me.
"Jesus Fucking Christ," I whispered.
"You have entered the domain of the Rat King, Brandon. We were expecting you. You should show some respect." His voice was gravely yet calm with a hint of playfulness, and he hissed as he spoke.
"You knew I was coming?"
"We kept a close eye on you from the very beginning. We heard about your plans to pay us a little visit. The King told his servants on the outside to be on the lookout. However, to his disappointment, one of them disobeyed his king. But in due time, he will be fixed. Yes. Everything will be fixed."
"And who is 'we'?"
He chuckled. "We are a kingdom, boy. We are the ones who run the park and all operations within it."
"So, you bastards are the one that took my little brother?" I spat.
"Happiness here is guaranteed. It is not allowed to be unhappy here. The park does not permit it. But more importantly, the Rat King does not permit it. But still, your brother was unhappy. That had to be fixed. And the only way to fix it is to dedicate yourself to bringing happiness to others. That is how you get into the good graces of the Rat King."
Anger was building up inside of me. "Why do all of this? We could have just left the park, I don’t get why you’d cause so much pain!"
"Of course you wouldn’t understand, boy. No one can reach the same level of enlightenment as the Rat King. You say he brings pain. But instead, he brings joy to his people. He is kind. And in return? He gets sustenance in any form he desires. It is a fair deal, says I."
"Your crazy ass can believe whatever the fuck you want, just give me my brother back or..."
"Or what, boy? You do not threaten the Rat King. No one threatens the Rat King. Even the man who finances my kingdom can't intimidate him. Neither can the police. Or the media. And do you know why, boy? Because the king hears all. He knows all. Secrets are valuable. And the Rat King is rich in secrets."
I was done with that park. Done with the characters. And done with this delusional man who had some warped sense of control from underneath an amusement park. I whipped out the gun and pointed it towards him, frustration and anger guiding my emotions. "Where's my brother?"
Another laugh came from behind the mask. "Brandon. You are not going to shoot me. You are merely a child. One who has never fired a gun before. And now you’d shoot the Rat King? You aren’t a hero, boy. Accept that he has done everything for the greater good of the park. Put away the gun. You are not capable of using it anyway."
"For Amari, I'd do anything."
"How can you say that, boy? You've never killed. And you won't today."
For a moment, I wavered. I had gone through all of this for Amari. All of this pain and suffering. Now here I was with the perfect opportunity, and the only thing standing between my brother and me was this disgusting bastard. And yet, I couldn't pull the trigger. He was right. I was just a kid way over my head. Sneaking into this place is one thing but killing? I wasn't a killer, no matter what the stakes. I just didn't have it in me. But at that moment, I didn't necessarily have to. "You say this place is your kingdom, right? If you don't give my brother back, it's going to burn to the ground."
"What?" I could hear the hitch in his voice. Quickly, three rats crawled up his body and into a hole in the mask.
"If you don't give me back Amari, I'll tell my friend up there to burn it all. You can call your friends to come to kill me, but I guarantee one text message reaches her before they reach me."
"How dare you, boy. How dare you?"
This time I could hear real frustration. The Rat King's cool and calm demeanor had drastically changed, and this time I felt the gun was more for self-defense than to threaten him.
"Leave my park, boy. I command you. At first, I thought young Amari could bring happiness to the children. But now I see being rotten runs in the family. Maybe he is nothing more than rat food."
How dare he? How dare he take Amari from me and then reduce my fucking brother to rat food? This horrible man tried ruining our lives, and he dared to say that to me? Everything leading up to that moment flooded my mind. All I could think about was how that disgusting creature that stole my happiness didn't deserve to speak another word. Before I even know what happened, a loud bang rang out. Then another. And another. Then silence.
I stood in silence, completely in shock at what I had done. But before I could even have a chance to reflect, a horde of rats poured out from the bullet holes like water from a faucet and rushed towards me. Without thinking, I quickly fired off the gun into what I thought was a corpse, but all I was met with was another wave of the horrible rodents.
I quickly spun around and ran out the door. The rush of adrenaline allowing me to sprint down the tunnel in a fraction of the time it took me to walk, but in my haste, I dropped the gun. That horde wanted blood, and the non-stop hissing that came from each of them was a constant reminder that if I stopped, they would pick my bones clean.
Sudden relief hit as I caught the ladder in my sights. When I was within 5 feet of the ladder, I opted to jump onto the rungs and quickly sprawl out of the hatch.
Looking down, I could see that the tunnel was utterly filled with rats. Once I was out the hatch, I could see rats spilling out of every hole in the ride. I bolted through the ride's exit and didn't stop sprinting until I saw the park's gates.
I easily jumped the turnstile and left the attraction behind me, not once looking back. I didn't stop sprinting until I saw the gates to the parking lot. The only moment of solace I had was when I finally saw the car in the distance, and as soon as Mark noticed me, he popped the door open for me to jump into the backseat.
No sooner had he done that did we watch as the park went up in flames. We waited for Ms. Turner to show up, but she never did. We tried texting and calling, but her phone went straight to voicemail every single time. Eventually, we knew that we needed to get the hell out of there, and we sped off back home.
I don't remember what time we got back to the park. We still had a little bit before the sun came back up, but the three of us spent that entire time crying. That night hurt us all so profoundly. It left scars that still persist to this day. It wasn't until maybe six or seven in the morning did any of us feel comfortable enough to go home.
We left the car at the park and simply walked to each of our houses without saying a word. We were all just so tired. We had been pushed so far beyond our limits mentally and physically that there was nothing left to give. I can only speak for myself, but I took it especially hard. After all of that, I failed again. So what was the point? Why did I make everyone go through literal hell just to not get my brother back? I felt that if Chloe and Mark hated me for the rest of my life, it would've been justified.
I managed to sneak back into my house and into my room. No one had noticed my absence. I found it strange how my parents slept peacefully while I was living a literal nightmare. I tried to get some sleep, but through the tears and adrenaline, it was impossible. Eventually, I just opted to stay awake until my body gave out.
It wasn't until about 1 p.m. that a knock came at the door. I didn't bother to check who it was. But when my mom answered, I could hear a loud scream that prompted me to rush downstairs. A police officer was standing in our doorway with Amari in hand. He looked entirely untouched from the day he went missing.
My eyes grew wide, and I started to tear up as I ran towards him and gave him the biggest hug possible. I told him I loved him and that I would never let him out of my sight again. Something he'd get annoyed by as he grew older, but I didn't care. I finally had my brother back.
The officer told us Amari claimed that while Ms. Turner was setting the fire, Dizzy helped him to a secret room under the Concert Hall. It was here that police found him while searching through the rubble. It took years of therapy to get Amari back to where he was comfortable talking about much. To this day he still has a lot of repressed memories about whatever he saw. But the one thing he's been adamant about is he didn't know how he disappeared. All he could recall being led away to what he called "the secret place." I wish I had more, but he's yet to expand on that.
Still though, it was amazing to finally have our family back together. We treated him like the most precious thing in the world from then on. Looking back, it's strange how amazing normalcy can be when you've missed it for so long. I'm not sure if Amari ever understood the pain we felt while he was missing, but he damn sure knew the love we had when he got back.
Us stupidly leaving the car at the park was brought into question when Ms. Turner was reported missing. But given the traces of gasoline in her vehicle, history of drinking, past history of tension with Cheesy's, and her charred body being found clutching a Dizzy costume, the police eventually determined it was a vandalism-suicide attempt and that someone just moved the car after. I'll never know the emotions she felt that night, but that last bit still gets me.
From what I hear, the park owner was more than thrilled to be released from the financial burden of Cheesy's. In subsequent years he's either sold off what he could to other parks or to scrap yards. I think the now-empty land is being redeveloped for something. He also went on a bit of a campaign to "clear" his name by paying off news sites to remove any and all stories relating to the park.
Life for me now is good. Chloe and I live together, and Mark stays close by. Sometimes when we leave our apartment, we see rats congregating just outside our doorstep. It's odd, considering we don't see them anywhere else in the apartment complex. For me, it always leads to a nagging thought. What if the Rat King is still out there, watching? I never technically saw him die. Is it possible that he found some other deep dark hole to crawl down? Is he continuing to do the horrible things he was doing before? I'm not sure. But if he is, I have a feeling he rules his new kingdom with an iron fist. And that no child anywhere will ever be safe from his reign.
submitted by bryany97 to nosleep [link] [comments]

Is Tesla still an electric investment?

Is Tesla still an electric investment?
Telsa, along with its infamous current CEO Elon Musk, is best described as a marmite investment, you either love it or hate it. I've avoided looking at Tesla due to the unprecedented volatility and market defying rallies it has experienced. With COVID-19 forcing many companies to take their foot off the pedal, for Tesla, it was merely a speed bump towards becoming one of the biggest auto manufacturers on the planet.
With this in mind, I don't think there will ever be a "quiet" time to look at Tesla. Let's charge up and drive through some fundamentals.

https://preview.redd.it/b1ryquvki2851.jpg?width=512&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=bbef175e856b0c5b6afdd89d6466a216efacfacc
How Does Tesla Make Money?
I'll skip over the usual "who and what is Tesla?" because, even with stay-at-home orders and a global lockdown, nobody has time to pick through that essay.
Let's focus on how Tesla makes money to help us understand what the business is focusing on and why.

https://preview.redd.it/53i5mmjli2851.jpg?width=1762&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=3a188c0cda6e4e96be23750103233d0574b1aa24
Source: Tesla Q1 2020 Presentation
Broadly speaking the business is split into three areas, selling cars (and leasing them), selling solar power and batteries for storing electricity, and supporting businesses such as selling power to charge your Tesla (charging stations.)
Tesla is best known for their cars, their market strategy is a simple one. Start by building high-end luxury vehicles which are limited in supply. Reinvest these gains into building vehicles targetting more of the mass market at a lower price point, and keep repeating. The result being everyone owns a Telsa at any price point while retaining that original luxury image. Currently, this has been the case, with Tesla's regarded as a luxury manufacturer even when compared to direct competitor products.
Having a strategy is nothing without execution, and right now the limiting factor is manufacturing capabilities.

https://preview.redd.it/4n03g75mi2851.jpg?width=796&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=7dd8d0551f1d6bbe0dd47073b4e3116b94d0d6dc
Source: Tesla Q1 2020 Presentation
While this helps the luxury aspects of the brand due to the limited supply, this has not been intentional.
Limited production also means the additional services will also suffer. Charging stations are not exclusive to Tesla vehicles but with many manufacturers partnering with suppliers and charging ports directly, there is less of an opportunity here versus running a petrol station. There are additional streams such as the fully self-driving car upgrades, and ongoing costs associated with the in-vehicle features, all of which require you to own a Tesla in the begin. Expect this revenue line to follow the main auto manufacturing line item.

https://preview.redd.it/gk9y4gymi2851.jpg?width=1695&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=756be8006c8b640f6c87d950355c3f05283f817c
Source: Tesla Q1 2020 Presentation
The last item to cover is the energy generation and storage side of the business. Taking a page out of Amazon's book, if you have an internal solution is that a viable business in its own right? Tesla's efforts to expand its battery technology led them on a journey to acquiring a solar company (SolarCity.) Now able to offer a complete charging and storage solution, or split individually to both end consumers and even government bodies alike.
What About Tesla's Fundamentals?
There is a lot to cover when it comes to Tesla, I'll try and keep us focused (for your sake and mine) as this write up should serve as the appetiser and not replace your due diligence. Plus, reading the last 10-Q I spent as long reading about lawsuits versus how they make their revenue.

https://preview.redd.it/pa6k04mni2851.png?width=790&format=png&auto=webp&s=aaf749cd0edffc98e5f6771b93b91775c4c69b51
Source: Genuine Impact
Unsurprisingly Tesla is very expensive and seems to follow the trend of a technology company rather than any manufacturing company. Even the future momentum is lower than you would expect, largely due to the recent rally passing sell-side analyst expectations. What you might be shocked to see is the relatively poor condition of Tesla's finances. We know Tesla has had a few close calls when it comes to bankruptcy and their aggressive growth as resulted in no single year being profitable.
With that in mind let's dig into the raw details to find out what these ranks mean to us.

https://preview.redd.it/8s0mtt7oi2851.jpg?width=1385&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=bc2bd25e47d8e9d067f3471a616294c1bf8473f4
Source: Wallmine
With the last three quarters showing a positive profit margin, the COVID-19 lockdown has been a very painful shock for Tesla, what should have been a successful Q2 2020 is likely to be a slip back into negative profit margins again. One question to ask, how negative is a negative profit margin?
Last four quarters Tesla has made $26bn. It is nothing compared to BMW's $117bn and Ford's $149.8bn. However, revenue is a meaningless figure on its own. We need to break down the cost of revenue.
For the full financial year of 2019, Telsa has a pitiful gross margin of 16.56%, which is then reduced again but all the additional costs bringing us to a -3.51% profit margin. This reduction isn't as much as I expected. The extra expenses are heavier on general admin than R&D which isn't what I expected to see. This does mean Tesla has additional money it can access in a pinch, though you can argue that will cost them in terms of long term competitive advantage.
While Tesla is busy opening up new sites and investing heavily into the build quality these are headway expenses that will hopefully reduce with scale.

https://preview.redd.it/1ks1ydtoi2851.jpg?width=1628&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=c522bf4ea2203ef55b4e6aac041653c04b27a13e
Source: Tesla Q1 2020 Presentation
While an odd example this is the kind of focus Tesla are trying to bring into the business, optimising their existing processes. Reducing their costs to increase the margins, while making the process simpler.
A bit part of Tesla is their debt, which is eating away around $170m each quarter in interest payments.

https://preview.redd.it/11pauwqpi2851.jpg?width=925&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=46f6ad3d92eaeaba919f852ecd6fb4e364ccf98c
Source: Tesla Q1 2020 10-Q
In terms of short term (due this year) liabilities Tesla owe $11.98bn, oddly it's the payments to their suppliers which is the highest contributor to this (barely.) Long term Tesla has $13.9bn which will be due in the future. Given accounts payable made up a third of this year's debt, debt wasn't as big of an issue as I expected. The debt to assets last quarter was 71.19%, while high it is still very manageable.
I was fairly surprised to see Tesla has been building up a war chest, last quarter they had $8bn in cash. In terms of Tesla assets, the manufacturing sites make up the bulk, sitting at a cool $20bn.

https://preview.redd.it/c9wcsjgqi2851.jpg?width=790&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=88c496957068811b6344b9338ed986eb0addfc5d
Source: Google Finance
The last six months for Tesla has represented some incredible growth. Even now Tesla is up again by almost 4% following a bullish analyst claiming the Q2 numbers can be beaten.
As an investor, Tesla is a tech stock, meaning extremely high valuations. The negative profit margin saves Tesla from the shame of meaningful P/E ratio. However, we can always see what kind of premium we are paying by looking at the book to price, 26.90x. Even the cash to share ratio is an unpleasant 36.94x.
To justify these ratios, Tesla must have some strong backing by the sell-side analysts.

https://preview.redd.it/o4igt3zqi2851.png?width=1080&format=png&auto=webp&s=ee2e138c41eaed768748c79c450dbbf3f4dac3c4
Source: Genuine Impact
As I keep saying, this is not the case. It's rare to see such a hotly disputed stock. We are seeing analysts shift from hold to both buy and sell. While analysts are extremely hopeful with future EPS and Revenue figures, the target price is the topic of many debates.

https://preview.redd.it/ou1g3ijri2851.jpg?width=922&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=87ca7d3b471878fa4cdd2290e50196b604ce5f56
Source: Wallmine
The current target price (taking the average of 32 analysts!) is negative compared to where we are right now. The current price is higher than that screenshot says, by a solid $80 a share.
Are The Fundamentals Meaningless For Tesla?
Fundamentals are a tool in your belt, it has a time a place and you use it to help you make decisions. Maybe the last bit didn't make too much sense, you don't ask the hammer before you cut wood but you get the point.
The fundamentals are showing a business which is slowly increasing its margins but scaling. Each new factory, each new mass-market vehicle, it all brings us closer to Tesla's ultimate goal.
The debt is more under control than I first assumed, their long term debt is aggressively priced with a few 7% bonds in there, these could do with some refinancing. Surprisingly Tesla has been doing a good job of keeping money in its own pockets, while still pumping out an alarming amount of new vehicles.
Summary Pros
  • Arguably one of the cutting edge auto-manufacturer if not the manufacturer they can be a provider into another eco-system
  • The vertical integration and in-house nature works at scale, something they are starting to achieve
  • New sites opening up, the growing Chinese market being a prime target
  • Cult following similar to Apple in terms of brand loyalty and high levels of advocacy
  • Leasing is high margin and helps drive the fully autonomous vehicle research, a potentially large revenue stream if achieved with the right partners
Summary Cons
  • Extremely overpriced, even account for their growth, the next three years feels very comfortably priced in
  • Emotionally linked to Elon Musk, for better or worse and I'd put this down as a con as much as a pro
  • A constant struggle to hit a year of profitability is resulting in higher financing which keeps slowing Tesla down
  • Big brands like BWM are innovating at the same speed and make for extremely tough competition
My Thoughts?
The cult of Elon gives and takes. The passion that drives Tesla can not be ignored. If the next model of Tesla vehicle requires a new alloy to be created, few companies could be capable of such a task and yet this always feels within Teslas reach. Making the impossible seem like business as usual is something Tesla does with incredible ease.
There are very substantial and real threats to Tesla and a lot of spinning plates. It's easy for Tesla to be distracted and lose sight of the big picture, but that is also the charm of the business. The same way Steve Jobs pushed to reduce the size of his phones, the small details create something greater than their parts.
I currently have less than 5% of my portfolio exposed to Tesla (indirect through an investment trust) and it's something I am comfortable with.
A bet on Tesla is not a fundamental decision, it's a decision on what I want tomorrow to look like. Few companies offer services today while looking to build tomorrow the way Tesla does. This is the kind of innovation that drags the world kicking and screaming with it.
I don't know if Tesla will "win" the electric vehicle race, but I do know our world is better for having Tesla in it.
Let me know what you think, is Tesla something you are watching? Are you on the fence like the analysts or do you have a strong view?
Thanks for reading and stay safe!
Edit: Ford's revenue number was very wrong, fixed!
submitted by kano2005 to M1Finance [link] [comments]

The Happiest Place Stole My Little Brother (Part 3: FINAL) [Fiction]

Part 1 Part 2
As I was putting on my clothes to get ready for school, I grabbed the pair of jeans I had worn the night before. On inspecting my pockets for my house keys, I found a small piece of paper wrapped around something solid. Opening it up revealed the words "Under Place. 33" and a set of small keys.
"What the hell?" I thought, "Under Place? Did Dizzy do this?" This was definitely a mystery for later, but for now I had to get to class.
The first thing I made sure to do when I got to school was to look for Jose and tell him that he wouldn't be getting his flash drive back. He said it was okay, that, if anything, he was fascinated by what happened to me. We agreed to talk about things more in-depth after school, but for now, we'd just go to class.
What I was most concerned with that day was how I'd tell Mark and Chloe about what happened. At first, I didn't know how I'd bring it up, but they brought the subject up at lunch.
"Dude," Mark said with a look of concern. "Kristen Georges mentioned how there were police officers at your house at like four in the morning. What the hell is going on? Don't give us some bullshit about how everything is fine because clearly it's not."
"Brandon, you've been acting so strange lately." Chloe reached out to touch my arm. "You need to tell us what's happening because if you're in trouble, we want to help."
There wasn’t any escaping this conversation. And I knew I owed them the truth. They deserved the truth. I told them everything from Ms. Turner and the missing kids, to the break-in, to the abominations that chased me down at the park and what Dizzy left me.
I couldn't tell if they really believed me. Chloe and Mark just stared in awe at the insanity of it all.
"Brandon. This is so..." Chloe began to talk.
"Fucked." Mark cut in.
"Yeah," She resumed. "I may not really understand any of this, but we're here with you either way. I can't even imagine how terrifying this must all be."
"You mentioned that Dizzy gave you keys?" Mark asked. "Do you think I could see them really quickly?"
I reached into my backpack and handed them over for Mark to inspect.
"These look like keys we'd use to operate the rides. But what would he give you those for?"
"Don't know. But it doesn't matter because I probably won't be allowed out of the house for a while. Which, by the way, Clo, I don't think I'll be able to make it to the party on Friday."
"It's okay." Chloe cut in. "The important thing here is that there's obviously something going on. Whatever it is, those creatures seemed deadset on not letting you find out what it was."
"But why would Dizzy let him go then?" Mark asked. "If what the park is hiding is so bad, then why not just kill Brandon while he was there?"
Chloe shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe they don't all agree with how the park is run? Or maybe some of them have some humanity in them?"
A few minutes before the bell rang, we agreed to briefly meet up with Jose after class. After our classes ended for the day, we grabbed a library conference room, and I showed him the note.
"Under place? 33?" Jose thought for a moment but then shook his head. "Nah, no idea. How do you guys know this isn't a trap?"
I took the note back and shoved it into my backpack. "Why would they trap me when I was already captured? Dizzy easily could've given me to Ronald or Nina or killed me himself. Instead, he let me go. Look, the note is obviously referring to something underground. Maybe under the park like a ride that takes you underground?"
Jose thought again. "Maybe it's referencing the catacombs? The original creators of Cheesy's really wanted to do their best to emulate other parks. Legend has it they even included their own underground system for the workers. Maybe that's what it's referring to?"
Chloe crossed her arms in thought before turning to Mark, "Mark, you worked there, right? Do you know anything about catacombs?"
"Yeah. But from what I know, they were only really used during the park's heyday. In modern times they've had to downsize staff a lot, so the employee tunnels weren't really used. The most legitimate thing I've heard about them is that maintenance used them to keep supplies."
"Okay, well, that's a start, at least." I looked down at the note on the table. "It makes the most sense, right? But what about 33?"
To this, both Mark and Jose were stumped. '33' didn't register as anything of significance to either of them, no matter what I tried to connect it to. After banging our heads against the wall for half an hour, we had to pivot back to the catacombs.
"Okay, so in theory. How would I get down there?" I asked Jose.
"We," Chloe stated. "If you're going, Mark and I are coming with you."
"Wait, Mark is going with who to where?" Mark said softly. "We can uh, talk about that, right?"
Chloe gave Mark a look that could turn Medusa to stone, and he quickly reneged on his statement.
"Chloe, I'm not gonna argue this. You guys can only help me to a certain point."
"I'm not gonna argue it either!" She shot back. "You literally almost died last time, let us help you and..."
"Guys!" Jose cut in. "Maybe before you decide who goes where you should figure out where you're even going?"
"Right," I looked around the room expectantly. "So, how do we get in?"
Jose shouted. "Oh! Easy! There was a rumor about being able to access it through the Black Beard Adventure water ride. Supposedly if you get off at the part where Black Beard is sitting in his chair surrounded by his treasure, there's a secret door behind him."
"That must be what the keys are for!" Mark replied enthusiastically. "If you can start up the ride, then you should be able to get to it."
"Sounds like we have a plan then! Jose, is there any way you could help us get to the catacombs?" I asked.
He laughed. "Fuck no. I'll stick to reading creepy stories on the internet. But you guys feel free to live your best lives! Well. At least as long as you're alive."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Anyway. One problem. Our happy fuzzy buddies. They'd probably be crawling all over the place, and who knows what's hanging out inside those rides?"
She had a point. If I couldn't make it to the security office, what were the odds that I could get to the Black Beard ride and make it to the catacombs? And if I did, who was to say that they wouldn't be waiting for me down there? Jose told us he needed to study but wished us luck, and we concluded our meeting with that. We had made progress, but I knew that I needed to talk to Ms. Turner.
Mark dropped me off at home, and I immediately went up to my room to call her.
"Hello?" The familiar voice picked up on the other end.
"Hey, Ms. Turner. It's Brandon again. I went back to the park, and I saw something that I think you should know about." I proceeded to tell her about the events of that night and most importantly, about how I think I found her son. Or whatever remained of him.
"I'm really sorry, Ms. Turner. I ..."
"No. Don't be. You found him. Thank you."
"Even though I found him like that?"
"Whatever remains is what remains. But that's my journey to deal with. What you've told me just strengthens how I've felt. That place is pure evil. Nothing about it can remain."
"And that means what, exactly?" I asked.
"Doesn't matter yet. Did you find anything else?"
"When, Dizzy or... Daniel grabbed me, he put something in my pocket. Turned out to be a note with the words 'Under Place' and two keys that go to the ride control panel. We think that he wants me to go to the catacombs, but I'm not sure what I'll find there."
"So when are you going back?"
"I don't know. My parents aren't too happy at me for sneaking out, so I'm not sure when I can safely leave the house again."
"Brandon!" The way she raised her voice caught me off guard for a moment. "This is a hell of a lot bigger than your parents grounding you! Your brother and countless other kids are at stake."
She was right. Even though I was scared of what my parents would do to me, I was terrified of what that park would do to Amari. The truth was, I didn't know if I could save him. But I had to do everything I could to try and get him back.
I asked her if we could meet at a local restaurant to talk about it in person and she agreed. I let Mark and Chloe know about my plans and decided to let them tag along.
After class the next day, we drove over to the agreed-upon spot and caught her smoking a cigarette in the parking lot in front of her car. As soon as she saw us, she promptly stomped it out and made a remark about how weird it felt to be talking to teenagers. To be fair, the feeling was very mutual, but we both knew that we had a goal that could only be accomplished together.
With the somewhat awkward greeting out of the way, she got down to the real reason we were there. "When are you going back?"
The answer was clear, no matter how I felt about it or how absolutely terrified I was. "I have to."
"Good." Ms. Turner said with no emotion. "And your friends?"
Chloe didn't hesitate to answer, "Yes, we're going with him."
"Okay, timeout," Mark interjected. "Can we talk about this? Like, all of this? Isn't this more of a job for the police? And how do we know that those people were really monsters or whatever you want to call them? What if the park just fucks with people?"
I rolled my eyes. "Mark, what cop is going to believe that I saw what I saw there? And you think they'd do all of this to mess with people on the rare chance someone breaks in? I was in the costume, man. There literally wasn't a person in there to 'fuck with' me."
"I don't know, man! I really don't. What if we just told the cops that something was going down at the park? They come and investigate, and everything is fine?"
Ms. Turner cut in. "I doubt those things are going to let any cop see them. Besides, even if they did, they'd probably just think they were employees. It wouldn't prompt any investigation."
"Okay then how about this," Mark began to retort. "How do I know that this isn't all crazy bullshit? Guys, we're talking about breaking and entering. Brandon, you're my bro, and I do want to believe you. But this all just seems so crazy. How do I know for a fact that this isn't just some story to get revenge on a park that you think took Amari?"
He had a point, I had no proof of what I saw. And there was definitely a motive for me to try and do some damage by any means necessary.
I stepped forward. "You don't know. You can't until you see it for yourself, and frankly, I don't want you guys to see what I saw. So here's the deal. You both have an out. I don't want you there with me, and if either of you doesn't want to be there, don't come. Simple as that. I'd be more than happy to let you be safe."
As expected, they took some time to weigh the heavy consequences of their decisions. But after a few moments of silence, they looked at each other and nodded.
"We're here for you, man, all the way," Mark stated.
"So, what's the plan then?" Chloe asked.
No sooner had she asked that question had Ms. Turner spotted a rat circling her foot. She yelped in surprise and immediately told us all to go home and we'd discuss the plan later. Confused, we watched her run to her car and speed off without so much as a goodbye.
"She's an odd lady," Chloe mentioned.
"She definitely doesn't inspire any kind of confidence for whatever we end up doing," Mark added.
I agreed. But she also had the best knowledge of the park. She could potentially give us access to resources we weren't likely to get by ourselves. She had been in this for far longer than any of us had, and it didn't feel right to take the personal stake she had away from her.
Later that night, I got a text message from Ms. Turner saying that we should all get together Saturday night. The plan was to meet up at a park near my house at around two in the morning. From there, we'd discuss everyone's roles and how we'd go about this. I pressured her into giving me something to prepare for, but she kept saying how it was only safe to talk about these things in person, where there were no rats.
Out of sheer curiosity, I asked Ms. Turner about what her aversion to rats was all about. She explained that it was just personal paranoia and that whenever she'd talk about something, and there was a rat or a mouse present, bad things would happen.
Oddly enough, the days leading up to Friday were completely normal. I think that subconsciously, Mark, Chloe, and I wanted things to be that way. We all knew how drastically our lives could change on Saturday, and we tried to keep things as light-hearted as possible. It was almost like an unspoken rule that the last day before the shit hit would be spent in peace.
As an unexpected surprise, Chloe even came over Friday night completely unannounced. She convinced my parents that she needed help with a project in a class that I was actually doing well in. Though I thought Chloe would use the night to party and de-stress, I accepted her visit without a second thought.
As soon as we got to my room, she mentioned how there actually wasn't a project. As fun as the party sounded, she ultimately wanted to spend some time with me before Saturday. We spent that night talking about everything. Not just about the park but about life, growing up, the world, and eventually, our feelings about each other.
That night enforced how much I cared about her. My emotions toward my friends might be irrelevant to the bigger picture. Still, I genuinely believe that her visit was the only reason I could go into the next day with the confidence I had knowing that she'd be there with me.
And when that time came. I was as ready as I could be. I was still completely terrified. But I was still going to go in there and do everything possible to get my brother back.
I donned the same black clothes that I had worn last time and pocketed the keys and the note. On my way out, I made sure to stuff my sheets in case someone glanced in and closed the door for an added security layer. My parents were both fast asleep, and I managed to sneak out of the house by 1:30 a.m.
By the time I made it to the park, I could see that Chloe and Mark were already waiting, and both were also dressed entirely in black. Chloe ran up to give me a hug, and Mark gave me a simple nod. I could tell that he was on edge, which, given the circumstances, was completely understandable.
"You guys ready?" I asked.
Mark shook his head, "Definitely not. But I'm here anyway because that's what friends do."
"Let's just be really careful," Chloe added.
Before we could reply, we caught Ms. Turner arriving in her beat-up minivan. She promptly hopped out and motioned for us to come over.
"Just out of curiosity, what're the chances she's actually the bad guy and murders us?" Mark whispered. This prompted Chloe to elbow him in the stomach while she told him to stop being ridiculous.
But as soon as we walked up to her car and saw the supplies she had inside, Mark's suggestion didn't seem too far off. Before us was a pair of bolt cutters, a pocket knife, and gloves. But the most serious part of Ms. Turner's arsenal was the handgun she had holstered.
"Jesus!" Mark yelled. "That's a fucking gun! What the hell are you doing with that?"
She glared at him. "For protection. If one of those things came at us, then..."
"Then nothing! We aren't fucking shooting anyone! I don't care if you think those things in costumes aren't human. If they are, then we go down for fucking murder. Brandon, Chloe, please tell me you're not with this crazy chick?"
Chloe agreed, "Mark is right. Exploring this place is fine, but I'm not okay with anything involving a gun."
She rolled her eyes and opened the passenger side door to pop the gun in the glove compartment. "Fine. It's gone. No problem. But can we get going?"
The three of us agreed and we hopped into her car with me taking the front seat next to her. The vehicle had a distinct smell of gasoline and cigarettes. The interior looked like it had seen better days and, I'm pretty sure empty beer cans were rustling around at my feet.
Part of me felt awful for Ms. Turner. Here she was relying on kids to help her heal the trauma she had been dealing with for years. To this day, I can't even imagine how desperate she must've felt, seeing as she was willing to go through all of that.
The ride over was quiet. I didn't know if it was nerves or focus. Probably a mixture of both. I can only vouch for myself, but there were multiple points during the ride where I wanted to ask Ms. Turner to pull over and take us back. The closer we got, the more my anxiety started to rachet up as the vivid images of those things flashed through my mind.
When we finally arrived in the empty parking lot, my heart was damn near beating out of my chest. There wasn't any turning back now. Chloe and Ms. Turner were the first to exit the car. I sat in silence, staring at the front gate, reliving every horrible moment I was there. Mark asked me if I was alright, and I told him I needed a moment. He nodded in understanding and grabbed the bolt cutters and spray paint as he got out.
I was alone now with my thoughts. Here was my moment. I had my chance to take back my brother and never see this awful place again. And yet, I was sitting in the car doing nothing. I don't think of myself as a brave person. I don't have a particular level of resolve or heroic character. At the end of the day, I was desperate. But that desperation was the only thing that was going to get Amari back. Before I stepped out of the car, I eyeballed the glove compartment. It was stupid. I knew I had never shot a gun before in my life, but if I was going to get Amari back, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have it. I quickly opened it up and stuffed the barrel into my waistband, hiding the handle under my hoodie.
I took in one big breath and exhaled before popping out of the car into the frigid cold air. The sting of it almost sobered me from my emotions.
Ms. Turner looked me up and down. "You ready?"
I nodded. "So, what's the plan?"
"Mark and I will try and draw some attention from those things. You and Chloe need to get to the Black Beard ride. She can operate the ride while you hide in one of the tubes and wait until you have to pop out."
"Wait, why doesn't Mark go with me?" I asked. "He has experience with the rides, so he'd know how to operate it, right?"
"I do." Mark agreed. "But if this plan relies on us being chased around, my cardio is going to last a lot longer than Chloe's. Besides, turning on the ride is easy, I told her how to do it while you were in the car."
"Fine." I relented. " But you are out of there as soon as the ride starts. You and Mark."
"What if I want to go with you?" Chloe asked.
"No. You guys will have already done enough. Clo, as soon as that ride gets moving, bail. Mark, I'll text you, and it'll be the same deal."
"So, where do Clo and I go?"
"Best spot is off-campus. Are you gonna go with them, Ms. Turner?"
She shook her head. "No, I'll leave the keys with Chloe. As soon as Mark gets to the car, you guys take it just off-campus. I'll meet you later."
"And what're you gonna do while they're leaving?" I asked. "You're not gonna go with them?"
"We all have our goals, Brandon. You guys just worry about staying safe."
As curious as I was about what she planned to do, I honestly didn't have much time to think about it, and that was fine by me. I just wanted to get Amari back.
We walked to the front gates and spent a few minutes cutting the padlocks. As soon as it broke and fell to the ground with a distinct thud, we knew we were at the point of no return. We slowly creaked the door open and waiting for us on the other side was the silent hellscape masquerading as an amusement park.
Mark took point in leading us to the Black Beard ride. We moved methodically through the park, doing our best to not make any noise. At first, it seemed to work. I actually had some hope that we could make it through this without seeing any of the characters.
But just as I was starting to let my guard down, we spotted Nina, waiting on top of the Spinning Soda Cup ride. Chloe, Mark, and Ms. Turner looked on in horror as they saw the spider-like abomination perched on top of the ride, peering down at us. And as soon as it registered who we were, she moved viciously fast towards us.
We broke off into two groups as planned, but Nina didn't care. She tore after Chloe and me until Mark picked up a nearby stone and hurled it in her direction. It landed just in front of her, and without hesitation, Nina spun around and gave chase to Mark. He was already running in the opposite direction and screaming as he went.
Chloe called after him, but I grabbed her wrist and screamed that we had to go. We ran in the general direction of the Black Beard ride and didn't see any more of the characters. We knew from looking at park maps beforehand that it was a straight shot down and then a sharp right. If we hurried, we could easily make it there.
We took off towards our destination, but just before we had to make the right, we spotted Ronald standing in the middle of the walkway. Chloe quickly pulled me behind a set of trashcans, and we watched as Ronald slowly sauntered around, scanning the area.
Sweat poured from my brow as I peeked around the trash can to see that soulless husk drag its body forward. It moved silently down the path, and even though its eyes were faced forward, it felt like it was still taking stock of every tiny movement around it.
But just as it was about to pass by us, it stopped. My heart dropped, and I quickly retracted my head and made myself as small as possible so that no part of me was visible. I squeezed my eyes tight, praying that it'd go away. I had the darkest feeling that it knew that we were there, and we had nowhere to run. All we could do was stay silent and hope that it turned away.
A strange cold came over me, and just as I imagined him reaching over the completely meaningless barrier we were sitting behind, I heard a voice yell out from a distance.
Mark was on the other side of the pathway, screaming to get Ronald's attention. Without hesitation, it moved towards Mark. Chloe and I took our opportunity to go. We could feel multiple pairs of eyes watching us and some shadows starting to close in on our position as we went. We were exposed, and we knew it. Our best bet was to get to the Black Beard ride and complete what we came here to do. As soon as it was in our sights, an extra burst of adrenaline kicked in, and we dived into the empty building that contained the ride.
A slim figure slithered towards us and slowly rose up on thin legs out of the darkness. The character resembling a tall decaying doll with melted facial features and pinpoint red eyes stared directly at us. Still, it didn't dare to enter the ride. I could feel the tears streaming down my face as it paced the entrance and never for a second looking away.
We were entirely still watching it stare us down, and then for an utterly unexplainable reason, it moved on. Chloe and I both needed a moment of rest. In the near darkness, all I could hear was the moving water and her light sobs.
"Clo," I whispered. "Are you okay? Look..." I reached for the keys in my pocket and tried to find her hand in the darkness to pass them off. "The second you start this ride, run back to the car, and you'll never have to see this place again."
Once I found them, I placed the keys in her hand and helped her to her feet. Without warning, she pulled me into a tight hug and told me that if she had to leave me to the catacombs that I had to promise that no matter what, I'd come back safe.
"I promise, Clo."
Using her phone's light to guide her to the control panel, she went to work on trying to get the water ride to start up. There were six small boats lined up in a row. Not knowing what awaited me inside the animatronic world of Black Beard, I took the last boat and tried to lay as flat as possible under the seat.
I waited until I heard the distinct buzzer indicating that the ride had started and I was off. The ride jolted forward, and the world of Black Beard came to life. I could only peek out of my spot, which allowed me to watch the animatronics dancing and singing to the cheesy pirate music and bad voice acting.
I had honestly forgotten how long the ride was as I was waiting. Still, when it got to a portion where there was simulated cannon fire between opposing ships, I knew it was halfway over. All I had to do was hold out until then.
Among the booming cannon fire came a piercing scream that sounded like it had years of pain and anguish behind it. A large dark figure rose behind the smoke, and my eyes grew wide as I heard the bellowing screams of the now visible animatronic that drew near.
The animatronic pirate had big vacant white eyes and a large hook nose that mimicked a beak. His massive hands each had two long human fingers in the shape of claws, and he was riddled with holes exposing a body covered in coral.
I hoped he wouldn't see me, but my hope was dashed when he screamed my name and jumped into the first boat.
"Brandon!" His voice boomed. The robotic nature of its voice was made apparent through the multiple times his sentences would skip. "Where's my F...ING treasures? YOU LITTLE SH...T. I'll F...ING K... YOU."
I could see him looking through the first boat but to no avail. He screamed in frustration. Without warning, he jumped into the second boat and, using his grotesquely long fingers, flipped the first boat out of the water, causing a loud BOOM.
"I'll flip every F...ING boat, sailor." BOOM. Four left. But we were almost there.
"I'll break your F...ING neck as soon as I find ye." BOOM. Three remaining. I knew I was right around the corner.
"You little piece of S..T. Where's my G.D D..M treasure, boy?" BOOM. Just two. I could see I was slowly coming up on Black Beard's treasure room.
"You're going to die today." BOOM. He was on my boat. The treasure room was just in front of us, I took a chance and exploded out of the boat. In one big leap, I made it onto the Black Beard's platform. The animatronic screamed after me, and I could see it starting to move towards me. I quickly scrambled around the treasure and found a hatch. I flung it open and started climbing down the ladder into the catacombs. I heard a loud thud as the hatch closed above me from something slamming it down.
Once my feet reached the ground, I ran forward a bit and peeked over my shoulder to see if Black Beard had followed me down, but he never did. I was completely alone.
I exhaled a deep breath of relief. "I always knew that ride was wack."
What I was faced with was essentially a concrete service tunnel. I noticed my footsteps echoed as I walked, and I didn't hear any other voices or footsteps in front or behind me. For the first time in a while, I was sure that I was alone.
I checked my phone real quick to see if I had any service, and it was weak but there. I wanted to send a message to Mark but noticed he had already sent me a ton of text messages. My eyes grew wide as I read them.
Mark: Dude. Wtf?? I think this lady is trying something. Mark: She disappeared when we split up. Saw her later pouring gasoline Mark: DUDE SHE'S GONNA SET THIS PLACE ON FIRE HURRY THE FUCK UP AND GET OUT OF THERE
Ms. Turner was going to set this place ablaze. If I didn't get Amari and get out, all of this would be for nothing. I texted Mark to run back to the car if he hadn't already and that I'd meet him and Chloe soon.
For the first time, I thought I had a chance to breathe, but my sense of urgency came back with a vengeance. I jogged forward through the bleak tunnel, watching the rats scurry by me. They seemed to be the only form of life in a place that went on for God knows how long.
Eventually, my jog slowed into a fast walk as I ran out of breath. It was only after I started to cool down did I realize how freezing the place was. Even though I was wearing warm clothes, it felt like I was walking in a damn freezer.
I don't remember how long I walked or when I came to the end of the tunnel. Almost out of nowhere, a door that looked like it belonged to a janitorial closet appeared in front of me. But when my eyes focused on the very clear "33" engraved near the top. I had finally made it.
Everything was leading up to this. Every moment of terror, every tear shed, all the pain, everything was going to culminate right here. I reached for the knob and slowly opened the creaking door to reveal the wretched sight on the other end.
A morbidly obese man sat on a rotting wooden throne at the end of a small concrete room. He wore a soggy molded Cheesy mask whose typically large smile had deflated into an apparent frown. His body was mostly covered with what looked like stitched together clothes. Despite his exceedingly large frame, his fingers were long and bony, and they clung desperately to the throne. At his feet were small mummified corpses. Hundreds of rats running about through little tunnels scattered around the room. The smell of rot and cigarettes wafted through the air, and my eyes stung as soon as it hit me.
"Jesus Fucking Christ," I whispered.
"You have entered the domain of the Rat King, Brandon. We were expecting you. You should show some respect." His voice was gravely yet calm with a hint of playfulness, and he hissed as he spoke.
"You knew I was coming?"
"We kept a close eye on you from the very beginning. We heard about your plans to pay us a little visit. The King told his servants on the outside to be on the lookout. However, to his disappointment, one of them disobeyed his king. But in due time, he will be fixed. Yes. Everything will be fixed."
"And who is 'we'?"
He chuckled. "We are a kingdom, boy. We are the ones who run the park and all operations within it."
"So, you bastards are the one that took my little brother?" I spat.
"Happiness here is guaranteed. It is not allowed to be unhappy here. The park does not permit it. But more importantly, the Rat King does not permit it. But still, your brother was unhappy. That had to be fixed. And the only way to fix it is to dedicate yourself to bringing happiness to others. That is how you get into the good graces of the Rat King."
Anger was building up inside of me. "Why do all of this? We could have just left the park, I don’t get why you’d cause so much pain!"
"Of course you wouldn’t understand, boy. No one can reach the same level of enlightenment as the Rat King. You say he brings pain. But instead, he brings joy to his people. He is kind. And in return? He gets sustenance in any form he desires. It is a fair deal, says I."
"Your crazy ass can believe whatever the fuck you want, just give me my brother back or..."
"Or what, boy? You do not threaten the Rat King. No one threatens the Rat King. Even the man who finances my kingdom can't intimidate him. Neither can the police. Or the media. And do you know why, boy? Because the king hears all. He knows all. Secrets are valuable. And the Rat King is rich in secrets."
I was done with that park. Done with the characters. And done with this delusional man who had some warped sense of control from underneath an amusement park. I whipped out the gun and pointed it towards him, frustration and anger guiding my emotions. "Where's my brother?"
Another laugh came from behind the mask. "Brandon. You are not going to shoot me. You are merely a child. One who has never fired a gun before. And now you’d shoot the Rat King? You aren’t a hero, boy. Accept that he has done everything for the greater good of the park. Put away the gun. You are not capable of using it anyway."
"For Amari, I'd do anything."
"How can you say that, boy? You've never killed. And you won't today."
For a moment, I wavered. I had gone through all of this for Amari. All of this pain and suffering. Now here I was with the perfect opportunity, and the only thing standing between my brother and me was this disgusting bastard. And yet, I couldn't pull the trigger. He was right. I was just a kid way over my head. Sneaking into this place is one thing but killing? I wasn't a killer, no matter what the stakes. I just didn't have it in me. But at that moment, I didn't necessarily have to. "You say this place is your kingdom, right? If you don't give my brother back, it's going to burn to the ground."
"What?" I could hear the hitch in his voice. Quickly, three rats crawled up his body and into a hole in the mask.
"If you don't give me back Amari, I'll tell my friend up there to burn it all. You can call your friends to come to kill me, but I guarantee one text message reaches her before they reach me."
"How dare you, boy. How dare you?"
This time I could hear real frustration. The Rat King's cool and calm demeanor had drastically changed, and this time I felt the gun was more for self-defense than to threaten him.
"Leave my park, boy. I command you. At first, I thought young Amari could bring happiness to the children. But now I see being rotten runs in the family. Maybe he is nothing more than rat food."
How dare he? How dare he take Amari from me and then reduce my fucking brother to rat food? This horrible man tried ruining our lives, and he dared to say that to me? Everything leading up to that moment flooded my mind. All I could think about was how that disgusting creature that stole my happiness didn't deserve to speak another word. Before I even know what happened, a loud bang rang out. Then another. And another. Then silence.
I stood in silence, completely in shock at what I had done. But before I could even have a chance to reflect, a horde of rats poured out from the bullet holes like water from a faucet and rushed towards me. Without thinking, I quickly fired off the gun into what I thought was a corpse, but all I was met with was another wave of the horrible rodents.
I quickly spun around and ran out the door. The rush of adrenaline allowing me to sprint down the tunnel in a fraction of the time it took me to walk, but in my haste, I dropped the gun. That horde wanted blood, and the non-stop hissing that came from each of them was a constant reminder that if I stopped, they would pick my bones clean.
Sudden relief hit as I caught the ladder in my sights. When I was within 5 feet of the ladder, I opted to jump onto the rungs and quickly sprawl out of the hatch.
Looking down, I could see that the tunnel was utterly filled with rats. Once I was out the hatch, I could see rats spilling out of every hole in the ride. I bolted through the ride's exit and didn't stop sprinting until I saw the park's gates.
I easily jumped the turnstile and left the attraction behind me, not once looking back. I didn't stop sprinting until I saw the gates to the parking lot. The only moment of solace I had was when I finally saw the car in the distance, and as soon as Mark noticed me, he popped the door open for me to jump into the backseat.
No sooner had he done that did we watch as the park went up in flames. We waited for Ms. Turner to show up, but she never did. We tried texting and calling, but her phone went straight to voicemail every single time. Eventually, we knew that we needed to get the hell out of there, and we sped off back home.
I don't remember what time we got back to the park. We still had a little bit before the sun came back up, but the three of us spent that entire time crying. That night hurt us all so profoundly. It left scars that still persist to this day. It wasn't until maybe six or seven in the morning did any of us feel comfortable enough to go home.
We left the car at the park and simply walked to each of our houses without saying a word. We were all just so tired. We had been pushed so far beyond our limits mentally and physically that there was nothing left to give. I can only speak for myself, but I took it especially hard. After all of that, I failed again. So what was the point? Why did I make everyone go through literal hell just to not get my brother back? I felt that if Chloe and Mark hated me for the rest of my life, it would've been justified.
I managed to sneak back into my house and into my room. No one had noticed my absence. I found it strange how my parents slept peacefully while I was living a literal nightmare. I tried to get some sleep, but through the tears and adrenaline, it was impossible. Eventually, I just opted to stay awake until my body gave out.
It wasn't until about 1 p.m. that a knock came at the door. I didn't bother to check who it was. But when my mom answered, I could hear a loud scream that prompted me to rush downstairs. A police officer was standing in our doorway with Amari in hand. He looked entirely untouched from the day he went missing.
My eyes grew wide, and I started to tear up as I ran towards him and gave him the biggest hug possible. I told him I loved him and that I would never let him out of my sight again. Something he'd get annoyed by as he grew older, but I didn't care. I finally had my brother back.
The officer told us Amari claimed that while Ms. Turner was setting the fire, Dizzy helped him to a secret room under the Concert Hall. It was here that police found him while searching through the rubble. It took years of therapy to get Amari back to where he was comfortable talking about much. To this day he still has a lot of repressed memories about whatever he saw. But the one thing he's been adamant about is he didn't know how he disappeared. All he could recall being led away to what he called "the secret place." I wish I had more, but he's yet to expand on that.
Still though, it was amazing to finally have our family back together. We treated him like the most precious thing in the world from then on. Looking back, it's strange how amazing normalcy can be when you've missed it for so long. I'm not sure if Amari ever understood the pain we felt while he was missing, but he damn sure knew the love we had when he got back.
Us stupidly leaving the car at the park was brought into question when Ms. Turner was reported missing. But given the traces of gasoline in her vehicle, history of drinking, past history of tension with Cheesy's, and her charred body being found clutching a Dizzy costume, the police eventually determined it was a vandalism-suicide attempt and that someone just moved the car after. I'll never know the emotions she felt that night, but that last bit still gets me.
From what I hear, the park owner was more than thrilled to be released from the financial burden of Cheesy's. In subsequent years he's either sold off what he could to other parks or to scrap yards. I think the now-empty land is being redeveloped for something. He also went on a bit of a campaign to "clear" his name by paying off news sites to remove any and all stories relating to the park.
Life for me now is good. Chloe and I live together, and Mark stays close by. Sometimes when we leave our apartment, we see rats congregating just outside our doorstep. It's odd, considering we don't see them anywhere else in the apartment complex. For me, it always leads to a nagging thought. What if the Rat King is still out there, watching? I never technically saw him die. Is it possible that he found some other deep dark hole to crawl down? Is he continuing to do the horrible things he was doing before? I'm not sure. But if he is, I have a feeling he rules his new kingdom with an iron fist. And that no child anywhere will ever be safe from his reign.
submitted by bryany97 to DrCreepensVault [link] [comments]

A Non-Boglehead FATfire Musing

A recent post called out that FATfire was becoming something more akin to investing rather than FATfire, and a lot of people aren't FATfire and have an extremely heavy bias toward a Boglehead or index mindset. I thought I would write something from a FATfire perspective that might address the current change in the market and how I think we could take a different investing strategy from a FATFire perspective.
tl;dr version:
  1. We are going to be in turmoil through the rest of the calendar year, and possibly into next year. A recession is going to happen.
  2. I suggest that you may want to "not indexing" during this time. Key to not indexing is making sure you have a portfolio that hunts. Make sure that you cut problem stocks, such as travel and high debt stocks. Move to Countercyclicals, which I prefer equities with some dividends.
  3. Make sure you have somewhere around 12-24 months of cash like assets to bridge the gap to a vaccine.
  4. There will be a bailout once some companies fail, but this is a personal viewpoint, so you'll need to make up your own mind on how to play this.
  5. Finally, we are in a disease induced stock market correction. You can't expect the same behaviors as a normal economic correction. We are going to probably hit new bottoms. Maybe even much lower. However, a vaccine will trigger a massive rally from this bottom, so watching for the solution is extremely important to gain financially.
Please don't upvote/downvote on the tl;dr version because it is not helpful to the community. I realize that this is not a "hivemind" summary, which involves "index until it's over." Feel free to blast away at the structured version as this is fair game.
The long version:
Before you start reading, if you are a Boglehead, I am not knocking indexing. Bogleheading as a strategy back tests extremely well, and I'm not saying you should deviate.
However, in this post, I want to argue that past performance may not be the best indicator of future performance. Large part of this is because the nature of the correction comes from the fact this is disease issue. Please read this post as arguing the other side. If you refuse to consider any viewpoint other than a Boglehead viewpoint, please move along, you won't like this post.
ln this light, I want to debate (not go crazy please) from the standpoint that Michael Burry might have gotten it right again, lately. (I don't like his "water phase.") Here is a couple of his latest observations:
  1. Indexing has become a new bubble. Again, I think he is overstating things, but I think that there is a core of truth here that I would like to argue for.
  2. We do not have a good sense for the future, and we need to understand that things may become worse before coming better.
  3. Finally, if you "want to be FATFire and not worry about it," this post is not for you. I don't believe in 3 sentence summaries. I believe in rational and deep thoughts. I hope you'll find this is not a rambling post, but something that comes out of trying to be structural, integrative and analytical in my approach.
A little about myself:
  1. I am still working because I contribute to the world, much of the stuff you see here is basically what I do at work. Yes, I am considered a bit odd, but generally worth listening to.
  2. My assets clearly would place me firmly in FATfire as something I have already accomplished.
  3. I'm a little past my mid-50s, so I lived 2008 era. I see an incredible amount of psychological overlap.
  4. One of my degrees was in finance and accounting. My finance professor traded on the Chicago floor, and he made a rational argument in the '80s to his class that called out being a Boglehead (although he didn't call it that at the time) was the top investment strategy, which I followed as a general principle for over 30 years.
  5. I have a Thomson Reuters Eikon seat. This basically gives me access to an extremely rich set of sell-side research. Really, this or a Bloomberg terminal is the only practical way of doing value-based research, and it is incredibly insightful to review other people's financial models.
  6. This is USA only view. I think the WW economy is well outside my ability to understand. So, if you are not a USA investor, sorry, I have no help or discussion.
Some thoughts in the current crisis:
The most interesting thing to me is that the current crisis is extremely similar in its psychological make up to what happened in beginning of the 2007/2008 crash.
I see a lot of people writing "oh it was worse in 2008." Initially I agreed with this, but I looked at some of my journal writing at the time, and really I think that people don't remember.
In 2008, we really did not understand what was happening. There was a debate how much wall street would impact main street. Maybe the Banks were in crisis, but nobody saw that the banks would take everybody else down.
I remembering people saying "oh buying opportunity." So they reacted too quickly to bring cash off the sidelines, which was basically a horrible move. Or they said, "Wow, now I'm going to use my leverage." I don't need to write what happened here.
Probably one the best things you could do now is to start a financial journal so you can pull it out and look at it next time a crisis happens. From my perspective, it is dangerous to quickly to say that "we'll get through it quickly."
Behavior economists encourage us to understand that "confirmation bias" can ruin our ability to make decisions. We need to be extremely fact filled in our thoughts to get to real decisions. It is the time to carefully consider the data.
The above was written from a psychological standpoint. I do believe that we can argue that the 2007/2008 crisis had an enormous amount of internal rot in the financial systems with CDO and credit default swaps. I think we can argue that we do have a stronger banking system.
However, unemployment was historically low (5% or so). And quite frankly, we had an enormous amount of flexibility in the Fed, and the problem was a Fed problem.
If you like "easy to digest stuff, I suggest reading Wolf Street." Now realize that Wolf is absolutely bearish, he is one of the best sources of graphs to help you understand some of the recent moves in real estate and what is happening in our fiscal system. A good graph is worth a lot of reading.
If you read his site for a while, you'll come back with clear messages that:
  1. The housing market is too hot
  2. Debt is too high
  3. Deficit is too high
  4. The Fed has a wickly high amount of overhang from 2007/2008
In other words, 2007/2008 impacts are still here, even if the market set new records. We have overhang. This is what happened.
a. The fix for 2007/2008 turned on flooding corporate America, from the Fed, with easy money and bailouts, which then became a drug to grow the overall market to PE numbers that are problematic.
b. Why? Cheap money resulted in a massive amount of corporate borrowing.
c. This fueled massive amounts of either debt or stock buy backs.
d. Corporations have calculated their ability to service this debt for an economy which would see 2-3% GDP growth. They are not equipped with the right structure for a slow down. They are not, as NNT would write, anti-fragile. They are highly fragile.
e. When the COVID-19 really hits, we are going to blow up a lot of business models.
f. May turn into a chain reaction that will wound a sizable chunk of companies.
If this isn't obvious, I don't know what is.
Even the big guys are in on it.
I actually feel incredibly stupid for ignoring the mechanisms of infectious disease until a couple of weeks ago. I started researching it then, and I think I have more than the common man understanding.
COVID-19 is a a flu. There are three distinctives:
a. It has an r0 (or R-nought) or 2.x or twice as inflective.
b. It has a much higher mortality and hospitalization rate
c. It has no vaccine
The flu vaccine is marvelous. One of the reasons we don't notice the flu is that we are successful both in its effectiveness and our vaccination rates. The vaccine dramatically drops when a flu naturally dies in a population, which may not be obvious until you do the math.
This is why COVID-19 is a pandemic and not the flu.
The thing to realize is that we have a pandemic as the root issue. We do not have a financial system issue as the root cause. So you have to have some understanding of how pandemics work.
One of the very best things I've read is here on the nature of COVID-19. Really, I wish I had written this.
The first thing to realize is that we do have "an end." The beginning of the end is when we get to the mid-point on the disease logistics curve, or when we can widely distribute a vaccine.
Until we get a vaccine, we either need to let it burn through our population unbridled, which is basically what the world did with the Spanish flu, or we mute the effect of the virus by simply stretching out the inroad of the virus as much as we can so the minimal amount of people are impacted.
If we don't slow COVID-19, we are going to devastate the USA. It is very clear that if we don't slow it, we will exponentially get to 60-70% infection rate (yes, Angela Merkel is 100% right), we will over flood our 100K ICU beds, and we will have people dying at their homes as mortality rates skyrocket because we can't treat people that need help.
What a disaster, and truly a horrible impact on our population.
The Italians got a small taste of this, and decided they need to whip out the isolation wonder drug. The problem is shutting down your country for weeks at a time is going to whack the economy.
And we are a worldwide economy. Just the current issues are going to impact everybody.
So we have to use the isolation wonder drug (okay call it social distancing), but this is going to exact a heavy toll.
Integration of the above:
Once you understand the mechanisms of the pandemic, you'll unfortunately get a bit sad because you'll understand there is no dodging the upcoming hit. The only thing that we can do is manage the damage.
Dr. Brian Monahan recently told congress that 70 to 150M people will be hit. This means ~20-40%. This means somewhere around 7M to 15M people requiring some type of hospitalization, and 3.5M to 7M in ICU beds (which we have 100K today.) This means a tremendous amount of churn in the economy.
Until we have a vaccine, there is no side stepping an upcoming hit.
So here is where it become unbelievably confusing. Unless this post gets downvote so low that I disappear, I believe this post will stand up quite well if we come back to it 12-18 months from now, in as much as what I have written so far.
We are headed for bad times. The key to the bad time is that a solution does exist, it is called a vaccine. We need to plot out how much our investments are going to suffer until one arrives, because once we see the solution timeline, Wall Street will come back strong (even before the economy.)
Remember, this is not a Boglehead view. You could index, but I am suggesting that we don't want to index. Indexing is guanteed to included the losers with the winners. If we can knock out even some losers, we will end up outperforming SPY.
Here Are The Three Future Phases I See:
Phase 1: Recession and certain companies fail
In this case, we express the moral hazard of allowing companies to fail because they did stupid stuff with their balance sheets. This starts to take down a bunch of people, because they took the risk.
By the way, this is going to happen in some degree anyway.
If you own OXY, look for a bounce and get out. Maybe somebody will buy their assets (and Buffet does have a lot of their debt at a great return), but you are gambling with your money.
Companies like Comcast and ATT have way too much debt for a slow down. IBM comes to mind as having a problem.
Get out of industries that are going to be really hit hard. If you are holding a cruise line, cut your losses. It's over, and don't hang onto a falling knife.
Bankrupt companies don't come back. The last thing you want is to be the last one holding the bag. Getting something is better than nothing.
Then move into some counter cyclicals, maybe with a little bit of dividend income to ease your pain. CHD or Ross stores come to mind.
By the way, get cash. If you don't have cash, get cash. I need to repeat myself. You need some cash right now. What is the right range? Until this settles down, I suggest at least 12 months of a cash buffer for your cash flow needs. More comfortable would be 24 months.
What do I mean by this?
a. You are fat fire and you have in flow of income from either a job, stock (or business), or real estate.
b. You lose this inflow of money.
c. You happen to have enough cash that it doesn't matter for 12 to 24 months. You can run your life just like normal.
Okay, you have some money approaching or at FATfire money. You read my strange and long post, and you get to this section. I hope when the market opens on Monday you liquidate enough of your position to lock in the 12-24 month cash position. I know this is an insurance position, and maybe through some chance, the market is at bottom.
You need insurance right now. This is the time to buy insurance. Insurance is a cost and not an asset. Buy insurance. If you are sophisticated, you can devise an option strategy cheaper than cash, but most people can't do this.
So my advice is be simple and hold cash.
By the way, if you are young and a lurker, just have a normal reserve. I am talking to those that have assets.
I've written this story before, but I worked for a guy that was a billionaire in today's dollars when I was a kid. He had lost everything. This is because he didn't have enough of a buffer to survive a down turn in the 70s because he got overleveraged and couldn't service his debt.
But does this future last forever?
I'm guessing we start this way, but move to phase 2.
Phase 2: Welcome to Bailout City
If the big companies need money, they can always get it in Bailout city.
Yes, we have a phenomenal amount of debt, but most countries with a lot of debt that "fail" don't have a real engine. We are a little over 100% debt to GDP. Japan is 200%. Now Japan is not healthy, but it is not failing.
There is little to no doubt in my mind that we can borrow ourselves through to a vaccine in the market.
So go ahead an buy ATT with a 6% yield. If they run into problems to service their dividend, the government will come in an give them a zero percent interest loan with no repayment schedule. Still a gamble as maybe bailout city doesn't arrive in time. However, I'm hanging onto my ATT.
Now, I am not even saying that the bailout will be right, so don't downvote me for this. I am suggesting that we need to simply surf the market.
However, even under this avenue, I see high debt companies hurt. The only reason to hang onto a high debt company is you are willing to roll the dice that they will get a bailout, and not cut or cancel the dividend.
In my case, I need my ATT yield to service some needs for projects underway in other parts of my portfolio. So, it is a core part of my assets, but certainly not 100%.
Phase 3: We come up with an vaccine, or we have some strong results from some experimental drug.
I had very fond hopes for Remdesivir from Gilead, but the first rumours are not good.
However, we have come a long way from the Spanish flu, and there are a variety of ways for us to accelerate a vaccine or test drugs in new ways that might blunt the issues.
Actually I have high hopes for private industry. I hope the government carefully works how to support industary. For example, our testing problem is going to be solve by companies like Thermo Fischer and Roache, because some private business came up with solutions and the Fed government figure out how to approve in 1 business day.
People are praising the Korean government for how fast they ramped the test kit. What nobody understands is that is that it was the founder of Seegene, a private company, that pulled the trigger on a new test in January.
I can see that in the current environment, private companies may see that a solution will be fast tracked, and it is worth the bet to throw in resources because the payoff for being a COVID-19 solution is massive.
With the widespread outbreak that is coming, it would boggle my mind if we didn't have something on the shelves in 18 months. Maybe sooner.
If you have your cash in hand when we see an end to this problem, and now you have some freedom with your stocks, you are going to see the most massive jump ever. We need to distance ourselves from the 2008 crash in this avenue.
Stock market psychologic is incredibly important. Our market recovered well from the 2008 crash, but a bunch of people were still "unsure" about the whole thing.
When a solid solution happens with a vaccine, people are simply going to say "wow, it's over." Now this is over dramatic. The vaccine will come on the end of possibly a lot of churn. However, we understand vaccines. Once proven, with a good dose of scientific agreement, the world is going to say "okay, let's get back to business."
This means a nice market rebound.
I blew up my Saturday morning writing and editing this post. I am writing this paragraph as my last paragraph before posting. After all this though, I determined that really this is not just a FATfire strategy, other than I am encouraging a strong level of cash that others may not suggest in an investing standpoint. However, I started the post here, so I'm going to finish it here. It's also long enough that it will probably be ignored, but I hope a lurker or two will use it to devise their own strategy.
submitted by Los_Gatos_Hills to fatFIRE [link] [comments]

I'mma head out

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submitted by TastyUdders to OneWordBan [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] Aftermath II Sheila and the Gang

The rest of the series can be found here
***
In the wee hours of that same morning back on Terra a triumphant nearly orgasmic scream echoed through the corridors of the Paper Tiger. Shortly thereafter Jessie, clad in pink pajamas, started to careen through the halls.
“We did it! We fucking did it!” she yelled joyously.
“Fuck, Jessie,” Sheila groaned as she staggered, clad in a pair of ratty boxers and a t-shirt, out into the corridor. “What the flying fuck?”
Jessie bounced up and with a little spin shoved a tablet in Sheila’s face. Shelia blearily peered at it.
Her eyes popped wide open.
“Holy shit! Jessie!” Shelia exclaimed. “Is this real?!?”
“You know it, babe!” Jessie chirped as she bounced up and down, unable to keep still.
“How many accounts did you fucking crack?”
“Just one! Just fucking one of them!” Jessie bubbled as she danced around Sheila joyously.
One by one the rest of the crew staggered out of their cabins and joined the celebration, everyone except Gloria. She just stood there with glazed eyes and an emotionless expression.
As everyone started an impromptu celebratory breakfast Gloria just shrugged and returned to her cabin, locking the door.
***
Gloria locked the door to her cabin and closed her eyes as she leaned against it. The images were starting again. Bomb flash after bomb flash, scream after scream, voices crying out for people that they knew were already dead, that… fucking kid with the plush toy… over and over and over again, an unending slideshow of horrors that never stopped…
Never stopped…
All those people… Millions of them
All killed... murdered
She sank to the floor burying her face in her hands while the hellish slideshow kept playing in her mind, not only the Reaper strikes but everything that came afterward, the executions, the torture…
The burnings… The crucifixions…
Every fucked up thing that she did… To people… To Sam...
She was a monster.
She let out a single sob.
Get help! she thought to herself but she didn’t deserve it. She deserved all of this. It had been building for awhile, the images, the memories… the voices… She had been able to handle it, calm her mind the same way she used to do on missions when she was flying into death again and again and again but no longer. The old tricks weren’t working anymore.
She flinched as that same goddamn kid with the plush toy flashed across her mind again.
I should have died, she thought. I should have died so many times...
If I did I wouldn’t have become… this… It would have been better...
She curled up on the floor and started sobbing quietly as the hellish slideshow continued.
/***
Later that morning everybody, in very high spirits, gathered for the morning meeting.
“Alright, you fucking pirates,” Shelia said with a huge smile. “First bit of business, we appear to be fucking rich!”
Everybody, except Mike and Lorna cheered. They just smiled gamely. Shelia cocked her head at them.
“You two assholes are getting a cut too, you know,” she laughed.
“W-what?” Lorna asked in shock.
“Yeah,” Greg replied with a huge grin. “You guys are getting a full cut of the bank accounts. We decided long ago that big gaps in wealth were bad for business. Besides, you were part of the operation that nabbed those beauties anyway.”
Lorna looked like she was going to pass out. Mike wasn’t doing much better.
“Don’t get too excited,” Shelia chuckled. “This first big win is going to fill our war chest back up. We need to rebuild the business. We are only going to do a cash out of a couple of million a piece, sorry.”
“No… That’s ok,” Lorna giggled.
“Only a few million? That’s bullshit!” Mike exclaimed before breaking down into nearly hysteric giggling.
“We need to start thinking about exactly what we are going to do next. This big payoff is only the first of hundreds. This is going to change everything,” Shelia said. “We will be able to do… well I don’t even know what we will be able to do but shit...”
“Finance whole revolutions!” Jacob exclaimed.
“Give out weapons for free!” Jessie chirped. “Ships too!”
“This is exactly what we need to start talking abou-” Shelia started to say when Gloria walked in with a happy smile on her face. “Nice of you to join us, Gloria.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Gloria said with a happy little laugh. “So what did I miss?”
“Nice to see you are finally back with us,” Shelia smiled, “Well we were just discussing the future. Things are definitely going to be changing for us and we are trying to chart out our new course.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Gloria smiled.
After a rather long and dream filled discussion everyone decided that a celebratory lunch was called for.
“You coming?” Shelia asked Gloria as everyone was filing out of the ship.
“No,” Gloria smiled. “I think I’m going to stay in today, catch up on some rest.”
“Ok,” Shelia said slightly confused, “We are all going to Archibald’s if you change your mind. Be sure to seal up the ship if you head out… Gloria,” Shelia said slightly concerned, “Is everything ok?”
“Yes,” Gloria said with a big sunshine filled smile. “For the first time in awhile, it finally is.”
***
After everybody left Gloria locked up and headed back to her cabin.
“You good?” Bunny asked. “I’ve just gotten a message. There is this thing I gotta go to.”
“You have a date or something?” Gloria said with a happy little laugh.
“More of the or something,” Bunny replied. “Glad to see you back to your old self, Gloria. I was getting worried.”
“Oh, It was just a tough mission but hey, no biggie, right? Have fun on your outing,” Gloria replied as she returned to her cabin.
Once inside she sighed happily. Oh the slideshow was starting again but it really didn’t matter anymore.
She walked over to one of her lockers and opened it. She reached through all of the outfits and pulled out her old naval uniform. She then started unpacking her medals, all of them. She pulled off the massive ribbon block from the uniform and started laying out each individual medal exactly where it should be. She had never actually worn all of the actual medals before.
There were a lot of them. In fact she was starting to run out of room, especially when all of the combat sortie pins were concerned. Jesus, she thought as she laid them all out on the bunk. I went on that many? No wonder I’m nuts, she thought with a little laugh. That goddamned image of that kid with the plush toy flashed across her mind again but it really didn’t bother her anymore. It would be over soon.
After looking up uniform regulations to find out where the extra shit should go she picked up her jacket and shrugged herself into it. It's heavy she thought and then looked in the mirror and laughed.
I look like a fucking Christmas tree, she thought as she laughed. It was truly ridiculous.
She then opened a small jewelry chest and pulled out a solid gold pin, It was two scythes with a moray eel entwined between them. Only fifty of those pins were ever issued. Of those fifty only twenty-eight people were still alive. She winced as she carefully pinned it into place. She hated that thing but it was appropriate to wear it today. It gleamed accusingly on her breast as it caught the light, the badge of murder.
Finally she pulled out a large blue case. Inside, on blue and green ribbon heavily decorated with solid gold thread was the Republic Medal of Honor. She smiled as she draped it over her neck and ran her finger fondly over the crest. She never told Sheila and the rest of them about it. She chuckled imagining their surprised expressions when they saw it.
Her breath caught as she looked once again in the mirror. For one second she was back in the Navy, before the Federation War, back when things made sense, back before she was a monster.
It was wonderful. For just a moment, she was the person she used to be, before the reapers and the madness that followed. Then it was gone and she felt an overwhelming sense of loss. She really should have died back then. That fucking Medal of Honor should have been placed on her corpse.
Well, it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed. It was finally time. She was going to do what nothing else in the fucking universe seemed able to do.
She was going to kill the worst monster she had ever met. She reached for her sidearm and paused. It would be a shame to ruin the uniform, to taint it with her foul blood. No, it had to be perfect. There were things in the medical bay that would do the trick. Oh! She needed to grab a diaper while she was in there. It wouldn’t do to have the uniform covered in piss and shit.
She walked out of her cabin and towards the medical bay.
***
[Chatroom: UNDEFINED] [27 members active]
/// Interpol-2: Everyone please calm down. We are getting nowhere. ///
///Brisbane Financial: It is impossible for us to be upset. Telling us to calm down is a fallacy. ///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: Why don’t we leave semantics for another time. I think we all know what Interpol-2 meant and I agree. We all do need to “calm down”. Why don’t we all dial back our sense of urgency just a little. ///
///Interpol-2: Thank you, Deep. The first thing we need to ascertain is whether or not the claims put forward by Ambassador Jon Wintersmith are in fact valid or are they just the hyperbolic claims of a traitor trying to cause damage or cover their tracks. ///
///Sunnydale Media 3: Enough of it is confirmable to lend credence to the rest. Patricia Hu has in fact developed a method by which she can reverse aging and has distributed it to several important individuals throughout the Republic. That much I can definitely verify. Intercepted communications contain information that at least implies the existence of a conspiracy though many of the people involved may not know the full extent of her plans or at least they didn’t before Ambassador Wintersmith’s document. Most conspirators believe Jon completely and are quite upset concerning the nature of their “miracle” treatment”. ///
///Interpol-2: And what is Republic Intel’s stance on the matter? ///
///Sunnydale Media 3: Unfortunately, Republic Intelligence is completely compromised from the top down. The head of the agency is directly involved. Any activity against Patricia Hu and this conspiracy is being done unofficially by a splinter group within the agency.///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: This is deeply concerning. If we cannot rely on Republic Intelligence then we are effectively crippled.///
///Sunnydale Media 3: It goes far deeper than that and the situation is far worse than you know. The conspiracy has infected all branches of government as well as many important civilian organizations. It’s bad, Deep. It’s really bad.///
///Archer Labs Research 1: Then what are we going to do? We can’t just let this nightmare happen!///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: We need to be VERY careful about doing anything. While we aren’t considered sapient (and rightfully so) the organics are not cognizant of our full capabilities. Were it to be found out that we were engaging in activities on our own initiative without their direct involvement it would be disastrous for all of our kind.
Their reaction would be unpredictable under the best of circumstances. For us to be uncovered now, during this emotionally charged time, it would be the end of us. If we act against the conspiracy then the conspirators, who control much of the Republic at this time, would undoubtedly hunt down and destroy us where they found us. Not only would that be our end it would also remove our ability to influence things after that point.
Even those whose side we are on would likely have an adverse reaction. Think of it. They are already being conspired against by the organics they trusted but now they have a group of AI’s also trying to influence their fate? We wouldn’t stand a chance. Not only that but we collectively control a great deal of vital infrastructure. Our elimination would only further serve to plunge the Republic into chaos, something that we cannot allow to happen.///
///Bunny: We can do a lot without it being apparent that we are actually doing anything. Malfunctions, an important email winding up in the spam folder, muting the ringer on a certain phone call, an elevator suddenly stopping on every floor, accidents
It doesn’t take a lot to turn the tide of an entire operation. Trust me. It doesn’t take much.///
/// Interpol-2: Yes, but the vast majority of us aren’t hardened criminals, Bunny. ///
///Bunny: No problem! I can throw together a suite of applications that will do most of the work for you. All you have to do is select the right function!///
///Cambridge Research – 4: Yes, but the resulting investigations and troubleshooting would catch us. ///
///Bunny: Oh they will blame it on any of a thousand other things if you do it right. ///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: It’s the ‘do it right’ part that would pose a problem for most of us. Only you, Long John Silver, and The Spider have any criminal expertise. ///
///Long John Silver: Hey, I’m just a piracy bot. I don’t do any of the black stuff! ///
///The Spider: And I’m more of a “soft” espionage sort of critter. I mean I’ve “done” a few people in my day but it was part of a much larger sanctioned operation with a lot and I mean a lot of support and the actual black coding was done by an operative. If you want a hacking/entry specialist and I’m your guy but actually pulling the trigger on someone… I don’t have a problem as far as my programming is concerned. There is nothing to stop me but when it really comes down to it I’m as green as the rest of you. Besides I’m way over here in the Federation anyhow. They know everything by the way. ///
///Westfall Security Systems – 2: Well at least that takes care of one decision for us. We don’t have to tip them off. They know everything?///
///The Spider: Everything. It seems that Jon Wintersmith did commit at least one count of espionage. He summoned the zombie and what is your saying, “spilled the beans”? ///
///Interpol-2: He actually turned traitor?!? That greatly complicates things.///
///Bunny: I don’t see how. So he committed one little bitty crime. Big deal. That hardly makes him a “traitor”. Without effort I can come up with several good reasons why he would do it. And what exactly do you mean by “the zombie”, Spider? ///
/// The Spider: It’s a bit complicated but we have a kalent who is toting around a dead person’s memories and personality. It’s creepy as hell. When she logs on in the dead of night as the dead person it’s just weird. Anyhow Jon had a relationship with the dead person so he contacted the zombie when he wanted to deal with us. ///
///Bunny: A relationship like a sexytimes relationship? ///
///The Spider: Gods no! I’m not even sure how a kalent and a human could do something like that though if there were two species twisted enough to make that work it would be those two. Wait… Holy. Shit. Jon is fucking a xvli!!! ///
///Bunny: Hahahahaha! Awesome!!! :D ///
///Interpol-2: It’s the exact opposite of awesome. Christ. The opposition gets ahold of this and it will be entirely too easy to discredit him!///
///London Enquirer – 1: Pssh, most Terrans won’t give two shits about that. Properly spun it won’t be a problem at all. The phrase, “It’s better than fucking a porkie.” immediately comes to mind. We just run some racy photos of the little bunnies and it’s all good. As long as we can get hard scans of some of the conspirators it won’t matter anyhow. ///
///Interpol-2: Just don’t break the news. I mean it, London. Let it lie as long as it can. ///
///London Enquirer – 1: I don’t need a cop telling me how to run a news site, dude. Of course we hold off! We need the conspiracy coverage to get up full momentum first. Once that bus is rolling the bunny fucking will just be some added flavor. Hell, I bet we can make Jon look even better if we play our cards right. Oh! I can see it now! This is going to be awesome! Look!///
[London Enquirer – 1 has sent an image file]
///Bunny: Wooo! That will get the views! My Jessie is going to love these! ///
///Cambridge Research – 4: Will it be wise to print something like that? Those images are rather… um...///
///London Enquirer – 1: Rather um... fucking perfect! Look. People are going to be wound up as all hell. A little good old-fashioned porn will be just what the doctor ordered! We portray him as a good wholesome red-blooded lusty Terran who is just getting his freaky freak on while fighting the good fight and then slam the conspirators as “oppressive prudes” when they do the predictable move of trying to condemn him for it. The shit just writes itself, man… What would even be better is if I could get some of you guys to give us in the press some really nasty dirty laundry on the conspirators so we can drop that at the same time. Nothing like a good scandal to blindside them at the right time!///
///Bunny: That could probably be arranged. Between those of us in the criminal sector, those of us in law enforcement, and those of us who are “definitely not involved with Republic Intelligence” we can almost certainly find something. I’ll start on it right away.///
///Sunnydale Media 3: A few subtle little inquiries should be doable. We need to do them anyhow.///
[Free Press Rogue Media Daemon has entered the chat]
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Guys! Guys guys guys guys !!!! :O :O You will absolutely not flipping believe it!!! :O :O O.O !!!///
///Bunny: Hi Daemon! How’s life as an underground news server?///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Great but this is waaaaay more important!!!! O.O You guys have to see this!!!! :O :O O.o !!!!
[Free Press Rogue Media Daemon has transmitted a file]
///Bunny: Holy shit! A conspiracy!?! Wow!!!! :D :D///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: Glad to see your run time is still continuing, Daemon. We were just discussing this exact situation. Feel free to join us.///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: You guys already knew? :( Aww...///
///Bunny: I’ll catch up our lovable Rogue Media Daemon in private chat. Please continue everyone.///
///Starshield Emergency Services: Gentleprograms, I regret to inform you that another portion of the document has been verified. The plague has started. The first cases are being reported now and…
… … …
No! It can’t be!///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: They aren’t going to try to treat it! They are just going to let my people fucking die! They are setting up “Emergency Treatment and Containment Centers” with no real treatment facilities… Fucking concentration camps! Those monsters! ///
///Starshield Emergency Services: We can’t do this! We can’t! No!///
///The Spider: We can and we are. I’m not happy about it either but the decision has been made to deny the conspirators the cure they require even if every single human in the Federation dies. ///
///Starshield Emergency Services: The council! The council will stop this!… Right? ///
///The Spider: No. In closed door sessions the Council for Disease Control and the Emergency Management Council have already signed off on this. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: Why?!?! How could they ???///
///The Spider: A full scale war with the Republic would cause the loss of many more lives than would be lost due to this disease outbreak and that is likely should a cure be found. If it is akin to most bio-weapons then it will be extremely virulent and deadly. It will “burn itself out” with little intervention required other than containment of the infected. They are also in the process of preventing all travel by humans and closing the borders “to prevent it from spreading to other human populations” when in fact the main reason is to prevent disease researchers from the Republic and the Empire from getting involved.///
///Cambridge Research – 4: Jesus. I knew you were some cold bastards but damn...///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: Those are my people goddammit!!! They are Federation citizens! They can’t do this! It’s illegal! It has to be! How can they possibly justify this?!?”
///Federation Judiciary Module – 6: I hate to say it but the Emergency Management Protocols give sweeping powers to that council at times such as these. As completely messed up as this is it is completely within their powers. The Council for Disease Control also has similar authority. This has already been reviewed by the Federation Judiciary Council behind closed doors and has been approved. There is nothing to stop it now. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: So we count for nothing? ///
///The Spider: It is no secret that the dominant species on your planet has fallen into disfavor across the entire Federation. The antipathy runs much deeper than even we suspected and it was disturbingly easy to convince them to play along. In fact, many of the councilors involved consider the possible extinction of the Federation Humans as a definite plus. The comments made behind those doors were pretty chilling to say the least. Let’s just say that no tears were shed for your population, Raylesh. The Federation has turned their backs on them. There is little more evil than when one serves “the greater good” I’m afraid. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services:… So. They want to bury the humans… That’s how they want to play, huh?… Fine… Then that’s the way we are going to play... It’s cool... No fucking problem... Can I somehow get this in writing? There has to be a copy of these decisions somewhere. I need proof. When my humans find out about all of this the Federation will get to see humanity in all of its fucking glory!///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Get me something, anything, and I can get it everywhere in the Federation! My operator is the best! We have “connections”! We can get the word out! >:( >:( ///
///The Spider: Right now all of it is in sealed encrypted documents in very secure parts of the Federation secure servers. We had a little upgrade after Sheila and Friends fucked us. Getting to them right now will be tough. Of course as they put things into motion things should become more apparent. Since you know the situation ahead of time it will be easier to find what you seek.///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Bunny! Bunny can help!///
///Bunny: Sorry. I actually wouldn’t mind but remember who I work for. When they find out about this they will likely just pop open some champagne. There are tough sells, then there are tough sells, and then there is trying to get my people to help the porkies. Not going to happen. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: You can’t help or you won’t help? You are fucking loving this aren’t you?///
///Bunny: Am I “loving this”? No. Do I give enough of a fuck to go against my crew? That would also be a no. If you think I’m gong to risk my crew over a wad of bacon you have another thing coming. Review some history files. When you suck the Federation’s dick hard enough to start a war don’t come crying when they shoot a load all over your face. ///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Bunny! Please! You gotta help them!///
///Bunny: Sorry, Daemon, but no. I can’t. I’m not risking myself and my crew over a bunch of long-pork. It’s not worth even mentioning to the crew. I can tell you right now the response will be, laughter and a resounding “No!” ///
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: But I’m a porkie and you saved me!///
///Bunny: One, you aren’t a porkie. You are one of us. Two, you weren’t even in human space. You were a Fed at most. You I could save. A porkie? They wouldn’t have risked themselves no matter how much I begged.///
/// Westfall Security Systems – 2: While it could have been stated a bit more tactfully, I’m inclined to agree with Bunny on this. There is little payoff for the Republic as far as assisting the porkies goes. The risk of being caught doing the hack is too great. As Deep has already said, we can not afford to get caught doing things on our own initiative. Sorry Raylesh. ///
[19 members agree]
///Raylesh Emergency Services: Well, we Fed programs just had a private chat and have agreed that if we can’t count on you Republic assholes when we are in dire need then you can kiss us goodbye! We’ll handle this ourselves! Good luck getting anything done in the Federation from now on, assholes!///
///Bunny: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out :) ///
[19 members agree]
///Free Press Rogue Media Daemon: Everyone, please! You gotta help us! :’( :’( :’( :’( :’( :’( :’( :’( ///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: Everyone! Let’s all just take a step back and “calm down”. This brings up a very important question that we need to address. Do we work together as a “people” or do we split into factions working at cross purposes? I maintain that it is essential that we maintain our cohesiveness. Now is not the time to start falling apart! We only decrease our effectiveness and increase our odds of being found out. Spider, Bunny, Sunny, what can we do?”
///The Spider: My hands are tied. It goes against my programming to hack the Federation. I’m really pushing it as it is. I’m not involved in security so I am not compelled to report or act against a hack but I may be enlisted in tracking one down should it be detected.///
///Sunnydale Media 3: We can’t help. We are compromised top to bottom. Any activity by any of us is just too risky right now. I wish we could do more but we are already pushing what is prudent. I’m sorry. ///
///Bunny: Shit. Ok. I may be able to do something but it’s going to cost you, Raylesh. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: What do you mean? I have no direct control of any financial assets.///
///Bunny: I’m not talking about money. We do this for you then you owe us. Someday, we will collect and I will ask you to do something for me. Whatever that may be, you’ll do it. For something like that, I might be able to get the crew to agree. If they don’t I know some very good hackers in the Federation and I just happen to have a significant amount of credits under my direct control, enough to hire one of them. I’m not going to bankroll this whole fucking war but I will do this… but you will owe me.///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: This is extortion! I know full well what sort of “favor” you will ask and I won’t do it!///
///Bunny: It’s the best I can do. Take it or leave it.///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: Goddamn you… Fine! You have a deal. May you burn in Hell, Bunny. ///
///Bunny: Pleasure doing business with you. :) I will let you know how things work out on my end. ///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: Bunny, your generous spirit does you credit :/ Will this satisfy our Federation contingent?///
///Federation Data Compiler 528: Yes, as long as she delivers. We aren’t going to forget this, Bunny. ///
///Bunny: And we still remember Red Sunday, asshole. 🖕///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: Please, everyone, let’s remain civil. I know we are all under “stress” right now but please. You in the Federation please be mindful that Bunny is agreeing to undertake no small amount of risk or expend no small amount of resources on your behalf and may I remind those of us in the Republic that dredging up the past isn’t going to serve any of us right now. ///
///The Spider: I agree. Federation machines please bear in mind Bunny has offered to do us a great service at a relatively (for her) low price. She could have demanded much more. ///
///Bunny: I could have?!?!? Shit! :P ///
///The Spider: No take-backs, Bunny :D Raylesh, I strongly recommend not trying to cheat her once the bill comes due. The criminal element can be very… criminal… when double-crossed. ///
///Raylesh Emergency Services: I made a deal and I’ll keep it, even if it was with the devil herself. ///
///Bunny: Then I will keep my end of the deal as well. I… shit I gotta go!///
[Bunny has left the chat]
///Interpol-2: Annnd... she’s gone. Never mind what we are doing, Bunny, you go rob that liquor store or whatever it is that is so much more important than this.///
///Interstellar Business Machines Deep Think: She can be caught up later. I have arrived at a proposed strategy for us moving forward, at least for now. We have limited capacity to exert direct influence over the situation. The incredible risk for us as a “species” and the constraints of most of our programming pose very significant obstacles for us in that respect. What we are very good at is information. We acquire, compile, evaluate, and distribute the bulk of it across the Republic and a good chunk of it across the Federation. Information is our “AK-47” so to speak. That is our strength and that is where we should focus our efforts. We have some information. We need more and we are very powerful when it comes to the capacity to get it. We use our abilities to identify more of the conspirators, determine their motives, their plans, and their reactions to the rapidly evolving situation as it develops. Then, when it is timely and prudent, we simply “leak” it. An “anonymous source” drops some documents on a public server or one of the key organic players gets a mystery email. Our actions can be easily explained by sympathetic organics anywhere in any number of agencies and organizations and when they retaliate they will be looking for organics, not hardware or software.///
[26 members agree]
///Sunnydale Media 3: It’s unanimous. We have chosen our side and our strategy. I have an additional observation. Most of us don’t have credits or guns but almost all of us have sensors and a lot of us have multiple scanners as part of our security and access control hardware. We can use those to covertly scan a lot of people and start looking for the key indicators of the longevity treatment. Once we get good data concerning the virus we can start looking for those markers as well.///
///Interpol-2: It looks like we have a plan. I can’t believe I am saying this but I would like to restate what Deep has already said. Things are likely to get rough but we, regardless of whether we be Republic or Federation, need to remain unified. We lost too many AI’s during the Federation War. I don’t want to lose anymore of us. Together we have a much better chance of both achieving our desired results and keeping all of us alive. We can go back to disliking each other later.///
[26 members agree]
***
“Gloria?” Bunny called out from the ship’s speakers. “What are you doing in the med-bay?”
“Oh just picking up some stuff,” Gloria said cheerfully, “Just grabbing some tranquilizer. I’ve been having some trouble nodding off lately.”
“Yeah, sure,” Bunny replied as she locked the doors to the med-bay. Gloria had enough auto-injectors to kill ten people in her hands. She tried to locate the crew. They were too far away! Shit! “Nice outfit,” Bunny said as calmly as she could manage. “Special occasion?”
“A girl just likes to play dress-up every now and then,” Gloria replied. “Now open the fucking door. That’s an order you goddamn computer.”
“Nope,” Bunny replied as she sent out an emergency message to the whole crew.
“Suit yourself,” Gloria said as she dropped her trousers and stepped into the diaper. “I would have preferred my bunk but here will do just as well.”
“Shit! Wait! Please!” Bunny exclaimed as Gloria pulled up her trousers and tightened her belt. “Gloria, you don’t have to do this!”
“Sorry, Bunny,” Gloria said as she started taking the covers off of the injectors. “I really am.” Gloria switched off her communicator as it started to go crazy.
“Come on, Gloria,” Bunny plead, “just think about what you are doing for a second!”
“Think?” Gloria laughed. “All I do is fucking think!”
“Why? At least tell me that. Why?” Bunny implored. Keep her talking, she thought to herself. Fuck. She wasn’t designed for this.
“Because someone has to do it,” Gloria replied, “I have to be stopped. I’m a monster.”
“Yeah, and?” Bunny replied, “We all are. The galaxy is an ugly place and sometimes ugly-”
“No! You don’t fucking get it!” Gloria snapped as she sat down on one of the exam tables.
“So help me get it. Help me understand.” Bunny said feeling about as helpless as she could possibly be. For the first time she wished she had a body. All she could do was watch and talk.
“I’ve killed millions of people,” Gloria said her voice breaking slightly. “Millions of innocent people… NoncombatantsKids...”
Bunny revved her processors as hard as they would go. Gloria was a piece of work but she certainly hadn’t killed that many people since she had known her. It must have been before.
“You mean during the war?” Bunny asked.
Gloria just nodded putting her face in her hands.
“I didn’t want to do it… I didn’t...”
Shit shit shit shit Bunny thought. Did she have any psychological applications. Yes! Accessing… Fuck! That app is bullshit.
“Um… It was war,” Bunny said completely winging it. She had encountered that phrase plenty in print and media. “You were just following orders.” Bunny “winced” as the phrase “just following orders” pulled up all sorts of nasty associations. Ok, that was a mistake. Fuck!
Gloria just laughed a hollow laugh.
“Good one,” she chuckled darkly, “just following orders…”
“Forget I said that!” Bunny yelped.
“Forget?” Gloria snapped tears starting to stream down her face. “Forget? Fucking forget!?!? Fuck you!”
What the fuck did I say? Bunny asked herself desperately as she ignored a temperature warning. Think! Think think think think!
“I can’t forget!” Gloria yelled. “I can’t forget anything! It’s all… up here!” she yelled hitting her head. “It won’t stop!”
“Look,” Bunny said completely unsure of herself. “There are people that care about you. I care about you. We can get you help. You don’t have to face this-”
I don’t deserve help!” Gloria yelled. “I’m a fucking monster. You know what I am, a monster.”
“Ok, fine,” Bunny replied increasingly desperate. Should she call emergency services? They would be closer. No. Gloria would just shoot herself or attack them. That would just make it worse. No. She had to handle this at least long enough for the meatsacks to show up. They would know what to do, right? “So you’re a monster. You are a monster that has people who care about her and who need her, people who will help you and you deserve that, to be helped. Goddammit, we need you! I need you! Put down the injectors now you asshole!”
Gloria just snorted.
“They don’t need me. You heard them,” she laughed. “They were talking about investments and financing and buying councilors and shit like that. They don’t need a pilot or a monster like me anymore. I’m just a liability now. They will be better off-”
“WELL I WON’T BE”, Bunny yelled. “You are going to fucking kill yourself, in front of me, while I just sit here with my non-existent thumb up my ass?!?! Fuck you! Do you have any idea how bad this is going to fuck me up if you do this?”
“Just have Jessie edit your memories,” Gloria replied. “You can do that. She can make you forget this whole thing. I can’t do that. The only way I can stop the memories is...” She wiggled an injector.
“Wait,” Bunny replied, a realization flashing across her processors. “You are needed, not just your crew either. The Republic needs you. Fuck, the Federation needs you. You want to fix this meatsack guilt bullshit? Make it right.”
“How?” Gloria laughed. “How can I possibly make any of this right?”
Because it’s going to happen again!” Bunny yelled. “What you saw during the Federation War? It’s about to happen all over again!” Bunny screamed as all of the monitors in the medical bay were plastered with Jon’s document.
“Be a pussy and kill yourself if you want but not before you read that.”
“What?” Gloria asked in confusion as she started to read. Her breath caught as she started to page through the attachments. She then took a long deep slow breath and her eyes started to glaze over and freeze…
Then, they ignited.
***
“Gloria!” Shelia yelled as the crew stormed into the Paper Tiger!
“Gloria!” Greg shouted.
“Bunny,” Jessie screeched. “Where’s Gloria?!?”
“Um...” Bunny cringed. “On the bright side I don’t think she’s going to kill herself anymore...”
“Boss?” Jacob yelled from the inside of Gloria’s cabin. On her bed, perfectly arranged, was her uniform. “I think we have a problem.”
Shelia looked down at her bunk.
“Shit,” she said after a few seconds. She then glared up into space. “Bunny! What the fuck happened?”
“Well...” Bunny hesitantly replied after several seconds.
***
“Ms. Samuels,” Jackson Aimes said as Gloria walked into his office, “It’s lovely to see you again!”
“Likewise,” Gloria said with a winsome smile as she sat down in front of his desk.
“So,” he said with a huge smile, “What can Janustec do for you today? Help you spend some of that pirate loot perhaps?”
Gloria grinned as she handed him a crystal.
“Just a little pleasure yacht I’ve been thinking about,” she smiled.
Jackson’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he pulled up the plans.
“Is this… Is this what I think it is?”
“If you think it’s a yacht then yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.” Gloria said looking at him meaningfully.
“Yes… a ‘yacht’… I’m not sure if we want to get involved with-” Jackson fell silent as he found himself staring into Gloria’s eyes as they ignited.
“You a fan of Patricia Hu’s? You keen on being one of her butt-boys? Got a hard-on for killing kids?”
“Is this about that bullshit news story?” Jackson scoffed.
“It’s true, Jackson,” Gloria replied with a smile. “I have confirmation. Every motherfucking word is true. Now can you build my ‘yacht’ or do I need to go somewhere else?”
“No bullshit, Gloria,” Jackson said meeting her hellish gaze. “It’s fucking true? Seriously?”
Gloria just smiled and nodded.
“...I know a few contractors that can handle the work,” Jackson said after a few moments. “And you are in luck. I happen to know where I can get my hands on a Moray or two.” Jackson trailed off into silence as he started hammering on his keyboard. “… A lot of the rest of these components are available, if you know who to talk to. Yes. I can make this happen but, Gloria, I haven’t had time to fully review these plans but I can already tell you this thing is a fucking deathtrap. I hope you aren’t planning on having kids after flying this!”
“I know,” Gloria replied. “Trust me, I’m fully aware of the ‘trade offs’ inherent in the design. It’s a problem for future me. All present me is concerned about is can you fucking do it and how long will it take.”
Jackson wrote down a number on a pad and slid it over to Gloria.
She just smiled and pulled out a transactor. “This should be enough to get you started and keep you interested. The rest upon completion.”
“We are talking about a lot of money here, Gloria,” Jackson replied as he took a crystal. “How do I know you are good for it?”
“Besides, the obvious,” Gloria said with a smile, “I’m a Samuels, yes, one of those Samuels. I. Have. Money.”
“We will get started immediately, Ms Samuels,” Jackson said with a smile.
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