Election Betting Odds by Maxim Lott and John Stossel

Coronavirus: Trump admits to slowing the testing rate, which allows unabated spread & more American deaths

Good morning everyone - I am posting this coronavirus-centric newsletter instead of the usual Lost in the Sauce because I am running behind after spending yesterday on Father’s Day activities. So tomorrow I will post Lost in the Sauce (covering the political and legal news that may have been overlooked last week). My apologies, I wanted to get something out to you guys today as promised.
Housekeeping:
The World Health Organization on Sunday reported the pandemic's largest single-day increase of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 183,000 cases reported in the previous 24 hours. Brazil and the United States contributed the most to the surge in cases.

Testing

Trump says he told his administration to test fewer people: “Testing is a double-edged sword… When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases. So I said to my people slow the testing down, please. They test and they test.” (video)
  • The White House later tried to soften Trump's remark, saying he was joking. Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, points out a key aspect that is often overlooked: “The joke is on us. We stayed inside weeks on weeks with the unstated social contract that it was going to give the nation time to have alternatives to social distancing. And they didn’t do it. The nationwide testing plan never panned out like they said it would.”
  • Congressman Andy Kim (NJ): When I requested FEMA to stand up a Coronavirus test site in South Jersey they told me the White House said no. Now we know why.
EDIT TO UPDATE: A reporter asked Trump this morning if he actually ordered testing to be slowed down - Trump avoided answering the direct question but implied that he thinks we should do less testing. Trump says: "if it did slow down, frankly, I think we're way ahead of ourselves if you wanna know the truth. We've done too good of a job." (video)
Just days earlier, Trump told the WSJ that testing for the coronavirus is "overrated," arguing that it has led to an increase in confirmed cases in the U.S. that "makes us look bad." Trump has made statements like this numerous times before.
  • Reminder: In March, Trump said he wanted to keep passengers and crew on an infected cruise ship so that coronavirus cases in the US don't "double." "I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship."
  • Op-Ed: Trump Just Admitted to a Crime Against Humanity. No, He Wasn’t Joking.
Fact check: Controlling the spread of the pandemic demands finding the infected and isolating them until they can no longer spread the disease, alongside broader measures like social distancing. With an untold number of asymptomatic carriers, the only option to find out who truly has the virus is to test. Meanwhile, a lack of testing hampers the response to the virus. Health officials can’t preempt outbreaks in new regions. The threat then silently persists, infecting, killing, and draining resources. (Vox)
The U.S is now conducting more than 3 million coronavirus tests a week, far short of the 30 million tests per week experts say is needed to safely reopen. These experts aren’t just worried about the number of tests that labs can process. They are concerned about the logistical challenges of testing so many people, and the lag in setting up adequate contact tracing to find who may have been exposed.

Cases continue to rise

Experts abroad: “It really does feel like the U.S. has given up.” Comparing the rolling average of new coronavirus cases in the EU (pop. 446 million) to the US (pop. 330 million), shows the stark difference in results: the US rate is climbing back to its high point of ~30,000 average cases while the EU has stabilized at only 4,000 cases.
  • Note that since that graph was made, the US has surpassed that number: The CDC reported over 32,000 new cases for both Friday and Saturday - the highest daily totals since April 25. [See a few paragraphs below for state details]
Germany’s success in responding to the coronavirus pandemic was based on U.S. research that was ignored or dismissed by the U.S. government. “A large portion of [Germany’s] measures that proved effective was based on studies by leading U.S. research institutes,” said Karl Lauterbach, a Harvard-educated epidemiologist who is a member of the German parliament for the Social Democrats.
If the US had acted when other nations did, using the same information, 70%-99% of American covid deaths would have been avoided. The Oxford index shows that 14 days from the date of the 15th confirmed case in each country — a vital early window for action — the U.S. response to the outbreak lagged behind the others by miles...Due to exponential viral spread, our delay in action was devastating.
  • Meanwhile, at his Tulsa rally over the weekend, Trump boasted that “I have done a phenomenal job on it,” calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu.”
A dozen states have seen record highs of new COVID-19 cases since Friday… Those include Florida, Texas, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, California, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
  • Arizona’s coronavirus cases have nearly doubled in 14 days, from 26,989 on June 7 to 52,390 on June 21. Florida on Saturday reported 4,049 new coronavirus cases, another consecutive single-day record increase in cases. For the fourth time in five days, Texas reported a record number of new coronavirus cases Saturday.
Hundreds test positive at Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas… Of the 3,748 employees tested, 481 tested positive for COVID-19, and 455 were asymptomatic. [This asymptomatic number is surprising and raises the possibility that there may be contamination somewhere in the testing “chain.”]

Funding and equipment

Trump administration ends funding for new lung damage treatments… The coronavirus attacks the lungs, killing some and leaving others with severe lung ailments. Earlier this month, the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) abruptly notified companies and researchers that it was halting funding for treatments for this severe form of Covid-19. The new policy highlights how staunchly the Trump administration has placed its bet on vaccines.
Instead of COVID testing supplies, FEMA sent the Washington State Health Dept. tiny plastic preforms that can be made into 2-liter soda bottles… The Department of Health received 300,000 vials, all of which were unlabeled, unusually packaged, and unusable.
FEMA paid $7.3 million to a first-time federal contractor with a sketchy owner for these unusable mini soda bottles. The bottles are also contaminated, as employees did not wear masks and kept them in an unclean environment. FEMA reportedly sent them to all 50 states.
A DHS review found that the CDC’s earliest coronavirus test kits were contaminated… Scientists did not thoroughly check the kits despite “anomalies” during manufacturing, according to the federal review. The CDC’s failure with the test added many weeks of delays to the rollout of widespread testing.
One of Trump’s top fundraisers is cashing in on the pandemic… Brian Ballard uses his Trump connections to lobby the administration on behalf of companies seeking to market their health products or score federal relief money. “He’s playing the K Street lobbyist game, buying access to this administration and enjoying that access,” said Craig Holman, who works on ethics and lobbying issues for the watchdog group Public Citizen.
FEMA can find no records of criteria it uses to make distributions to states from the Strategic National Stockpile to address the coronavirus pandemic… The claim is especially concerning because the president has made statements suggesting that states should get federal assistance based on how he feels about the states’ governors.
TSA whistleblower alleges the agency endangered staff and passengers… TSA withheld N95 masks from staff and exhibited "gross mismanagement" in its response to the coronavirus crisis – leaving employees and travelers vulnerable during the most urgent days of the pandemic.
Airports beg government to set face mask policy for passengers… “I can’t emphasize that enough – we would welcome regulations on a temporary basis that you should wear a mask in an airport when you’re transferring through it,” Airports Council International - North America President Kevin M. Burke said this past week.
Concerns that Donald Trump’s inner circle might pressure the FDA to rush a coronavirus vaccine to market in time for the presidential election have risen after the White House attacked the agency for reversing itself on an experimental drug treatment. “And if you give it to people and they think ‘Wow, I’ve got the vaccine now,’ they’re likely not to physically distance, wear face masks. And then if it doesn’t actually work, Oh! We’ve got a disaster on our hands,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former Obama White House health policy adviser.

CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program

Senators find $14 billion in unspent funds Congress approved in April to expand coronavirus testing and tracing… "While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Sunday.
The pandemic is disproportionately hurting black-owned small businesses and the administration is not helping… Only 12 percent of black and Hispanic business owners polled between April 30 and May 12 received the funding they had requested. About one quarter received some funding. By contrast, half of all small businesses reported receiving from a single part of the stimulus packages — the Paycheck Protection Program — according to a census survey.
  • Only 2 percent of a $20 million city-wide small business loan program went to businesses in the Bronx, the New York City borough with the highest share of black people, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Small Business Services, while 57 percent went to Manhattan businesses.
A coalition of civil rights groups including the ACLU sued the Trump administration for denying coronavirus relief loans to small business owners with criminal records, arguing the restrictive policy violates the law and perpetuates systemic racial injustices by discriminating against people of color.
PPP failed to get money where it was most needed. 7 of the 10 states that received the smallest dollar amount of loans were among the 10 states with the highest number of people approved for unemployment claims as of May 23. South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Florida, and Nebraska received significantly more aid proportionally compared to states with higher covid-related unemployment rates like Nevada, Maine, Michigan, and Hawaii.
A federal judge is once again ordering Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to release the full amount of stimulus funding Congress set aside for Native American tribes. “The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds,” Mehta wrote. Mehta’s decision blocked so-called Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), which have vast land holdings and secure significant profits from timber and oil sales, from receiving funds, as they are not government entities.
The administration has so far failed to spend more than 75% of the American humanitarian aid that Congress provided three months ago to help overseas victims of the virus. Relief workers said they were alarmed and bewildered as to why the vast majority of the money was sitting unspent.
submitted by rusticgorilla to Keep_Track [link] [comments]

Tony Greer: “Not only are these investors price inelastic, but they also exhibit a disturbing level of indifference to fundamentals that makes them qualitatively different from their predecessors. In their view, the notion that the stock market has any relationship to economic reality is laughable."

Listen to full episode
Demetri Kofinas speaks with Tony Greer, editor of the Morning Navigator and founder of TG Macro. This episode begins with a clip from David Portnoy (a.k.a Barstool Dave or Davey Daytrader), in what is probably the most epic hype video ever created for stock trading.
Portnoy has come to personify not only the recent rip-roaring retracement in equities, but also, the philosophy that the stock market no longer bears any relationship to the real economy. “It took me a while to figure out that the stock market isn’t connected to the economy,” according to David Portnoy. “I tell people there are two rules to investing: Stocks only go up, and if you have any problems, see rule No. 1.”
Extraordinary monetary interventions remain the single most important causal factor for explaining this phenomenon (what we have referred to on this show as “market nihilism”). Whether investment flows are coming from passive funds or “passive people,” what’s important is that the allocators invest indiscriminately. As the popular fraise goes: “Always buy the fucking dip” (#ABTFD)
In our past episodes with Mike Green, we have explored the role of systematic passive investment vehicles in driving markets higher. With the recent return of the retail investor an additional layer of passivity has been added. Not only are these investors seemingly “price inelastic,” but they also exhibit a disturbing level of indifference to fundamentals that is qualitatively different from anything seen in past generations. Unlike the Gen-X and Boomer cohorts of 1999 who felt that they could see a future that others could not yet perceive, this generation of zoomers and millennials seems to feel that they have figured out something far more fundamental about how things work today. In their view, the notion that the stock market has any relationship to economic reality is laughable. Fundamentals can’t hold a candle to Jay Powell and his money printer. Along with this realization comes a mocking, self-deprecatory celebration of aberrance. Indeed, going through WallStreetBets or wojack images on crypto subreddits exposes you to imagery that is reminiscent of a scene from the Island of Dr. Moreau.
In their 90-minute conversation, Tony and Demetri explore all of these themes. They discuss the recent rip-roaring retracement in equities and how the Federal Reserve, with its relentless money-printing has broken the economy, turned the stock market into a casino, and sown the seeds for a political crisis unlike any we have seen in more than a generation.
submitted by HiddenForcesPod to StockMarket [link] [comments]

Oil Round Two: Cool title I know

If you need or want to know more about the oil and gas industry in general, the price war and falling demand you can read my previous thread (long af, also some really insightful comments from others) here: https://www.reddit.com/wallstreetbets/comments/fs722a/primer_on_the_oil_and_gas_industry_demand/
TL;DR V2.0: Fuck, some of you have the attention span of a gnat. When and if the OPEC+ meeting takes place and cuts happen (including the US and other major producers), oil will jump and stabilize (I'm guessing) around high $30s to mid $40s/bbl. But cuts will not be enough to offset the upcoming storage crisis, so it will drop again over the next few months. If the US doesn't participate, there will be no cuts and its a race to the bottom.
Positions: Cash gang gang. Exited everything this morning because I was bleeding tendies and wanted a break. I am restricted by my job (cover news for oil and gas at an industry-specific data and analytics firm) from participating directly in energy markets, so I have and will have no stakes in anything that touches oil and gas.
Ok, round two. My last thread was a primer on the industry, and since there is a massively important OPEC+ meeting next week—however it shakes out—I figured I would write another thread about what’s going on and what could happen. Some of this will unavoidably be speculation because it deals with things that haven’t happened yet, but I promise I won’t pull anything out of my ass other than all those big green dildo-candles from the past two weeks. Again, I’m not giving you specific trades because 1) do your own DD and 2) I suck at trading and you really don’t want my advice.
You get cuts, You get cuts, Everyone Gets Cuts!
Oil got a kick in the pants yesterday when Trump tweeted that Saudi Arabia and Russia were going to agree to cut 10-15 MMbo/d of production. A lot of people immediately called bullshit, including Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. However, later in the day Saudi Arabia called for an emergency meeting of OPEC+, which has been scheduled for Monday (may have been moved to the 8th or 9th now). Both Saudi Arabia and Russia have since said that they would be willing to make cuts of at least 10 MMbo, while also blaming each other for the price war (that Russia instigated and Saudi Arabia started).
The likelihood of OPEC+ alone agreeing to cut 10+ MMbo/d is pretty fucking low—I would say near zero. The cuts can happen, but it will have to involve the US and other major non-OPEC+ producers (Canada, Brazil, etc.), and Russia has said as much. Russia did not agree to the previous attempt to cut production in early March because every OPEC+ cut for the past three years has been back-filled by increases in US shale production (also sanctions on Rosneft and Nord Steam 2 probably). Agreeing to cuts that don’t involve the US will put them back at square one, and really even further back than that, as the other elephant in the room (15-20 MMbo/d drop in demand) will still be around and there hasn’t been enough time to do truly lasting damage to US producers.
Don’t be fooled by the bankruptcy of Whiting Petroleum; something like 50 US O&G companies filed for bankruptcy last year if I remember correctly, which was not unusual. If oil prices magically went back to “normal” next week and stayed that way, the number of bankruptcies likely wouldn’t be significantly higher—I can’t find the note from my firm, but if I remember correctly, analysts were anticipating a 10% increase in Chapter 11 filings (so ~55) before the price war began.
Now, you may be thinking something along the lines of, “This is fucking ‘Merica, we would never hobble the free market and limit production”. Well, think again: it’s not certain, but it is definitely a possibility. First off, there is historic precedent. Before OPEC came on the scene and started setting global prices in the 1970s, that job fell to the Texas Railroad Commission, which is still the regulatory agency for O&G in the state. The TRC began putting a quota on Texas oil production in the late 1930s after an oil boom in East Texas pushed prices down to $0.25/bbl. That agency effectively set world oil prices for the next three decades.
If you want a more recent example that is still comparable to the US (as far as having a free market economy and no NOC), look at Canada and Alberta. AB has been stuck between a rock and a hard place since 2016, with significant capital flight occurring in the oil patch due to lack of takeaway capacity and regulatory uncertainty. In 2018, because of that lack of takeaway capacity (mostly pipelines), oil storage filled nearly to the brim and differentials between the Canadian benchmark WCS and WTI collapsed. In order to protect the industry, the provincial government introduced production curtailments near the end of the year. Some companies complained about it, but many realized it was the only option they had.
They initially planned to end curtailment last year, but around August or September decided it would have to extend into 2020. As storage volumes have fallen and more takeaway capacity has come online—either through crude-by-rail or pipeline throughput optimizations—the provincial government has eased curtailment limits. They also began applying new exemptions, such as new conventional oil wells would be exempt from curtailment and producers could produce beyond their limits as long as the extra output was transported by rail. When the policy was first introduced, the first 10,000 bo/d was exempted from curtailment (protecting small producers), and that was expanded to the first 20,000 bo/d last fall. For anyone that produced over that—only 16 in Alberta with the 20k limit—the province applied a formula, which I won’t bother detailing here, to determine how much a company could produce so that overall production in the province stayed below the limit.
So, I’m not sure that the US federal government has the political will or ability to impose nationwide production quotas, but some states could. In fact, producers in Texas have already called for the TRC to pick up its old mantle and begin placing limits on production. One of the regulator’s commissioners has also called for a 10% production cut in the state, and the TRC plans on considering a cut at its next meeting. Of course, this is not a universally popular proposal (just as Alberta’s wasn’t) and some producers like Chevron are already complaining, but that won’t necessarily stop the TRC from imposing cuts.
State-level action, particularly from Texas, may be enough to convince OPEC+ to agree to cuts. Ohh, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Trudeau have both said they would be willing to work with OPEC on cuts. And what state or provincial regulators don’t do, low oil prices will do for them. US E&P companies have already been shutting in uneconomic production, and that will continue or accelerate as long as oil prices remain depressed.
You see the elephant over there next to the bus crash?
I’ve already mentioned it twice, but do you remember what the other problem is besides the price war? An estimated drop—by Goldman Sachs, Vitol and others—in global oil demand of 15-20 MMbo/d at beer flu’s peak. Even with a 10 MMbo cut, it won’t be enough to keep storage levels from continuing to rise in the near-term. According to a recent Financial Times article, Kayrros satellite measurements indicated global crude stocks surged by over 100 MMbbl in March to 63% of nameplate storage capacity. We have never tested the maximum operating capacity of storage on a global level, so no one really knows what it is, how soon we reach it, or what exactly happens if we do. One thing we do know, and again we can look to Alberta circa 2018 for this, is that prices plummet as storage nears capacity.
It could get to the point that oil prices go negative and producers have to pay someone to take oil away. Now if that happens, producers would only be paying as long as it takes them to safely shut in all of their wells. And global storage capacity is a bit of a misnomer, because storage is regional and not global. If all the tanks that are tied to the Permian are full, it doesn’t matter if there is an empty tank in Nigeria, because you can’t get the oil there. Some pipeline operators in the Permian have already asked their clients to reduce production rates because storage is filling up.
Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s executive director, spoke on the demand problem recently. He told Reuters that even if everyone agrees to global cuts of 10 MMbo/d, oil inventories would still rise by 15 MMbo/d in Q2. That will put significant downward pressure on oil prices.
So what the fuck is going to happen? Here comes the speculation.
I don’t know what’s going to happen on Monday, but here are how I see various scenarios playing out in my crystal ball.
  1. OPEC+ cuts production by 10 MMbo/d, US is free and clear to do what it wants. I really don’t see this happening. I guess it’s a non-zero chance, but it has to be a small one. They’ve never cut production by more than 2.1 MMbo/d, and in March were only looking for 3.6 MMbo/d. You think they are desperate enough to triple that, totally fuck themselves, and let us go without a scratch? Maybe Saudi Arabia would, but Putin would give his balls a tug, grit his teeth and soldier on. Or, I could be totally fucking wrong. If anyone can give a convincing argument for why this is a likely outcome, I am genuinely interested in hearing it (so I can steal it for work).
  2. Talks fall apart and nothing happens, price war continues, pretty simple outcome. Oil will fucking tank, O&G company stocks will tank, blood in the streets. Sub-$10/bbl WTI here we come (maybe not right away, but sooner rather than later). Production effectively stops region by region as storage fills to capacity until we reach a balancing point, if one exists in this nightmare scenario.
  3. This is complex shit and they agree to do something, but they need time to hash out the details. This one is fucking boring, which means it’s what will probably happen because fuck us. I’m guessing prices will get a decent boost, but remaining uncertainty will pare gains somewhat. Or it might be as good as agreeing to 10+ MMbo/d cuts (or lead to the cuts), in which case look at the next one.
  4. OPEC+ and non-OPEC+ producers agree to cuts on the order of at least 10 MMbo/d. In the near term, oil prices will see an immediate positive impact. I think they’ll stabilize in the $40-50/bbl range, which is where they were before the price war started. Maybe high $30s/low $40s as beer flu has spread more since then. This will make Putin particularly happy, because he will get to reign in US shale, balance his budget (needs average $42/bbl) and keep sticking it to Saudi Arabia a bit (they need $82/bbl to balance their budget).
US Producers I have to imagine would get a boost to their stock prices too, but they might have some downward pressure from mandated cuts at whatever level they occur (not enough to outweigh the good news though, probably). It would be a good idea for you to look at Canadian producers’ stock prices on the TSX, particularly larger producers who primarily operate in Alberta (such as oil sands) and how their stocks moved around the time curtailment was announced there (late 2018) and since. However, if you do that, remember Canadian companies were facing significant downward pressure from other sources such as regulatory uncertainty.
The upswing would likely be relatively short lived though. Over the next quarter or two—depending on how long beer flu bends global demand over the table—prices would start dropping again as storage fills up. Pure-plays (companies who only operate in one area/basin) would be particularly vulnerable to storage filling up in their region to the point that they have to entirely shut in all production. Diversified companies, particularly the supermajors, would hold out longer.
This scenario could lead to more cuts, but I sort of doubt it. Any cuts are going to be a hard sell, particularly on the scale we need them to be. Round two would be even worse. I also don’t think the pandemic will last long enough. However, recovery is going to take a lot longer. First the world has to get back to whatever the fuck it was doing before beer flu, and then demand has to pick back up to something like last year’s levels. Then, we have to slowly whittle down storage levels (Alberta has been at it for over a year, but Canada is a dumpster fire, so YMMV) and hope nothing else gets fucked up. As storage approaches normal levels, prices improve. If I was a betting man, I would wager a return to normal, or close to it, during the first half of next year, maybe Q1 if I was optimistic.
BUT WHAT TRADES DO I MAKE ASSHOLE?!
I told you, you don’t want my shit advice. If you made it this far, do some more of your own research and flip a coin on what will happen Monday, then make the appropriate bets. If you go for calls, unless they are LEAPs, be prepared to switch to puts later in the quarter regardless of what happens.
Edits: News came out about the meeting being moved since I wrote this, noted the update in the text.
Some sources (again, not all, not even sure y’all can access all of these)
https://www.reuters.com/article/global-oil-texas-opec/oil-pipeline-producer-standoff-prompts-new-call-for-texas-shale-curbs-idUSL1N2BH2GM
https://www.dailyoilbulletin.com/article/2020/4/3/deep-oil-output-cuts-wont-offset-unprecedented-dem/
https://www.dailyoilbulletin.com/article/2020/4/3/trudeau-says-canada-talking-to-opec-us-about-oil-p/
https://www.alberta.ca/oil-production-limit.aspx
https://boereport.com/2020/04/02/saudi-wants-cooperation-to-bolster-oil-blames-russia-for-turmoil/
https://boereport.com/2020/04/03/putin-says-russia-agrees-on-oil-output-cuts-blames-saudis-for-low-prices/
https://www.dailyoilbulletin.com/article/2020/4/2/trump-does-not-plan-to-ask-us-oil-producers-for-co/
https://www.ft.com/content/79b7dc43-da6b-4027-b68f-a177524972b6
https://www.ft.com/content/1da60fa2-3d63-439e-abd4-1391a2047972?ftcamp=traffic/partnefeed_headline/us_yahoo/auddev&yptr=yahoo
https://boereport.com/2020/04/01/oil-prices-mixed-u-s-inventory-build-up-heightens-oversupply-concerns/
https://www.upstreamonline.com/production/oil-extends-upward-trend-as-opec-set-for-emergency-meeting/2-1-787977
submitted by Tirikemen to wallstreetbets [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Fallout Settles Part Three — So what has Brenda and Helena Been Up To?

Jessica makes a few phone calls...
The rest of this series can be found here
***
A much leaner and well-toned Brenda pressed herself into the grass as sensor information was fed into her eye.
He was close.
He had given her the slip six times…
Six!
That was a record. Six missed kills. It was no longer professional...
It was personal! She never missed!
And now, she had… Six times!
Today, it would end.
That fucker was going down!
She winced as she opened a small case and started to silently assemble a slender weapon… A weapon! That is what she had been reduced to, crawling in the mud with a fucking energy weapon
Every trap had failed. Every snare… evaded…
A “cockroach” transmitted a brief signal. It had caught the scent!
She smiled and interfaced with her weapon. Its (ugh) targeting reticle appeared in her vision.
Her roach sent another signal… Movement!
She zoomed in on a small stone outcrop as he poked his head cautiously around a small crack. He knew he was being hunted.
Slowly he started to creep into the open, nervously looking all around.
She smiled.
I got you, you little shit... she thought as she pulled the trigger.
The weapon vibrated slightly but made absolutely no sound as her target spasmed once and then collapsed motionless upon the stones.
She smiled as she lept to her feet and started to sprint. Seconds later she was standing over him.
Everyone falls in the end… everyone.
She pulled out her scanner to confirm the hit.
“Plestiodon fasciatus…” she giggled. “You, my friend, are officially unextinctified!”
The lizard was already starting to wiggle a little. Wasting no time she pulled out her knife and lopped off a few millimeters of his bright blue tail and, using tweezers, quickly put it into a sample vial.
Seconds later the lizard blinked, flipped over, and darted back into the rocks.
She stood there admiring her prize. This little snippet was going to keep her in beer and chocolate for months!
***
The next day Brenda threw one hell of a party at a nearby lodge. Gene-prospectors came from hundreds of miles away to admire the footage and fill up on free food and booze.
“Keep them coming, Harry!” Brenda exclaimed as another group wandered in.
“I still can’t believe it, Brenda,” a grizzled old woodsman said shaking his head. “A lizard-zapper… Never seen that one before.”
“Yeah,” Brenda said as she took a big gulp of beer. “Rub it in...”
“What you mean?” the old man asked. “You hit a fucking skink at thirty yards.”
“Yeah, but I still had to use a fucking gun, slippery little bastard.”
“What’s your deal with guns?” the old man asked. “It’s damn near unpatriotic!”
“Noisy, messy, and totally lacking in imagination,” Brenda scoffed. “Where is the creativity? Where is the fun?”
“You’re an odd one, Brenda,” the man chuckled, shaking his head. “Damn good prospector, but fucking weird!”
“This from a man who has a poop collection?” Brenda laughed.
“Hey! Do you know how many samples I’ve gotten from shit? You kids and your fancy degrees and high-dollar scanners and you literally walk past a fucking gold-mine holding your delicate little noses all the while. I’ve gotten twenty varieties of edible plants all from scat.”
“Really?!?”
“Yup. You should take time to stop and ‘smell the roses’ every now and then.”
“Gross, dude,” Brenda laughed.
“H-hi Brenda!” Jason said as he rushed up.
The old man grinned and got up to leave ignoring Brenda’s pleading glance with a wicked little smile.
“C-congratulations!” Jason exclaimed as he sat down next to her. “A skink! That’s amazing! I had no idea they were so beautiful!”
Brenda just sighed. Jason had been “tracking” her ever since she decided to take up gene-prospecting as her latest cover. (She had really enjoyed camping during her last job.)
“Um… Thanks,” Brenda replied, a little flustered. Jason was cute, exactly her type, and super nice.
And that was the problem. Sooner or later, maybe next year, maybe tomorrow, she would disappear, suddenly and without a trace, and he didn’t deserve that.
Neither did she.
You could always ‘retire’, that little voice piped up in her head. She could. Lord knows she had the cash, millions of credits.
But she didn’t keep at it for the money. I mean, that last job… The fucking head of Federation Intelligence!… What a rush! No, there was no retiring for her, at least not yet.
For example, there was Patricia Hu to consider. She normally didn’t do “bounties”. She felt them to be beneath her but Holy Jesus on a Popsicle stick! That was a lot of money…
But how would you even do it? She has to be off world, hiding in one of her bases, surrounded by her people…
How would you even begin to track her?
She felt her pulse rising.
Then you would have to get in, grab her, alive no less, and get her out. I mean, yeah, you could kill her, but oh the challenge
It would be a little “shady” since she was her last client but she wouldn’t have to kill that many people to ‘bury’ that little detail and nobody would fault someone going after such a big score…
Would they?
Something touched her arm. Her hand instinctively slid into her pocket as she exhaled slowly taking care not to swivel her head overmuch.
It was just Jason.
He was still talking.
“Can I see the rifle?”
“What?” Brenda asked as she let the adrenaline wash away and her hand left her pocket.
“The rifle you used on that skink. Can I see it?”
“It isn’t a rifle,” Brenda replied. “A rifle is a projectile weapon that imparts a spin on the… Nevermind,” she smiled. “Sure. You can see the weapon, but don’t call it a rifle. It hurts me.”
“O-okay!” Jason said excitedly.
The pair headed towards the exit.
“Keep everybody full and get them drunk!” Brenda yelled over her shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”
Harry just grinned and gave Jason a little thumbs up.
Brenda pretended not to notice. The only thing Jason was getting a peek of was her lizard-zapper.
It wouldn’t hurt to have a little fun, that voice said.
Yes, it would, she replied to herself.
***
As Brenda and Jason stepped outside Brenda came to an abrupt stop.
Outside, at the edge of the parking lot, was a grav-limo, a nice one.
One of these things is not like the others... she sang in her head as she took a quick glance at the hover-trucks and RV’s.
She threw a quick “eye” over it as her hand slipped into her pocket and grasped four large bright yellow marbles, each one bearing a cheerful smiley-face.
Armor… shields… cloaking…
Fuck.
“Wait inside,” she said to Jason.
“Is something wro-”
I said wait inside,” Brenda hissed, her mask slipping.
“I’ll… I’ll wait… inside...” He said quietly as he opened the door.
“Probably just a silly ex who doesn’t know what’s good for him,” she added with a winsome smile. “I’ll be right back.”
“O… Okay...”
Jason went back inside with chills running up and down his spine.
“Now who might you be?” Brenda asked cheerfully as she walked towards the limo, marbles in hand.
As she approached, the cloak switched off revealing one occupant, no other life signs.
The rear passenger window retracted…
And she burst out into a goofy grin.
“Markie!” she shouted with a cheerful wave, still holding the marbles in her off hand.
Marcus Delacroix carefully kept his eyes forward and his hands where she could see them. Approaching Brenda unannounced was a very, very good way to wind up dead.
He noticed a flash of yellow in the corner of his eye and wondered what other cheerfully colored toys were in the area.
When she was about fifteen meters away he slowly turned his head to face her.
“I’m leaving the vehicle,” he said in a cultured Imperial accent.
“Don’t.” Brenda said in a light cheerful tone.
She’s pissed… and completely unconcerned about this floating tank...
He carefully inhaled and slowly exhaled and consciously lowered his pulse. He had a reputation to maintain and it wouldn’t do if he looked as… “concerned”… as he actually was.
“It’s great to see you Markie!” Brenda enthused as she stopped a meter from the side of his ride, “What a completely unexpected surprise.”
“Likewise,” Marcus replied. “I must say that you look especially lovely this time. The blonde hair suits you.”
“You like?” Brenda said with a goofy smile. “Not over the top?”
“Absolutely not! You look ravishing!”
“Flattery will not save your life if you don’t start talking… Now...” Brenda said in a sweet voice. “What the fuck are you doing here, Marcus?”
“I have a client who wishes to speak with you.”
“So why didn’t you use a dead-drop… Markie?” she hissed, her eyes blazing.
“Because you aren’t answering them, Brenda.” Marcus said in an annoyed voice as he met her gaze. Ohhhh she’s Pissssedddd…. Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck…
“And that should tell you what?” she asked in a rather pointed tone.
“I would normally respect your desire for some down-time but this is an extraordinary situation.”
“It better be,” Brenda smiled. “It better be extraordinary enough for me to overlook that there exists a person who can find me when I don’t feel like being found. I don’t like that which means I don’t like you anymore.”
“At least hear them out before you unleash the… marbles?”
“I like marbles. They’re fun, especially these,” Brenda said with absolutely no expression. “You have ten seconds before you find out exactly how much fun they are,” she said, Marcus already turning into a fine red mist in her mind’s eye.
“One billion credit retainer,” Marcus said calmly. “Guaranteed one-hundred million credits a head after the first ten, if it comes to that. I would appreciate it if you at least talk to them before dispatching me.”
"Ruin my vacation? Want me to talk to your client? One million. Now.”
“(sigh)… Fine,” Marcus grumbled. “Can I reach for a transactor?”
“Do it slowly,” she smiled as she opened her hand and all the marbles turned to face him.
***
A million credits richer, Brenda slid into Marcus's limo.
“Oooo!” she said happily. “This is nice!”
“I’m glad you approve,” Marcus said never taking his eyes off of the four little faces staring at him.
How can marbles look suspicious? he thought.
“Fucking stupid, but nice!”
“Excuse me?”
“High dollar ride in this neck of the woods?” Brenda said in a scolding tone. “Shoulda rolled up in a camper or something.”
“I couldn’t find an armored camper on short notice,” Marcus replied.
“Really?” Brenda asked. “Call me next time. I know a guy.”
“If I could have called you I wouldn’t have… Nevermind,” he said as he slowly and very carefully moved his hands to activate a holo-screen.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” he said as he carefully reached for the door.
“Nuh-huh!” Brenda said cheerfully. “You keep your ass right here where my little buddies can keep an eye on you. I trust you but those little guys don’t like weebs very much. You give them a loving home, try to raise them right, and they still turn out to be little racist shitheads. It breaks my heart. It really does.”
“Very well,” Marcus said in an amused tone as he activated the limo’s encrypted transmitter.
A minute later Brenda sighed in exasperation.
“That million credits wasn’t for all fucking day, you know.”
“Patience, please, my client is very busy.”
“So was I,” Brenda scoffed. “Those beers ain’t gonna drink themselves.”
Much to Marcus's discomfort, Brenda started humming to herself as she started making the marbles play leapfrog, and balance on each other’s heads as she waited.
An eternity later Jessica Morgan’s face appeared.
“Well fuck me running!” Brenda exclaimed. “Hi Jessica!” she exclaimed as she waved happily.
She snapped her fingers and the marbles jumped into her pocket, much to Marcus's relief.
“Brenda!” Jessica replied. “Love the hair!”
***
Roberts had fled the cabin and taken shelter at one of the bars in the cruise ship they were taking to their refuge in the Empire.
When Helena was writing she could be testy on a good day. These days? Hoo Boy! The latest news that Daemon managed to snatch from whatever that “chatroom” was had Helena foaming at the mouth.
As well it should, over fifty thousand dead in the capital alone. Jesus. Porkies weren’t Roberts’s favorite people, not by a long shot but still…
That was pretty bad. The fact that Jessica exacted a pretty terrible revenge did little to placate Helena either. If anything, it made her even more enraged.
Nope. He was sitting right here until it was time for dinner.
***
Helena was typing up a storm when the intercom pinged.
It was the captain. What the hell?
“Excuse me, Ms. Sterling?” he said in a polite tone.
“Yes?” she asked wondering exactly what the fuck she had done. They had been behaving themselves the whole time… mostly…
“You have an, ahem, priority communication from the Federation.”
“Wha?” Helena wittily replied.
“Yes, they are waiting for you.”
“Well, okay,” Helena said, more than a little confused, “Put them through.” She felt a moment of panic. Had something happened on Zaran? Oh God! Had her parents been infected, or worse?
“Ah… It’s not something we can route to your cabin, I’m afraid. Please come to the communications center, we have a private lounge there.”
What the fuck?
“Ok, I’m on my way.”
“What’s that all about?” Daemon asked as the communication ended.
“I have no fucking clue,” Helena responded as she headed towards the door.
***
“Oh you gotta be fucking kidding me!” she exclaimed as the holo-screen in the private lounge switched on.
“I wasn’t prepared to jest,” Jessica said with a little chuckle. “Have you heard the one about the two nuns and the eggplant?”
“What the hell do you want?” Helena replied caustically.
“Well first of all I wanted to say that I’m quite the admirer of your work,” Jessica said with a pleasant smile.
“Oh I’m sure,” Helena said rolling her eyes.
How the fuck does she know we are on this ship? Helena suddenly thought in alarm. That wasn’t good. That was really not good.
“That piece you did on Gwendolyn Shay? Marvelous! She was screaming for your blood for weeks! And don’t even get me started on your expose’ on hidden monopolies and price fixing! God! That one stung! Do you have any idea how hard that one hit? Cost me millions!”
“Glad to be of service,” Helena said in a snarky tone.
“Oh! And the one about corruption in the counsel and the reconstruction contracts? How did you ever find out?” Jessica asked with admiration.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Actually, I would,” Jessica laughed. “If you only knew how much trouble that one caused! I was looking down the barrel of an actual indictment! Good thing I know where the bodies are buried. Not literal ones, of course.”
“Of course,” Helena said rolling her eyes.
“I do want to set the record straight on one thing,” Jessica laughed. “I have NEVER slept with Cyrus Red! Ever! That man repulsed me. I’m glad he’s dead.”
“Is Cyrus Red dead?” Helena asked leaning forward.
“Oh absolutely,” Jessica said with a smile. “He pissed off the wrong person, or, if we are being precise, the wrong fish.”
“Who killed him?” Helena asked fumbling for her phone.
“Axlea, director of Federation Intelligence,” Jessica said quickly before she could get the recorder switched on.
“Seriously?”
“I would say to ask her yourself but, even with your considerable skill, that’s almost impossible.”
Almost?!?
“Sorry,” Jessica smiled as Helena finally managed to switch on her recorder, “I misspoke. Impossible… Definitely impossible...” Jessica said with a wolfish grin.
“Hmm...” Helena said looking at her suspiciously. “Why the fuck are we talking?”
“Because, my intrepid reporter,” Jessica said with a warm smile. “I want to offer you access.”
You’re joking!
“Most certainly not,” Jessica replied. “I like having the best and you have definitely proven yourself to be among them. Relentless, fearless, and most importantly, effective, all things that I admire. You are definitely a valuable resource, one that I would be foolish to ignore, not that ignoring you is easy, mind you,” she added with a rueful laugh. “I would like you to join me.”
“There is absolutely no way in hell that I would ever come to work for you!”
“And I wouldn’t expect you to,” Jessica replied with a smile. “I just want you to embed yourself with the Forsaken. I offer complete access, total freedom of movement, and absolutely no interference or censorship. I just want you to come over here and do what you do best.”
“Be a pain in your ass?”
“Report the truth,” Jessica said emphatically, “as you see it, both the good and the bad, no punches pulled, no stone unturned. Just do your thing.”
“Why?!?”
“Propaganda I have,” Jessica replied. “I have an entire cruise ship filled with artists, writers, musicians, video producers, marketing teams… I’m sure you have seen their work?”
“Yeah,” Helena said sourly, “I have.”
“And it reeked of bullshit, because propaganda is by definition just that,” Jessica smiled, “You know it. I know it, and, most importantly, so do a LOT of other people. Right now it’s a bullshit contest. My bullshit artists against the Federation’s.”
Jessica leaned forward and grinned a wicked smile.
“So I want to do what I do best,” she chortled. “Cheat. There is one thing that the Federation is definitely NOT expecting, the truth, the pure unadulterated unvarnished bloody ugly hard stuff. The truth is a weapon that hits as hard as a sabergun and as far as the monsters and fiends of this galaxy are concerned, myself included, there is little more that we fear than a light shining under our particular rock. I want to bring the truth, the real honest to God truth, into the mix. Lay it all out there, for the whole galaxy to see, both the good and the bad. History is being written and I think it would be very interesting for it to be penned by an actual unbiased observer for once.”
“Bullshit.”
“I can assure that I am completely serious,” Jessica replied. “I want the truth of this whole mess laid bare and put out there for everyone in the galaxy, Imperial, Terran, and Fed to see. Let them see what you uncover and let them make their own decisions. Let’s see the Federation spin doctors handle that!”
“And your spin doctors?”
“They will do what they are hired to do,” Jessica said, “They will twist the truth and spin it and weave shit into gold, exactly as I demand. However, they will be at least a little constrained since they will have my royal bard up their ass, at least I hope that they will. They also have the advantage that we honestly are on the right side of this.”
“Are you?” Helena asked. “I’m not so sure.”
“Well, I’m inviting you to find out for yourself,” Jessica replied with a smile. “Go wherever you want. Talk to whoever you want. Dig. Find the dirt.”
“And I’m sure you will just let me print it when I do.”
“Absolutely,” Jessica replied. “With one little restriction. We are at war. I am unwilling to allow you to compromise active operations. It’s the same with any war correspondent. Other than that, you have a completely free hand and anything that is deemed to be operationally sensitive will be yours to publish the moment that it is no longer so. Let history judge me fairly.”
“And how do I know this isn’t a trap? What’s keeping you from tossing my ass out of an airlock the second I drop by?”
“And prove that every single thing you have ever written about me is true?” Jessica scoffed, “Please. People who kill the press are fucking idiots. Why the hell do you think an assassin hasn’t already come calling?” Jessica asked. “Because I told all of my less enlightened comrades to keep their fucking hands off, that’s why. You ignore the press. You discredit the press. You don’t kill them. That’s just plain stupid. I’m a lot of things, Helena, as you will have the opportunity to find out. I’m a whole lot of things, but I’m not stupid.”
“So a ‘tragic accident’ happens then?”
“Those have a nasty way of coming back to bite you in the ass,” Jessica replied. “If anyone knows that things won’t turn out the way they definitely should it’s me,” she said ruefully. “Besides, you have a guardian angel.”
“I do?”
“Shelia motherfucking Donovan!” Jessica exclaimed. “If there is ONE person I do not want to add to my list of troubles it’s that bitch! No thank you! I fuck you over and I have her to deal with and I don’t want that. She took the White Star with no casualties, except for one ding-a-ling who refused to wear their armor, and she’s perpetrated the biggest security breach in Federation history only then go and break her own record? That’s one big pile of ‘nope’ if I’ve ever seen one. I’m in no hurry to tangle with that.”
Helena angled her recorder towards the screen.
“Is that why you haven’t sought revenge for your grandson, Councilor Morgan?”
“Shit, why did you have to remind me?” Jessica groaned. “I gotta address that. I mean she did save me the trouble but-”
“Saved you the trouble?!?”
“Oh yeah,” Jessica replied, “You think he was just hiding from the Feds on that ship? He was going to cut a deal where he was going to reveal… well… a whole bunch of things that no longer matter, actually.”
“You were going to have your own grandson killed?”
“I guess you would need to interview me to find out wouldn’t you?” Jessica smiled. “If you agree to hang out with us I promise I’ll give you the story, along with a whole bunch of others. I mean, a lot of it no longer applies. I’ve killed half a million and counting! I am no longer concerned with a lot of shit and the other people involved are either dead, dying, or in the process of committing crimes that make all that old stuff pale in comparison. Hell. I’m willing to bet a lot of my ‘confederates’ would just love to brag about most of it.”
Jessica leaned back and spread her arms wide.
“So, whadda you say? Feel like enjoying some bardic immunity?”
***
Helena staggered into the bar where Roberts was enjoying a gin and tonic.
He looked up at her as she stumbled in.
She looked rough.
“You ok?”
“Paul,” Helena said with a confused and troubled look in her eyes. “I just think I made a deal with the Devil...”
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY [link] [comments]

Should the Fed pursue negative interest rates?

This is more of an economic question, but considering its political implications on state & consumer debt and the inherent divisiveness of this question, I'm curious.
Here's my understanding:
With negative interest rates, large commercial banks (say Wells Fargo or Bank of America) that hold their money with the Federal Reserve would have to pay to hold that money there. For example, with a negative interest rate of 0.5%, a bank would actually LOSE money if they held their cash with the Fed.
This would only apply to banks (consumers would not pay negative interest rates). In turn, this would incentivize these banks to not hold their money and lead to an influx of credit across the US, stimulating the economy.
Recently, it became a possibility that the Fed enters into negative rate territory since our economy is in utter freefall. In fact, the Fed funds future market is betting on negative rates by next April.
What do people think? Is it wise for the Fed to pursue negative interest rates? What are the pros & cons?
submitted by SmartDebaterDude to PoliticalDiscussion [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Fallout Settles Part Two — Jessica and Gwen

The adorable Gwen Shay stumbles into Jessica's sights.
The rest of this series can be found here
***
Jessica made an amused little snort as Doctor Ayyangar’s image disappeared and shook her head.
She found the mustache-twirling tiresome but sometimes people needed a monster. In this particular case, the doctor needed someone to be a bigger monster than he was. She had learned long ago that as long as he was cursing her name he wouldn’t curse his own quite as much.
The greatest scientific mind in centuries and you’re making him create nightmares… Weren’t you supposed to “preserve” him? Wasn’t that the plan?
Yes, the good doctor was one of “her people”, one of those carefully selected to rebuild Sol, he was first among the scientists and academics that she cherry-picked and tucked ever so gently into one of her “special” habitation ships.
She winced as she thought of the Gardenhome. Even after all these years the tragic loss of that ship stung. So many great minds just… gone…
She, without thinking, pulled open the upper left hand drawer of her office-desk, unconsciously reaching for the “supplies” that normally occupied that place of honor.
“Tsk...” she muttered as she looked down at the empty spot where a flask and a small crystal box of white powder used to reside.
There was no easy fix today, no quick distraction…
Their faces and names floated past. Gifted scientists, scholars, artists… people who can never be replaced. People like to say that all lives are of equal value but that’s bullshit. Some people are a dime-a-dozen and others…
Others are fucking priceless
Six hundred of those lives were lost that day… Six hundred of the brightest lights the human race had just went poof
And Doctor Ayyangar was among them… He just wasn’t given the mercy of death. No, he got to live…
She still remembered the day he brought her The Foot, his eyes glazed, his face twisted with hate and pain… His innocence gone...
Goddammit… She had promised him… She had promised him that his family would be safe… She had promised all of them...
God, she wanted a fucking drink… Just to a sip… Just to take the edge off…
The fate of the entire Porkie race rests in the hands of a coked-out alcoholic… Just wonderful...
She needed a break. Outside her bunker wasn’t exactly a garden, but the woods were lovely and there was a pond nearby with some absolutely lovely specimens of native flora.
It wouldn’t be that much longer before there would be nothing outside but the fucking void. She should go look at the weird little jelly plants.
She threw on her jacket and strode for the door.
***
Just outside of the city of Pol-Gelkrn on Zaran-7 a crowd started to gather around a wide field.
In the middle of the field was a single egg and a small camera.
Soon, a distant rumbling could be heard and the crowd pulled out their phones.
The rumbling grew in intensity, as something came into view high above.
The rumbling turned into roaring as the object drew closer growing ever larger with each passing moment.
The crowd started to cheer as the ground beneath them started to shake as a huge spaceship came screaming down, it’s shields glowing from the heat of re-entry.
At the helm, Gwen Shay grinned as the picture of the egg appeared on one of her screens. The grin was soon replaced with a blissful smile as her entire universe shrank to the size of that field.
Watching half a dozen screens at once, she switched to manual control.
“One-hundred meters...” the girl who usually manned the helm announced. “…Fifty meters… “
Gwen’s universe shrank down to the size of an egg.
“… Twenty meters...”
Her hands turning into blurs, Gwen made dozens of adjustments almost at once.
“Ten meters… ”
The crowd was blasted by nearly gale-force winds as Gwen fired all the lateral thrusters simultaneously and sloooowly eased down on the deflector screen.
“Shields at fifty percent….”
“Sixty percent…”
The landing spurs of the vessel started to slowly dig into the ground below as Gwen started to reduce power to the lower deflector array.
A grinding vibration could be felt throughout the massive vessel as it pressed itself into the soil.
The image of the egg became shrouded in darkness…
The camera’s light switched on.
The egg was intact…
And the crowd went wild.
Gwen let out a shuddering sigh…
Oh yeah…
***
As the main cargo hatch lowered Gwen stepped out and waved cheerfully at the cheering crowd.
“Wooooooo!” she yelled, grinning from ear to ear. “Wooooooooo!… You about some crazy fuckers!” she added when she noticed exactly how close some of the spectators were standing.
A line of vehicles started to roll into the cargo bay, all of them bearing Black Angels markings. They parked in a precise manner and the occupants all lept out and rapidly started to break down the rigging holding all of the parcels in place.
Experienced smugglers don’t waste any time. In moments the vehicles were being loaded and were soon pulling out at high speed only to be replaced seconds later.
A wicked looking woman in her late forties, armed with a megaphone and a stopwatch, approached.
“Goddamn,” she said shaking her head. “Just… Goddamn...”
Gwen just grinned at her.
“Where the fuck where they hiding you?”
“In motherfucking high school,” Gwen said rolling her eyes. “I had to ‘prepare for my future’.” she added in a sneering voice.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I wish!”
“You can slam a Class Sixteen on the lawn in less than an hour already! What sort of ‘future’ is better than that?”
“According to my mom? Anything,” Gwen laughed. “They didn’t want me on spaceships.”
“Why?!? You’re...”
“Oh because of the ‘accident’...” Gwen said rolling her eyes. “Mom totally lost her shit and made me go to dirt school after that.”
“Accident?”
“Oh yeah,” Gwen said nonchalantly, “When I was nine I-”
“Holy shit!” the gangster gasped. “That was you?!? I heard that it happened to a kid but I had no idea it happened to a Shay!”
“Gram-gram wanted to keep it quiet,” Gwen replied. “This never happened!” she growled in a perfect recreation of her great-grandmother’s angry voice. “No idea why. It’s not like it was a big deal...”
The gangster looked at her dubiously. It was in fact a big deal. It was a really fucking big deal. Holy fucking shit!
If half of what she had heard was true… Jesus Christ!
“So, you’re ok?”
“I’m more than ok!” Gwen said happily as she spun around. “I’m finally free of this fucking gravity well! Escape velocity, baby! Wooooooo!”
“Oooookayyy then...” the gangster said as evenly as she could. For just a second there was something in Gwen’s eyes, something definitely not right.
It took a lot to rattle Kareen. She had been rolling with the Angels for most of her life and had seen and done some shit, but that little flash in Gwen’s eyes chilled her to the bone.
“Well… I just wanted to say hi and congratulate you on your pilotin’,” Kareen said as nonchalantly as she could. “I gotta go and get this cargo moved.”
“Nice meeting you!” Gwen enthused as she extended her hand. “Looking forward to working with you out there!”
Kareen tried not to flinch as she shook her hand. She really didn’t buy into a lot of that spacer’s nonsense but there were some things that you just did not fuck with!
That kid should have been tossed out of an airlock. If it had been any other kid she would have!
“Yeah, I’ll be looking for ya,” Kareen replied with as pleasant of a smile as she could manage.
***
Back on Raylesh, Jessica started making he way back to the buried ship she was using as her base.
As she was walking down the path something moved overhead.
Reaching for her sidearm she glanced upward and just smiled and shook her head.
A garish bright purple luxury grav-car with LED light bars and airbrushed furries in suggestive poses on the sides and hood landed.
The door popped open and a thin old man, dressed in a crushed velvet leisure suit complete with satin shirt and big gold medallion and jeweled sunglasses hopped out.
“Oneeeeeeeee Chaaaaannnnn!” he yelled as he saw her.
She laughed despite herself.
“Gordon!” she called back with a big smile. “You do realize that this is a top-secret facility… and that we are at war, right?”
“Of course!” Gordon Johnson, founder of Johnson’s spirits replied as he gestured at his leopard print leisure suit. “See? Cammo!”
“Jesus Christ…” Jessica laughed. “Get your ass inside before I have you shot.”
***
As Gordon and Jessica entered her office Gordon turned to confront her.
“I’ve tolerated and overlooked so many things, Jessica,” he said in a stern voice. “I really have, telling myself it was all for the greater good... But you’ve gone too far this time!… You stopped drinking?!?
“And what’s this I’m hearing about you, Gordon? Quality products? Have you gone mad?” Jessica laughed as they hugged.
“People are going to need something to wash down the days ahead,” Gordon smiled, “and too many of the damn kids these days can’t appreciate good hooch.”
“Well promise me you will keep making the Green,” Jessica chuckled. “If I fall off of the wagon I want to be appropriately punished.”
“I’m keeping the whole product line!” Gordon exclaimed proudly. “I still have the Rumrunner!”
“That old tub actually still flies? I thought you turned it into a restaurant.”
“A restaurant and distillery!” Gordon replied proudly. “I was going to decommission it but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. All I had to do was rip out the tables! Even the ‘kitchen’ is original! The Rumrunner will be lifting off today! I just dropped by take one last peek at that fine ass of yours before I headed out.”
Jessica gave him a little wiggle as Gordon gasped and clutched at his heart.
“Damn, girl! Don’t be doing that to an old man!”
“If only it was that easy to get rid of you,” she laughed. “So, you have the Rumrunner. How is the rest of your operation looking?”
“Good. We are ripping-up what we can and loading those ships you sent down with anything that we can shove into them. It’s a mess but my guys should have production lines running within days. The Rumrunner will be at full capacity tonight so we can give you limited quantities of whatever you need from lubricants to paint to plastic explosives… and of course the highest quality ‘solvents’ in the galaxy!”
“You are a freak but damned if you aren’t an amazing one!” Jessica laughed.
“Speaking of amazing,” Gordon grinned as he pulled out clear plastic bag filled with appeared to be a wad of soap. “Three thousand calories of shelf-stable nutritionally complete goodness!”
“Well that didn’t take you long!”
“It’s not like I was working from zero,” Gordon replied. “It’s just a riff on Jovian Rice.”
“And it doesn’t taste like shit!” Jessica said happily as she sampled it. “You are going to absolutely ruin your reputation, Gordon! How’s the price point?”
“Not good,” Gordon replied. “The raw material costs are much higher in the Federation on a good day and getting a reliable source at a high enough volume is going to be a constant challenge. It’s gonna be cheaper to just buy regular food but this stuff will keep forever and is nice and compact.”
“Real food is better for morale, too,” Jessica replied. “I still want to build stocks of this, though. I think we all know more food is better than less.”
“You don’t have to remind me!” Gordon laughed.
“If only we had a gas-miner...” Jessica mused.
Gordon grinned at her.
“What?”
“Funny you should mention that...”
“Are. You. Shitting. Me?!?”
“Remember Aimee?”
“Your traitorous ex-girlfriend Aimee? The Aimee who tried to kill you?” Jessica asked darkly, her enthusiasm gone.
“That would be the one!”
“Please tell me that you haven’t-”
“Well, we’ve sorta kept in touch and-”
“Kept in touch?” Jessica asked raising her eyebrow.
Gordon grinned sheepishly.
“Goddammit...” Jessica groaned, “Seriously?!?”
“Well they say time heals all wounds...”
“Including ones made by a knife it seems,” Jessica replied as she rolled her eyes. “… moron...”
“Well, as it turns out after the dust settled she wound up going back into chemical engineering and set herself up-”
“With the shit she stole from us!” Jessica interjected. “If she wasn’t so fucking slippery I would have killed her a long time ago!”
“Well be glad you didn’t!” Gordon exclaimed happily. “She has herself a gas miner! She runs a little wildcat outfit specializing in custom organic compounds and does first-rate chemical synthesis to boot!”
“And?” Jessica asked dubiously.
“And she wants to come home!” Gordon exclaimed. “A fucking hyperspace capable gas miner, Jessica!”
“And she wants to join us? Now?”
“She has a lot of family over here, Jessica,” Gordon replied. “She wants to help.”
“And?” Jessica asked suspiciously.
“And with everything going on over there, she has concerns. Terran nationalism has been on the rise and now with Patricia and her cronies making a play for the Republic...”
“There it is,” Jessica hissed. “There it fucking is! Aimee concerned about her ‘family’? Nah. Aimee seeing the writing on the wall and wanting to switch sides, exactly like she did on us back in the day? Now that’s Aimee.”
“Yes, but gas-miner!”
“She tried to kill you... twice!
“Gas-miner!”
“She framed you for the chemical weapons that she produced! You know, the ones you absolutely refused to make? You had to hide in a supply locker for six months! Do you remember?”
“Gas… miner!”
“But-”
Gordon leaned in and whispered, “gasminer!”
“Absolutely not! If you want to stick your dick in that particular puddle of crazy you are just going to have to run the Republic blockade.”
“Do you have any idea how many mega-tons of organics and fuel she can produce?”
“I’m sure it won’t be for free,” Jessica grumbled.
“She’s willing to provide raw materials at a very reasonable rate!”
“Goddammit, Gordon! Tell me you didn’t enter into negotiations without consulting me!”
“I got her to agree to forty-two percent of Federation market rate!”
“Which is how many times more than she gets in the Republic?”
“Look, do you want that fuel and those organics or not? I’ve reviewed her production records… Holy shit, Jessica!” Gordon exclaimed as he pulled out his phone and offered it to her. “We can feed everyone!”
“Goddamn it...” Jessica muttered and looked at the spreadsheet.
Her eyes widened.
“(sigh)… What’s her number?”
“Yes!” Gordon exclaimed.
“What is it with you and manipulative narcissists?” she grumbled.
Gordon looked her up and down with an exaggerated lascivious leer.
“What can I say? I have a type!”
Jessica just laughed and shook her head.
“Asshole...”, she chuckled. “IF I do this, she’s off limits! I fucking mean it!”
“Aww..”
“The LAST thing I need is her getting her hooks into you again. You get within a light year of her and the deal’s off… But… I think you won’t mind...” she purred as she started to unbutton his satin shirt.
***
Terrence walked towards Jessica’s office with a fresh pot of tea. He was more than a little concerned. Jessica was really struggling with her sobriety and Gordon Johnson wasn’t exactly a paragon of temperance.
He raised his hand to knock.
“Oh!… Onee Chan!...”
His hand froze.
“Are… Are those ‘My Happy Pony’ panties?!?” Jessica’s annoyed voice said as it leaked through the door, “Take them off right now!”
“(Giggle)… Yes, Onee Chan...”
Terrence just shook his head and walked away.
At least she wasn’t drinking...
***
Gwen looked over at the three somewhat disheveled looking teenaged boys standing in front of her and sighed.
It was finally time to say goodbye to her beloved little nerds. In the end, only Susan decided to stay with them.
“Are you sure you want to leave?” Gwen asked. “Things are about to get good!”
“N-no… Yes! I mean Yes!” Johnny squeaked.
“You are walking away from a shit-ton of money, guys! You really want to go home, back to school, and all that shit? You can be free, rich and free!”
“T-thank you but I would like to go home, please,” Johnny replied as the other two teens nodded vigorously.
“Well, I can’t stop ya,” Gwen said with a smile. “Actually, I can… but I won’t. I’m cool like that!”
“T-thank you!”
“Are you surrrre?” Gwen asked. “One of my friends thinks you’re cute!”
Johnny was NOT falling for that one again!
“That’s… that’s ok... We just want to go home, please, ma’am...”
“Ok… That’s cool… go be nerds…. Shoo!” Gwen said with a wave of her hand.
The three teens sprinted out of the ship.
She turned to Marcia, her helmsperson.
“At least we kept Susie!” Gwen said brightly.
“You just let them go? Don’t we need them?”
“Nah, we’ll get some crew from the Angels,” Gwen replied. “I’ll just give Gram a call and… Speak of the Devil!” Gwen exclaimed happily as an electric motorcycle drove into the ship.
Shay the Elder got off and walked up.
“Gram-Gram!” Gwen exclaimed, running up to give the old fiend a hug.
“Hey baby-doll,” Shay the Elder smiled returning the hug.
Gwen slowly stopped smiling as she looked at her great-grandmother’s face. “…what?”
“Got a minute, kid?”
***
She wants to talk to me?” Gwen asked in shock once they were alone.
“Yeah,” Shay the Elder replied darkly. “She does.”
“Why?”
“She wants something. She wouldn’t tell me what.”
Awesome!!!
“No, baby-doll, it’s the opposite of awesome,” her great-grandmother replied. “Look, you gotta listen all respectful-like, but you DON’T gotta do whatever she says. She can’t just order you around like some nobody! You’re a fucking Shay!”
“But what could she possibly want?”
“I dunno and that’s what bugs me, baby-doll. Look,” the old woman said, clearly worried, “if she wants a word with you I can’t stop it and you gotta listen but whatever, and I mean whatever she says, whatever she promises, just say no. If you say no she can’t touch you. You say no and you are protected by Angels but if you make a deal with The Devil you stand alone.”
“I’m not an idiot, Gram-gram,” Gwen replied.
“This isn’t some scrub trying to sweet talk his way into your panties! This is the motherfucking Devil herself! You be all polite and use those pretty words you got but whatever you do, do NOT say yes to her!”
“Got it!” Gwen replied. “Be polite and say no.”
“I’m fucking serious kid,” the old fiend said urgently. “I’ve seen it over and over and fucking over again. I don’t care how big and shiny that apple is. It’s fucking POISON! You do not want to make a deal with her! As bad as people think I am, she’s worse! Never forget that!”
Gwen looked at her great-grandmother in shock. She was afraid! Her great-grandmother, leader of the fucking Black Angels herself, one of the true nightmares of the Sol Wars, was scared.
“O-ok, Gram,” Gwen replied nervously.
“I’ll be right outside the whole time,” Shay the Elder said as they walked to the captain’s office. “If you feel yourself starting to give or slip just yell or somethin’ and I’ll barge in there and… and I don’t know… do something!”
“Yes, Gram-gram,” Gwen replied as she opened the office door and walked inside.
She paused at a mirror and made sure she looked ok.
Then she took a deep breath and sat behind her desk.
After saying a quiet prayer to the Gods of the Void, she switched on her communicator.
***
After a disturbingly short wait, Jessica Morgan’s pleasantly smiling face appeared on her holo-screen.
“I swear it’s like looking back in time!” Jessica exclaimed. “You look just like your great-grandmother did at your age!”
“Um… thanks?”
“I’m sure you have things to do and I know for a fact that I do so I will just cut to the chase,” Jessica said with a smile. “I assume it has been strongly suggested that you refuse regardless of what I say?”
Gwen shifted nervously. She wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
“It’s ok,” Jessica said, “I know your great-grandmother quite well and I am perfectly aware of her opinion of me… She’s absolutely correct, by the way.”
Gwen just smiled anxiously and remained silent. She wanted to say… something… but everything she could come up with either sounded absolutely moronic or would just dig her deeper in the hole she realized she was already in.
Jessica smiled as she let the silence build.
“I thought you would be more exuberant,” Jessica said an eternity later. “You certainly were when you were talking to that radio person.”
Yeah, that’s because ‘Lissa doesn’t have a fucking brass bull!… And that’s the least of my worries!
“Wooo?” Gwen replied cautiously.
Jessica burst into laughter.
“Well played!” she exclaimed with delight. “I’ll cease wasting either our our time with any further attempts to disarm you and get right down to business.”
Jessica leaned forward slightly.
“I want you to come to work for me.”
“W-what?!?” Gwen spluttered, her eyes wide.
“Ships, I have. Equipment I can buy. I have the resources to get whatever I want and as much of it as I desire, except for one thing...” Jessica said, her eyes glittering, “talent! I can never get enough! It’s the one thing I crave more than almost anything and you, Ms. Shay, have a gift.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Gwen said nervously.
“I would,” Jessica replied. “Your last landing? From orbit to surface, in a Class Sixteen, in less than one hour, on top of an unbroken egg? That’s astounding from anyone, no matter how long they have been flying. From someone of your age, your experience, it’s phenomenal.”
“I… I’ve been doing this for years!” Gwen replied defensively. “I grew up on a ship and-”
“Until they made you stop,” Jessica said, cutting her off, “something that I would not have done, by the way, but we will get to that later.”
Gwen flinched. She knew!
“Here’s the deal,” Jessica continued. “I need people who can quickly, and much more importantly safely, get large vessels onto and off of planetary surfaces and I need them now. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of our fellow human beings trapped on dozens of worlds. Those are our people, my people, and I’m not going to abandon them to the fucking Feds. Shuttles aren’t going to cut it! I don’t need to move people by the dozens, I need to move them by the thousands! No spaceports, open-dirt landings. Not everyone can do that. You can. I need that. I need you.”
“But I’m with the Angels and-”
“Oh I wouldn’t dream of making you forgo your alliance,” Jessica said with a smile. “While I would love to bring you fully into my organization I am not asking you to make a choice. I just want use of skills… temporarily. Do these people moving runs for me, and once we have everyone that we can evacuated, I have absolutely no problem with you returning to the Angels… if that’s what you truly want.”
“Ok, that sounds reasonable enough,” Gwen said suspiciously. “What’s the catch?”
“The catch?” Jessica asked innocently. “Why ever would you think-” She broke off into a chuckle. “Yes, there is always a catch isn’t there. I’m not asking you to pilot a cruise ship. These recovery missions are likely going to be through hostile Federation space and the systems aren’t always going to be happy to see us, and by us I mean you. I’m asking you to do something quite dangerous. There is no guarantee you will survive.”
There’s no guarantee I’ll survive now. Gwen thought to herself. I’m rolling with the Angels for fuck’s sake.
“Of course you will be well rewarded for the risk,” Jessica continued.
“Rewarded?”
“Yes, very well rewarded,” Jessica replied. “You have done quite well in obtaining a Federation Class Sixteen. It’s a lovely ship, but entirely unsuitable for my purposes. While its operational capabilities are sub-par the real problem with it is that its a Federation vessel, a clearly pirated one. You can’t be going about representing me in a pirated ship. It will further complicate a very complicated situation and we can’t claim that you are ‘peaceful’ when you are demonstrably already a pirate. I will trade vessels with you. That Class Sixteen can serve me perfectly well in an auxiliary capacity and for it I will give you… this.”
Gwen gasped as a picture of a Krenk-Halyx appeared on the screen. It was number seven on her list!
“I see you recognize it,” Jessica smiled. “a Krenk-Halyx medium cargo ship with a completely clean title. It’s yours if you come to work with me.”
Gwen’s mind swam. Big engines, huge hyperdrive, advanced navcomp…
and something else… something much more important...
Jessica smiled as her eye-tracking software indicated exactly where Gwen was staring. She had her.
“I have the papers right here,” Jessica said with a pleasant smile. “Your Class Sixteen will serve me quite well in an auxiliary capacity and with this you will be able to go anywhere, do anything… once your obligation is complete, of course. You will own the ship from day one and soon as you qualify, you will be its captain.”
“Qualify?” Gwen asked suspiciously.
“Yes, qualify,” Jessica replied. “I’ll happily gamble the ship on your unproven abilities but not the crew. Ships I can buy but crew? Good crew has always been valuable but now they are priceless! I can’t ‘give’ you a crew and, no offense, I’m not letting one of my vessels be crewed with a Black Angels cadre. One atrocity and it’s my name, not hers, that is stained. So, unless you have quite a few more members on your cheer squad I’m going to have to assign my people, at least temporarily. Don’t worry. Everyone will understand that having you qualify is second only to the mission. I have every confidence that you will rise to the occasion.”
Gwen unconsciously started to play with her hair. “Qualifying” could take years.
“On the bright side,” Jessica continued, “your training and subsequent qualifications would be through Morgan Shipping, a member of the Galactic Merchantman’s Association and thus will be honored throughout all of known space. Real training. Real certifications. You wouldn’t be limited to just the Black Angels. You could go anywhere, once our current little situation is resolved, of course. It’s a small inconvenience for one hell of a reward. When this is all over your licenses will be valid. And you will still own the vessel from day one!”
Which means exactly squat, Gwen thought. The crew will follow the captain, not the owner. The only thing the owner can do is hire and fire which means absolutely nothing.
“I… I appreciate this… I really do...” Gwen replied nervously.
“But?” Jessica asked calmly as she felt the hook slip from Gwen’s mouth.
“But I already have a ship, not as good… God… nowhere as good but it’s mine… And I’m already a captain and I can get a crew, a good crew, that will follow me and as far as those certifications go, I can get them on my own… I… I’m sorry but I have to say no… ma’am.”
Jessica kept her expression pleasant and even but inside she was scowling. She wanted this little morsel.
How about the actual truth for once? Now there was an interesting thought…
“Don’t want to give up your freedom?” Jessica purred, “makes sense. Nobody, at any age, would be eager to give up command. But I have one question I want you to ask yourself...”
Gwen shifted uncomfortably under Jessica’s predatory gaze.
“… do you honestly think it’s going to be that easy?” Jessica asked.
“What?”
“If you take it, it’s yours,” Jessica replied. “That’s one of our major tenets. Privately, I despise it. I had hoped for so much more than a society of pirates, murders, and thieves. I really did, but, whether I like it or not, that is one of the core tenets of our wonderful society. You took that Class Sixteen so it’s yours... Congratulations,” Jessica added sarcastically.
“Yeah, it is mine!” Gwen said defiantly, taking real offense. “And I’m going to be a GREAT captain!”
“Of that I don’t have a single doubt,” Jessica replied. “The ‘qualifications’ are for my men, not me. Think about it. I can’t put a Black Angel, especially a sixteen year old one, in front of them and tell them that she’s their captain. Owner they will accept. Captain? That won’t fly.”
“And that’s why I’m saying no!” Gwen replied.
Jessica smiled. Now she had the girl engaged. Now there was something to grab on to.
“And you think it’s going to be any easier with the Black Angels? If you honestly do then this conversation is over. I don’t have time to waste with idiots.”
“What do you mean?” Gwen demanded with far more confidence than she felt. “I’m a fucking Shay!”
“How do you think it’s really going to go when you get a real crew, huh? Think about it. Your ship, filled with their people.”
“They are my people!”
“No, they aren’t,” Jessica replied. “not really. They stopped being ‘your people’ the second the accident happened and you know it.”
“That’s bullshit! They-”
“Will be watching you every single second of every single day you are with them,” Jessica said calmly. “They will never trust you and can you blame them? They use what happened to you as their ultimate punishment. It terrifies them as well it should. Nobody escapes what happened to you unscathed… unaltered… nobody.”
“What are you talking about! I’m just fine! I’m-”
“How long can you hold out, hmm? Are you even going to try, or are you, even now, just dying for the chance to do it again?”
Gwen looked away.
“I knew it, addicted,” Jessica said with a smile. “I understand addiction very well. Mine are tame, embarrassingly boring compared to yours, but the same principles apply. Once certain things get under your skin they are there for life. You can deny them, your vices, but you can never truly be free, can you? Part of you is always thinking about it, always yearning for what you can’t have. Isn’t that true?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about...” Gwen said weakly.
“Darling, I’m addicted to alcohol, cocaine, and a pile of designer drugs. I shook the pills long ago but a day doesn’t go by without me thinking about them at least once. The booze and the coke? I only quit those when I reassumed command and it hurts every single day. I know an addict when I see them because I am one and you, Ms. Shay are an addict. I know it but even more importantly your great-grandmother does. She will be watching and you can bet that there will be someone on ‘your’ crew that will be fully capable of taking command the second you fuck up. You might be able to get one hit, maybe and then… right back to the dirt you go and there will be no escape a second time.”
“Nobody is going to take my ship! I’ll-”
“Fight them all?” Jessica asked with chuckle. “A captain only leads with the permission of their crew. If they lose their confidence in you, that’s it. The same holds true for your great-grandmother or even myself, by the way. We are, in a way, just as subservient as those who we lead. Nobody gets to do what they really want, trust me,” she said ruefully. “If your crew wants you out then you are out, especially in an outfit like the Black Angels. In the Angels it wouldn’t even be mutiny. You can be formally challenged for your command. You might be a bad-ass but what chance do you have against one of your Gram-Gram’s real thugs, especially the one she will send for you? You won’t even have the honor of being killed. You will be given a spanking and sent to your room and that will be that.”
“Fuck you!” Gwen snarled.
“Feel free to terminate this call if you think I’m wrong,” Jessica smiled. “Of course if you do then you won’t get to hear the real reason why I want you. Do you honestly think I don’t already have skilled pilots? I’m Jessica fucking Morgan! My special projects cadre are the best money can buy. I have people who are what you will be in twenty years! Me having a dire need for your piloting skill? That was bullshit. That’s just how I was going to draw you in.”
“I thought you were supposed to never lie,” Gwen replied, intrigued despite herself. She should just hang up. She knew it. Just hang up! She said you could!
“You can bullshit without lying,” Jessica chuckled. “I implied that the talent of yours that I craved was your piloting skill. Oh your skill is astonishing, make no mistake. Your little egg video is making the rounds and I have captains in my special projects division just begging me to poach you. Some of the best crews in the fucking galaxy want you, Gwen. More than one ‘captain’ would happily throw it all away for the chance to be on one of these ships and several of them already want you! Impressive, truly impressive, but that’s not the talent of yours that I want. That’s not why I want you.”
Just hang up and run away!
“Why… Why do you want me then?” Gwen asked knowing it was a trap.
“The accident.”
“What?!?”
“You heard me,” Jessica smiled. “I want you not despite the accident but because of it.”
“Why?!?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” Jessica grinned. “I will, however, say this. I don’t have to tell you about the wonderful observation decks that the Krenk-Halyx possesses. The one that I offer you will have one tiny little modification. The aft solar garden will be converted into your personal quarters with it’s own shutter control and shields. You won’t have to sneak. You won’t have to hide. You will be able to get your fix whenever you want. Gaze into the hyperspatial void to your heart’s content!”
“Wha… I… I don’t… What?” Gwen babbled, completely stunned.
“You have absolutely no idea how special you are, Gwen, but I do,” Jessica purred. “For almost every single human being, direct exposure to hyperspace is lethal, worse than lethal. What it does to the body and to the mind… well… There’s a reason that the vilest of the vile use it as torture. But, for one nine year old girl, it wasn’t torture. It was amazing, wasn’t it?”
Gwen just nodded, tears welling up in her eyes.
“You aren’t the first.”
“What?” Gwen spluttered.
“Nope,” Jessica smiled. “You aren’t alone. You are incredibly rare, perhaps one in hundreds of millions, too rare to actually quantify, but you are NOT unique. There are others.
“Who?!?” Gwen gasped.
“Not telling you,” Jessica grinned. “Not yet… There is only one way to find out...”
***
Shay the Elder stalked up and down the hall getting angrier and more worried by the second.
It had been too long. It had been far too long.
She should barge in there, tell that witch to go and fuck herself!
She strode to the door and froze. It was fucking Jessica Morgan. There wasn’t much that scared Old Gwen but that woman…
But it was her baby-doll! No! She had given that monster enough! She wasn’t going to get-
The door opened and her precious little girl stepped out.
Oh no!
“I’m… I’m sorry Gram-Gram...” Gwen said with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry...”
“It’s ok,” the old woman sighed as she wrapped her arms around her. “She always wins… Always...”
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY [link] [comments]

###Wall Street Breakfast: The Week Ahead

Jun. 07, 2020 8:43 AM ET take what you will and tell me what you think, I think they named most of the stocks out there. What are your favorites?

Welcome to Wall Street Brunch, our preview of stock market events for investors to watch during the upcoming week. You can also catch this article a day early by subscribing to the Stocks to Watch account for Saturday morning delivery. Podcast listener? Subscribe now to receive Wall Street Breakfast by 8:00 a.m. every trading day on Seeking Alpha, iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify

Fed Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will be in the spotlight next week when the Federal Open Market Committee meets on June 9-10. Powell is expected to face questions on the central bank's role in the economic recovery and what tools are still available to use. "We think right now they’re just trying to get this Main Street lending program to work. The question is are they going to do more things around what they do in terms of forward guidance and next steps of macro easing," previews Bank of America economist Ethan Harris. On the economic front, reports on consumer prices, producer prices and consumer sentiment will be watched closely. The weekly jobless claims numbers due out on June 11 will be crucial for sentiment after May’s employment report showed a surprising record gain of 2.5M jobs. On the corporate side of things, Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings with shares sitting near their all-time high and a board battle at GameStop (NYSE:GME) goes to a vote.
Earnings spotlight: REV Group (NYSE:REVG) and Stitch Fix (NASDAQ:SFIX) on June 8; Signet Jewelers (NYSE:SIG), AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), Chewy (NYSE:CHWY), Five Below (NASDAQ:FIVE) and GameStop on June 9; Guess (NYSE:GES) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (NASDAQ:RRGB) on June 10; Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), Dave & Buster's Entertainment (NASDAQ:PLAY) and Lululemon on June 11. Go deeper: See Seeking Alpha's complete list of earnings reporters
IPO watch: Online car seller Vroom (VRM) is offering about 18.8M shares in an expected range of $17 to $19. The timing for the IPO is intriguing with the pandemic leading to more online shopping for cars, but sales and margins under pressure. How well the Vroom IPO is received by investors could be of interest to Carvana (NYSE:CVNA), Cars.com (NYSE:CARS), TrueCar (NASDAQ:TRUE), AutoNation (NYSE:AN) and even Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) as the concept of online car shopping heads more mainstream. Vroom is expected to have a market capitalization of around $1.92B if it prices at the higher end of the indicated range. Across the Pacific, Chinese gaming company NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES) is looking to raise $1.2B in a Hong Kong listing to fund strategies for international expansion. Shares are expected to start trading on June 11. Also in the IPO world, the quiet period expires for ADC Therapeutics (NYSE:ADCT) on June 9 and IPO share lockups end on XP (NASDAQ:XP), Bill Holdings (NYSE:BILL), OneConnect Financial (NYSE:OCFT) and Sprout Social (NASDAQ:SPT) later in the week. There are also secondary offering lockup expirations on Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY) and BlackRock (NYSE:BLK) to keep an eye on. Go deeper: Catch up on all the latest IPO news.
M&A tidbits: Gaming officials in New Jersey meet to discuss the Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR)-Eldorado Resorts (NASDAQ:ERI) merger. The tender offer on the Menarini Group pickup of Stemline Therapeutics (NASDAQ:STML) is also due to expire. Keep an eye on Western Union (NYSE:WU) and MoneyGram International (NASDAQ:MGI) for reports on if the companies are in talks and expect a little more drama around the Tiffany (NYSE:TIF)-LVMH (OTCPK:LVMHF) merger.
Projected dividend changes (quarterly): W.R. Berkley (NYSE:WRB) to $0.12 from $0.11, Casey's General Stores (NASDAQ:CASY) to $0.34 from $0.32, National Fuel Gas (NYSE:NFG) to $0.445 from $0.435, Realty Income (NYSE:O) to $0.2330 (monthly), Urstadt Biddle (NYSE:UBA) to $0.14 from $0.28.
Spotlight on Snap: Snap (NYSE:SNAP) has its partner summit event scheduled for June 11. The virtual event will feature a keynote address by Snap co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, as well as talks from other team members from across the company. New product features and partnerships will be announced around Snap's augmented reality offerings and a stripped-down version of its platform that partners can embed in their own apps is expected to be unveiled. Developers are expected to be able to use a toolkit provided by Snap to build a Snapchat-like mini-app right in their own websites. The Snap event takes place with the company under a brighter spotlight for how it curates its promoted content on the Discover page. Heading into the summit, shares of Snap are up more than 50% over the last 90 days.
Airlines: How high can the airline sector fly? After a series of reports on improved bookings trends, airline stocks are showing positive momentum. American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) paced the sector with a 77% gain last week, while Spirit Airlines (NYSE:SAVE) +75%, JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) +36%, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) +36%, Hawaiian Holdings (NASDAQ:HA) +34% and SkyWest (NASDAQ:SKYW) +33% also reeled off big gains. Traffic reports for May are due out next week, which could include more market-moving metric updates.
Healthcare watch: At ENDO Online, OPKO Health (NASDAQ:OPK) is due to present data on Somatrogon on June 8 and Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ:NBIX) will present on Crinecerfont. Virtual presentations scheduled for the European Hematology Association conference starting on June 11 include bluebird bio (NASDAQ:BLUE) on LentiGlobin data, Merus (NASDAQ:MRUS) on MCLA-117, Altex Industries (OTCQB:ALTX) on Nomacopan, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) on CTX001, AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) on AZD1222 and Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AGIO) on AG-348.
Analyst meetings and business updates: Equifax (NYSE:EFX) has an investor update scheduled for June 8. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) CEO Bob Swan will talk ESG in a discussion with JUST Capital on June 8 and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) has a business update call scheduled for June 9 covering networks and digital services. Avery Dennison (NYSE:AVY) has a conference call scheduled with R.W. Baird on June 9. Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) cloud exec Mike Micucci is participating in the Citi Virtual Software Bus Tour on June 10. Finally, Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) has an Investor Day scheduled for June 10 and Centene (NYSE:CNC) has a Virtual Investor Day presentation scheduled for June 12.
Conferences rundown: Cowen hosts a conference covering the "New Retail Ecosystem" with virtual presentations from Vince Holdings (NYSE:VNCE), Lands' End (NASDAQ:LE) and Macy's (NYSE:M). Also next week, William Blair has a growth stock conference with online talks by execs from a long list of companies, including Pluralsight (NASDAQ:PS), Appian (NASDAQ:APPN), TransUnion (NYSE:TRU), Arista Networks (NYSE:ANET), CyberArk Software (NASDAQ:CYBR), QAD (NASDAQ:QADA), Talend (NASDAQ:TLND), Workday (NASDAQ:WDAY), SmileDirectClub (NASDAQ:SDC), DocuSign (NASDAQ:DOCU), Chewy (CHWY), Zendesk (NYSE:ZEN) and Varonis Systems (NASDAQ:VRNS). The hodge-podge list of companies due to participate at the Stifel 2020 Virtual Cross Sector Insight Conference include Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Donaldson (NYSE:DCI), HubSpot (NYSE:HUBS), S&P Global (NYSE:SPGI), Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK), Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE:ADM), MasTec (NYSE:MTZ), Lindsay (NYSE:LNN), Dycom Industries (NYSE:DY) and Cronos (NASDAQ:OTC:CRON). Meanwhile, the Deutsche Bank 11th Annual Virtual Global Industrials & Materials Summit 2020 will also run next week with presentations ranging from airline companies, paper producers, construction concerns to home builders. Appearances are expected from MYR Goup (NASDAQ:MYRG), WillScot (NASDAQ:WSC), Berry Global (NYSE:BERY), Builders FirstSource (NASDAQ:BLDR), Cabot Corp. (NYSE:CBT), Canadian Pacific (NYSE:CP), Clearwater (NYSE:CLW), Crown Holdings (NYSE:CCK), AMETEK (NYSE:AME), ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT), Ahland Global (NYSE:ASH), AXTA, Delta Air Lines (DAL), Dow Inc. (NYSE:DOW), Fluor (NYSE:FLR), Garrett Motion (NYSE:GTX), Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), Saia (NASDAQ:SAIA), Silgan Holdings (NASDAQ:SLGN), Sonoco Products (NYSE:SON), Summit Materials (NYSE:SUM), Target Hospitality (NASDAQ:TH), Vulcan Materials (NYSE:VMC), Westlake Chemical (NYSE:WLK), XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO), Meritor (NYSE:MTOR), nVent Electric (NYSE:NVT), Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU), PPG Industries (NYSE:PPG), PQ Group (NYSE:PQG), REVG, Alcoa (NYSE:AA), Rexnord Corp. (NYSE:RXN), Canadian National (NYSE:CNI), CSX Corporation (NASDAQ:CSX), Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP), Kansas City Southern (NYSE:KSU), Honeywell (NYSE:HON), Ball Corporation (NYSE:BLL) and O-I Glass (NYSE:OI).
Eating out: The week ahead will see the eat-at-home vs. restaurants trade be hashed around again. Nielsen data could show a deceleration in the stockpiling benefits for Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM), B&G Foods (NYSE:BGS), Blue Apron (NYSE:APRN), Hain Celestial (NASDAQ:HAIN) and General Mills (NYSE:GIS) - while restaurant stocks like Cracker Barrel (NASDAQ:CBRL), Denny's (NASDAQ:DENN), Dine Brands Global (NYSE:DIN), Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (RRGB) will look to scrap back from their YTD losses with more people eating out.
Notable annual meetings: GameStop may generate the most drama of the annual meetings next week with the company's board up for re-election. Two proxy firms are backing candidates from stakeholders Hestia Capital and Permit Capital for board inclusion, while Michael Burry's Scion Asset management is voting in favor of the board's slate. The annual shareholder meeting arrives with shares of GameStop down 32% YTD. Other annual meetings to watch this week include MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI), SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS), Shake Shack (NYSE:SHAK), Target (NYSE:TGT), Wingstop (NASDAQ:WING), TJX Companies (NYSE:TJX), Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT), Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR).
Betting on betting: The brand-new Roundhill Sports Betting & iGaming ETF (NYSEARCA:BETZ) heads into its first full week of trading just ahead of the re-emergence of major sports in the months ahead. The Roundhill Sports Betting & iGaming ETF is designed to offer retail and institutional investors exposure to sports betting and iGaming industries. Holdings include DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG), Flutter Entertainment (OTCPK:PDYPY), Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ:PENN), William Hill (OTCPK:WIMHF), Scientific Games (NASDAQ:SGMS), GAN (NASDAQ:GAN), Churchill Downs (NASDAQ:CHDN) and PointsBet (OTCQX:PBTHF).
Barron's mentions: Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) makes the cover this week with the company in the middle of the political firestorm. For investors, the bigger issue than the culture debate is that the stock is valued at a sales multiple lower than social media peers. Food suppliers Sysco (NYSE:SYY), US Food Holdings (NYSE:USFD) and Performance Food Group (NYSE:PFGC) are recommended with sales volume slowly recovering. The publication notes that large investors like KKR and Trian Fund Management are taking an interest in the sector. There is also a reminder that COVID-19 drug trials are progressing. Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) is testing its antibody in a Phase 1 trial. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN) is also set to begin testing this month, while a collaboration between Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ:VIR) and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) will begin trials later this summer. If the trial results are positive and the pandemic remains intense, emergency authorization of some of the drugs could follow.
Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC, BioPharmCatalyst, EDGAR
submitted by abiech to Winkerpack [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Fall of the Capital Enclave Part One

Well you can't win them all...
This got long so it got split into two parts. The second part will be posted soon.
The rest of this series can be found here
***
As night fell Colonel Laurent looked at the map and sighed. Still no movement from the Federation troops. He was definitely disappointed, but not terribly shocked. In every single ground engagement between the Federation Army and human forces the Feds were dealt costly and humiliating defeats.
They won’t be trying that again. Their losses were in the tens of thousands across the Federation.
The colonel did some quick math in his head and nodded. The losses were definitely above the minimum goals for the initial day. The Feds lost a measurable portion of their ground forces, enough that massing troops would be difficult if they wanted to retain enough men for their defense.
He pulled up another report. In more than a few areas the Federation presence was reduced enough to start evacuations of some of the smaller enclaves. The General had placed a high priority on those people. They were almost entirely untouched by the plague.
Unfortunately, here in the Capital City, the location of the single largest population of completely uninfected people, they were hopelessly trapped. They had freighters registered under other flags waiting but there was no way to get the people to them. Currently, they were only able to send the barest trickle of people through a hastily improvised “underground railroad”. Thanks to a number of sympathetic races humans were being smuggled into other enclaves and out of the city, but it was only a few at a time, and they have over one-hundred and twenty thousand people. Over a hundred and ten thousand of them were non-combatants.
He had hoped for more volunteers, but he didn’t blame them. Most of these people came from “pure porkie” stock, arcology refugees, innocent spacers, people like that. Most of them didn’t have a single drop of raider in them. They weren’t fighters, just poor luckless bastards and their descendants. They had been kicked around and stepped on by everyone, raider, Terran, and Confederacy alike. They wanted no part of this and he didn’t fault them one bit.
He felt terribly bad for them. After everything they manage to find a home, a place to build a future and what happens? Another fucking Yellowstone kicks them right in the balls. He wasn’t able to protect them before but by God he was going to do it now. He was going to get as many of them as he could out of this death-trap.
There was a quiet beep as an encoded text came in. It was from his “piper” out in the fringes of the solar system. A battleship task force just entered the system. Fuck, it was the Ascension.
The Ascension was an elite ship with a blooded and experienced crew. Among it’s numerous achievements was causing significant damage to a Sovngarde battle group to the point she forced them to retreat, with losses.
There was only one reason why it was here. It was renowned for its accuracy… bombardment.
They were going to obliterate them from space! Fuck. They were actually perform orbital bombardment on the Capital City!
They were dead. A battleship’s beam weapons could easily completely vaporize a building, and at full power it could wipe out a city block! There was no way that there wouldn’t be extensive civilian casualties!
He picked up a radio.
He summoned Major Geel, leader of his combat-engineers. He then typed out a hyperspace message for the piper to send to General Morgan. He included a personal message saying good-bye.
This was it for him. He wasn’t overly concerned for himself. He wasn’t a young man when Yellowstone happened and the nearly annual surgeries and treatments were becoming more extensive and painful every year.
He had cheated death enough, but some of the men and women under his command… They had barely begun to live. They had so much ahead of them only for it to be erased in less than a millisecond from orbit.
He looked at the map carefully. Did they dig in and hope for the best or do they try to engage the Federation forces in the government district?
He smiled grimly. He wasn’t going out hiding in a hole like some rat. He and his men would perform one final raid. Hopefully, they won’t be so eager to vaporize non-human neighborhoods and while their defeat was assured they would at least take some of those bastards along with them.
He sat down and started to draw up a plan of battle.
As he was planning his glorious demise one of the volunteers walked in. It was Vera, one of the people they had appointed a commander of one horde of irregulars or another.
“All irregular forces have reported in, sir,” she said as she stood at attention. “All present or accounted for.”
“Very good,” he said with a smile. Vera was a good young woman and took both her responsibilities and the situation very seriously. In fact, she had inquired about joining “the real army”. Unbeknownst to her, he had already started the paperwork.
“The police are still manning the barricades, sir. More people than ever have ‘taken the walk’ and let themselves be detained,” she said making a face of disapproval.
Colonel Laurent smiled sadly.
“Either take your chances in a detention camp or take your chances here, huh?” he said. “They might be the smart ones.”
“Sir?!?”
“The battleship Ascension just entered the system,” the colonel said in a matter of fact voice. “Tell me, what does that mean?”
Vera looked up pensively.
“Are they fortifying the system, after you know, Raylesh and Zaran?”
“But they already have more than enough ships here to keep out our hastily armed freighters,” the colonel replied. “Why else?”
“If it isn’t system defense then...”
Vera gasped.
“They aren’t going to bombard us are they?” she asked in terror.
“That is my belief, yes. The Ascension is renowned for the accuracy of its guns. There is only one reason to bring that ship here. They are going to take us out from space. The Ascension’s gunners are accurate enough to hit a single building or a single intersection from orbit.”
“What are we going to do?” Vera asked.
“Well, Vera,” the colonel said. “We are going to die.”
Vera’s lip quivered but that was her only reaction.
“The only question is how we are going to die,” the colonel said. “Do we dig in and hope for the best and then engage the invading forces with whoever is left or do we take the fight to them? We will lose but at least they can’t hit us from orbit once we engage the enemy. I’m opting for the latter. I will not die hiding like a porkie. I’m going to die with my boots on and my rifle in my hand.”
“I… I’m with you sir!” Vera said, her lip still quivering slightly.
“No, child,” the colonel said gently. “You are going to live, you and all of the irregulars.”
“But we can help!”
“No, you can’t,” the colonel said sadly. “Most of you will die in the first quarter-mile. The rest will likely die in the next. The only reason I would send you forth would be as decoys and, this time, I’m not doing that. No, this time I’m doing this my way, not the General’s. You take the irregulars and have them protect the civilians. That is what you signed up to do, protect your families, not be cut down in a doomed charge. So, protect your families. I’m entrusting you with this,” he said as he handed her an ancient radio handset and a notebook. “In this book are all of the contacts for the various enclave leaders who are helping us. You’ve met a lot of them but not all. You can use the handset to keep in touch with us tomorrow but do not let them capture it. Press this button, hard, and throw it if it looks like you are going to get caught.”
“But… I want to stand with you, sir.”
“In war you don’t get to do what you want, Vera,” the colonel chuckled. “You follow your orders and your orders are to take this and coordinate the escape. You are one of the best of the irregulars and everyone respects you. Your job is not to die, it’s to lead. Oh, and take this,” the colonel said as he walked over to the wall and picked up his saber assault rifle.
“Sir! I couldn’t!”
“This weapon has seen me safe through the Sol Wars and beyond,” he said as he handed it to her. “I know you know how to use it, yes?”
“Only in video games,” she said hesitantly.
“Close enough,” he smiled. “I would rather it live on in your hands than wind up in some division’s trophy case,” he smiled. He handed her his ammo pouches. “There is enough ammunition in there to both last you the whole war and get some practice in.” he laughed.
“What are you going to use?”
“This!” he said as he took her AK. “The Terrans defeated us with this trash,” he laughed. “If it beat us then it will beat them now.”
“Now sit down,” the colonel said firmly. “We don’t have a lot of time and there is much we must cover.”
***
Roughly an hour later Colonel Laurent was sitting at a table with his officers.
“… so that’s the situation my friends,” he said.
“Fuck.” the silver haired woman muttered.
“Well put,” the colonel laughed. “If we are going to go out, I say we do if fighting.”
“Goddamn right!” a man in his forties, wearing the unmarked gray armor of Morgan Security, snarled.
“We will advance under cover of darkness,” the colonel said, “If we follow these approach routes we should evade notice for at least most of the way. Our scanner cammo should provide concealment as long as we can avoid the cameras. Hopefully enough of us will be able to reach the opponent to inflict casualties.”
“And we should draw the Ascension’s fire away from the enclave,” another said.
“With any luck,” the colonel replied. “Just in case, how are the shelters, Major Geel?”
A grubby looking man wearing just a stained jumpsuit gave him an unhappy look.
“We’ve been reinforcing the metro stops and the sub levels of the theatre but there is only so much you can do with construction foam and wire, sir. Against a normal attack they are great. Against a fucking battleship? They might survive a near miss or a low power shot but a direct hit from their main gun? No way.”
“Is there anywhere that is safe?” the colonel asked.
“If the Ascension wants something gone it’s gone,” Major Geel replied. “However, the Cambridge Road metro station is the deepest and the tunnels themselves go even deeper. They are a good escape route for the civvies if things go to shit.”
“But isn’t there a risk of electrocution?”
“You are thinking about our subway lines back home,” the major replied. “The Feds just have passive maglev rails. The trains themselves have small reactors and induce a field as they travel. The rails are just blocks of coils. Sensors will also automatically shut down traffic if someone is in there so we can use them as escape tunnels if we absolutely have to.”
“Sounds good,” the colonel replied.
“That being said,” the major continued, “We can’t pack a hundred and twenty thousand into those tunnels. One, they would suffocate and two, they will be trapped. There is only one way to go once they get in there. We might as well be marching them right into a concentration camp.”
“So they get blown to hell or they get infected...” the colonel said grimly. “Wonderful…”
“Perhaps not,” Major Pascal, the silver-haired woman said, “There are enough humans on this planet to justify a camp here. Nobody on this planet is infected as far as we know.”
“Would you be willing to bet your family that the Feds will do that?” the Morgan Security officer growled. “Those fuckers want us gone.”
“We are leaving the enclave,” the colonel said after a few moments, “that is the best thing we can do for them. As far as the rest, we just have to tell them what we know and let them decide. We will support them as best as we can... Captain Stewart!”
“Sir!” the Morgan Security officer replied.
“Take the Morgan Security forces and support the civilians and the irregulars.”
“Sir?” Captain Stewart asked unhappily.
“The people here are going to need help. You will provide it. Do whatever you can.”
“Yes, sir...”
“Ms. Walker,” the colonel said looking towards a woman lounging against the wall next to a long black case embossed with the word “Keralx” in Imperial script.
“Sir?”
“I’m detaching you from my command… Kill.”
“Yes, sir,” the woman said with a smile. She took the case and departed.
***
“Excuse me, Colonel?” Vera asked as she entered the Colonel’s office, interrupting his preparations.
“I’m rather busy, Vera,” he said looking up from his map. He raised his eyebrow suspiciously. Behind Vera were a rather odd group of humans. They ranged from a leather clad punk to a rather preppy looking young woman. “And just who have you brought into my headquarters?”
“I think we can help after all!” Vera said triumphantly. “You want to get to the government district, right?”
“You disclosed our plans?” the colonel asked, quite annoyed. Perhaps he misjudged her after all. He would be taking back his rifle or at least finding someone actually suitable to bear it.
“I did,” Vera said, “but for very good reason, sir. These people are the best human hackers in the city, therefore the best hackers on the planet! They can get you there undetected.”
“They can?” the colonel asked.
“Yeah,” the leather-clad young man replied. “Spoofing city cameras and sensors is easy money. We can get you past them.”
“How, exactly?”
“There are literally millions of cameras, sensors, and the like in this city,” the preppy young woman said, “far too many to go to a single control point. Each block sends it’s data to a central processing station which then compiles, evaluates, buffers and distributes the data. Those block data transmission units in turn sends it to-”
“Just the basics, please,” the colonel said politely cutting her off. Maybe Vera gets to keep the rifle.
“Ok,” the woman said pushing up her glasses in which faint glowing lines could be seen, “we can access the neighborhood sensor processing units, and loop them out… That means we send them false data. We do it all the time for smugglers and the gangs.”
“And you can do that for us?”
“No problem,” the leather clad young man said with a grin.
The colonel looked over at Vera and smiled.
“I didn’t know you associated with these sorts of people, Vera,” the colonel said with a twinkle in his eye.
“I don’t… not really...” Vera said sheepishly, “But I know someone who knows someone...”
“Ah,” the colonel smiled, “say no more.” He turned to the hackers.
“How long will it take for you to ‘hack-in’ or whatever it is that you do?”
“We are ready to go,” the young woman said.
“But don’t you have to log in or something?”
“Nah,” the young man replied. “We gotta physically access the nodes. We’re coming with you.”
“Are you certain?” the colonel asked. “You know this is going to be very dangerous.”
“Oh please,” the preppy woman scoffed. “Getting shot is way better than what can happen to us if we fuck up other jobs.”
“We leave within the hour,” the colonel said. He looked over at Vera and smiled.
She grinned back.
***
A little later that night, Fed Trooper Gy-Jerin leaned against the side of an APC as he played with his phone.
“Hey!” his companion snapped from a nearby fighting position, “At least pretend that you are on watch, please.”
“Why?” he replied not looking up from his game, “I don’t even know why we are out here. There are a couple of miles of cameras, sensors, and drones between us and them and that’s not counting our own stuff.”
“Yeah, but it’s the Forsaken”, the other trooper said, nervously wiping his flat snout. “You know what they’ve done in other places, right?”
“Forsaken?” Gy-Jerin scoffed. “They can call themselves whatever fancy name they want but they are still fucking porkies.”
“Fine, porkies then,” his fellow trooper snapped. “The porkies have been kicking our asses across the whole Federation. All of our ‘stuff’ hasn’t done shit.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t have the Ascension in orbit. Those porkies poke their heads out of their holes for one sec-”
“Wait!” the other trooper hissed urgently, his snout twitching. “I smell-”
Federation Trooper Gy-Jerin’s phone fell from his hand as a plasma-jacketed tungsten needle blew his head apart.
His companion pressed himself into the pavement as countless rays of light ripped the air apart just over his head.
He heard the captain yelling something. He turned just in time to see the captain, and his command APC be vaporized in a flash of light.
People were running, screaming… blowing apart…
He heard Sergeant Vkk bellowing… something…
He looked that way hopefully. Sergeant Vkk would know what to-
Sergeant Vkk exploded too, ripped completely in half by one of those ungodly streaks of light.
Everything was so loud. He couldn’t hear anything and, partially blinded by those… whatever those unholy bolts were… he couldn’t see much.
He didn’t know what to do! This wasn’t anything like training!
Oh Creators! It was so loud
Something else exploded. He wasn’t sure what…
He didn’t know what to do!
He looked around for a sergeant… or an officer… but he couldn’t see anyone… Everyone was dying!
Nobody was yelling orders anymore. They were just screaming. Some people were trying to fight, to shoot back but they were literally being torn apart by those beams, their deflectors just giving off an anemic little blue flash.
He pressed himself down tighter against the ground. Instinctively, he started trying to dig, his short claws scraping against the concrete…
It wasn’t fair! They weren’t trained for this! What was he supposed to do? He prayed for someone, anyone to tell him what to do
The APC beside him started to be ripped apart by thousands of those bolts, in almost a solid stream of blinding white fire. He screamed in agony and, dropping his needler, covered his ears from the noise, the impossibly loud crack from each bolt overlapping to create a deafening scream.
It sounded like, rage
Then… silence… almost as deafening as the unholy noise…
He could hear nothing but a dull buzzing in his ears, his eyes, blinded by the glare, could only make out the dim glows of fires and… shadows moving among them…
Humans!
He curled up into a ball as he watched the wraith-like forms stalk through his camp. There was the occasional flash, sometimes preceded by desperate begging…
Then even that ended...
Forever later, he heard the sonic booms of fighters tearing through the sky above him and heard the distinctive sound of heavy blaster fire and more of that unholy screaming from the human weapons as the fighters engaged the humans somewhere nearby.
Suddenly, he saw something explode above him… then something else exploded… The fighters! How? How were their soldiers able to do that?
Now that his hearing had recovered somewhat, he could hear sounds of weapons fire in the distance, all around. They must be attacking everyone… everywhere…
How? How could they do that? How did they get here?
The night was instantly turned into day as a huge beam of light shot down from the sky with an unholy deafening roar like the wrath of his people’s ancient gods. Then, another bolt from heaven fell… and another...
***
“How in the Hells did they get here undetected?” a general yelled pounding the table with his claw.
“We don’t know, sir,” another officer said miserably. “One moment everything looked normal and the next they were everywhere!”
“And those abyss touched maniacs are too close for effective orbital engagement,” a naval officer said calmly. “We have hit what we can but we can’t do anything else without risking hitting our own people.”
There was a beep as another area of the map displayed on the holo-screen in front of them turned red.
“Dammit!” the general yelled and turned to the naval officer.
“Where are your damned fighters?!?”
“What do you want,” the officer replied, “fighters or bombardment? You can’t have both, sir. At least they can’t shoot down the Ascension, at least we think they can’t.”
The general cursed as another one of the red areas turned black.
“Well, what in the void are we supposed to do, then?” the general yelled.
“Have you tried, I don’t know… fighting them?”
“GET OUT! ABYSS TAKE YOU! GET OUT!!!” the general shouted, lunging at the naval officer.
“Gladly, sir,” the office replied with a smirk. Admiral Koo had the right idea, the officer thought as he straightened his uniform on the way out. With any luck he could get fired too!
***
“Fuck!” Tawnie, the preppy hacker quietly cursed.
“What?” Colonel Laurent, crouched behind some rubble asked.
“We lost Haxx0r… The leather jacket guy... That last orbital strike got him.”
“… Pascal...” The colonel said sadly.
“… Oh yeah… sorry, dude...” Tawnie said.
“So, what are you two doing back there?” the colonel asked as he viewed his combat map.
“Your commo dude and I are trying to crack the Navy’s communications,” Tawnie replied. “That fucking battleship isn’t picking these targets from way up there. It’s getting targeting info… We crack that...” she said as she flashed him an evil grin.
“...and we can send it targets!” the colonel chuckled. “If we can do that just once I will die a happy man!”
“What’s this with you and dying, man,” Tawnie replied. “I swear you have been picking out your fucking flowers since before we started.”
“Isn’t it obvious, child?”
“Not to me it isn’t,” Tawnie laughed. “When the reaper comes I’m kicking him in the balls… or giving him a blowie… whichever works.”
The colonel just smiled and shook his head.
“Time to call in the big guns,” Tawnie said as she let forth a frustrated sigh.
“The big guns?” Colonel Laurent asked.
“Yeah, I’m gonna summon Diakon, one of the hacker gods.”
The communications operator looked up.
“Isn’t he in jail for child porn?”
Tawnie laughed.
“No, some kid toucher is in jail. Fed Intel has this super hacker… goes by the handle ‘The Spider’… When The Spider gets on you you’re got. Diakon was getting ready to blackmail that pedo and when The Spider came knocking they had just enough time to frame that loser. He got arrested for crimes against the state and Diakon went dark… at least for a little while.”
“Really?”
“I should know,” Tawnie smiled as she dialed her phone.
“Hi mom,” she said and immediately winced, “… Goddammit, mom, I’m-… Where the fuck do you think I am?… Look-… Yeah, I know exactly who has already died. I’m right here you know.”
She winced and held the phone away from her ear as the sound of a woman’s paniced screeching could be heard.
“Jesus, keep your voice down… Look, I need your help. We are trying to crack the Navy’s codes… We do that and we can shut down that fucking battleship and maybe your precious little angel won’t get turned into a smudge like Haxx0r… and maybe light up Fed Intel while we are at it? Wouldn’t it be nice to give The Spider a little present?… Ok, text me when you have booted up The Beast and I’ll network you in… Um… Mom...Just in case, I’ve emailed you the code for my apartment. Jasper’s food is in the top of the cabinet next to the refrigerator… I love you, mom… bye.”
Tawnie looked over at the colonel with a grin.
“Parents, right? Always losing their shit over the tiniest little thing...”
***
Just before dawn General Stonebeak stormed out of Federation Command.
The nerve of that pipsqueak! He was furious. Just as soon as the business day started he was giving the Admiral of the Navy a call.
Someone that disrespectful and insubordinate had no place in the Federation military! He was going to personally see to it that they would be stripped of their rank and thrown out in disgrace!
Let’s see how that little shit likes that! the general thought with a smug click of his beak as he pulled out his smoking pipe…
Almost two kilometers away Ashley Walker sighed happily as she held her Keralx in her loving embrace. One of only two Keralx sniper gyrojets known to ever enter the black market, it had triggered a bidding war of truly epic proportions.
Jessica Morgan herself attended the auction but even she could only manage to get just one of them. Ashley was never told the amount that it fetched but the fact that Jessica Morgan herself could only afford to get one of them spoke volumes.
After it was scanned down to the atom, Jessica held a marksmanship competition. The prize, what she now held in her arms.
A flicker of light caught her attention and the optics, tracking her eye movements, instantly zoomed in on the source, some crab-cake smoking a pipe… a general no less!
She smiled at the comical image for a moment and then lined up the shot. It used “smart-gun” technology, good old Earth-tech. She locked in the target with the tiniest flick of her eye and then armed the weapon. The targeting computer used completely passive sensors to estimate wind-speed and range and when the barrel was precisely aligned with the target and all other factors were nominal, it fired automatically.
The entire process took a fraction of a second. The weapon being held on target by a master sniper speeds up the process greatly.
With a nearly silent “Ssssszzzzz” the projectile left the weapon…
***
POP
The duty sergeant’s head jerked up from his tablet so fast his eyes flipped backwards on their stalks for a moment.
What in all of the Hells was that?
He checked the status panels. There were no security breaches and no reports of enemy activity nearby. Thank the Creators that their surprise attack seems to have stalled.
But what was that noise?
He activated a perimeter drone and launched it.
He watched the display. Everything looked ok. Nothing was out of place.
He sent the drone around the side of the building.
He smiled. There was old General Pinchy in the smoking area… Wait…
Holy Mother of Creation!!!
He slammed a rubbery prehensile flipper onto the alarm button and yelled about the sniper into the building’s intercom. The AI parsed his screaming into a series of priority messages and instantly transmitted them through the building, across the capital, and beyond.
Oh no! he thought as he saw Admiral Jerbin exiting a driverless cab.
He watched in horror as the admiral stopped, exactly in the sniper’s line of fire, and pulled out his phone to read an emergency message about the sniper that he was now standing directly in front of!
The sergeant lept from his desk and charged outside screaming.
The admiral looked up at him in confusion.
POP
“NO!” the sergeant screamed as the admiral’s head and most of one of his side lobes turned into a green mist.
“SNIPER! SNIPER!!! GET DOWN!!!” the sergeant screamed, heedless of the danger, “SNIPER!… SNIPER!...”
Ashley looked through her scope at the sergeant and smiled. The rocks on that guy! Lucky for him he was “only” a master sergeant. He was probably very important in the local scheme of things but she only had so many rounds… and she had taken a liking to the fellow. He gets to live.
Besides, staying here any longer was really pushing her luck. Time to move.
She slowly started to creep away.
This was fun!
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY [link] [comments]

Unleashed pt. 15

I've had a lot of work stuff this past week, deadlines etc... I'm still trying for one chapter a week as a minimum, this is a quick one. Thanks to u/eruwenn for editing and smoothing out the rough edges.
First / Prev / Next
Embar arrived at the Ambassadorial Suite to find Aaron reading, and Ranjaz playing one of the simple Earth games Alexa had converted to work on their devices. He passed a datapad to Aaron, who gave his thumb print without looking. “What’s this?”
Ranjaz threw a cushion at Aaron. “Ask that before giving your print!”
Embar pulled up a seat at the large table littered with cups and plates. He picked up a Rinoxian friendly cupcake from one of the plates. “Bounty hunter license.”
“Bounty hunter?” Aaron and Ranjaz replied in unison. “How in Tulseria’s name did he get one of those!” Ranjaz added.
“Lieutenant Chae’Sol pulled some strings.” Embar finished his cupcake and gave a Sergeant’s report. “Seems Aaron caught some bliss smugglers a couple of cycles ago. Aaron identified a couple of the crew who had skimmed some for themselves, and when security searched the ship they found a lot more. Arrested them, and turns out one of them was wanted, very wanted. Fifty thousand credits. He wanted Aaron to get the reward, and you need a license to receive bounties.”
“Fifty thousand credits!” Ranjaz almost choked. “That’s almost a whole celes' wages!”
Embar laughed. “Plus ten thousand a head for the Bliss smugglers. Gal. Fed is cracking down hard on that brain rot. It’s going to be almost treble by the time the Lieutenant is done.”
Aaron was looking through his phone. “That’s great, I’ve made less than a thousand credits from the cupcakes.”
Ranjaz put down his game. “In four cycles?” He made some quick calculations. “You have to sell over eight hundred cupcakes just to make one hundred credits. That’s eight thousand cupcakes!”
Aaron shrugged. “It’s growing slowly, almost all of the sales are from the Azrimad and Arkellis. I did see some from trader ships that had passed through and a couple of the stations they visited. We need better marketing.” Returning to the subject at hand he asked Embar. “So, what does the license mean?”
Embar took a bite out of his second cupcake, he was glad Aaron had found a sugar substitute he could metabolise. “Let’s see. You can claim bounties. They don’t let just anyone go after criminals.”
Ranjaz let out an exaggerated groan at Embar’s dry description. He sat up straight and said, “Bounty hunters are the coolest! Except when they bring you in over a tiny misunderstanding and you end up being forced to do community service for the Galactic Federation.”
Embar chuckled. “You broke into a military facility, stole top secret plans, and then auctioned them to the highest bidder. Where was the misunderstanding?”
Ranjaz gave a fiendish smile and waggled his fingers. “That they think I only took those plans.” He saw Embar’s eyebrow raise and quickly moved on. “Anyway. Bounty hunters. You get to carry a weapon anywhere -”
“- public places and some restricted areas.” Embar added.
“- you can get all the ship weapons the rest of us are prohibited from getting. The really cool stuff -” Ranjaz was getting excited.
“- No. You can get some upgrades, and items, that are normally reserved for security forces.” Embar corrected, taking another bite of cupcake.
“- You can go anywhere, boss people around and if anyone gives you trouble?” Ranjaz made finger guns and laser noises.
“For Tulseria’s sake. No. Again. You have a higher level of clearance for accessing mining colonies, outposts and stations. And only if you have evidence that a criminal is present. You can liaise with Galactic Federation security officers and local system law enforcement, not boss them around, and lethal force is only allowed in the defense of life. Where do you get your information?”
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Ranjaz forgot everything he was just told. “That’s what the rule book says, but bounty hunters don't play by the rules! Every kid wants to be a bounty hunter, just like Selva Blaster.”
Embar almost choked. “From the children’s books?”
Ranjaz rolled his eyes. “Anyone can enjoy them; they’re literature. Trust me Aaron, bounty hunters are awesome and licenses are really hard to get. Plus, you’re unkillable!” Ranjaz’s eyes widened as he seemed to have a sudden epiphany. “You could be the greatest bounty hunter ever!”
Aaron laughed and shook his head. “I’m going home, but I appreciate the vote of confidence.” After a second or two of consideration he added, “Having a weapon might be useful though. Do I get a badge?”
“Badge?”
Aaron looked at Embar’s uniform. “Like your shoulder patch. Something to show people and prove I am a real bounty hunter.”
Embar nodded as he understood. “No. Nothing like that. Just a holo-card with your details and a transponder chip that you can turn on to notify others. Once the documentation is done, the Lieutenant will drop it all off and sign over the reward money.”
Ranjaz had been quiet, apparently deep in thought. “You want dual blasters, one old model your grandfather carried in the cyborg wars and a Rinoxian Special you had customised with a thermal scope and laser sight.”
Embar groaned. “He’s not in your stupid book. Maybe, he wants an Earth weapon? Something John Rambo would carry!”
Aaron laughed. “I doubt I could walk around with an M60 all day. A colt peacemaker might be cool. If the fabricators can make it? I could be a sheriff, or marshall.”
Embar looked at Aaron quizzically. “You called a weapon peacemaker? And yes, your primitive weapons aren’t complicated and the records are pretty detailed. Alexa is already working on parts for some sort of computer box for playing games. Seems to me like a waste of resources. Your people seem to love games more than any other, and you’ve made them addictive. First Alexa couldn’t get enough of them, and now Ranjaz has joined in.”
Ranjaz made an obscene gesture and stretched out on the sofa once more, then returned his attention to his datapad. Holding it up for Embar to see, he pointed to a large red bird. “I call that one Embar.” He drew it back in a tiny slingshot before firing it at some green cartoon pigs. “He’s just big and doesn’t do anything special.”
Embar looked at Aaron, who shrugged and returned to Embar’s point. “Games are fun, they help you unwind, teach problem solving and teamwork. Some are good for learning other skills, they have economies and stuff.” He saw the sceptical look on Embar’s face as Ranjaz unleashed profanities at the cartoon pigs. “You just need to find one that appeals to you. Or don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Alexa is a bit obsessive. She heard about PC gaming and now she isn’t satisfied with the phone games. She’s determined to join the master race.”
Embar looked solemnly at Aaron. “Wars have been fought over that idea.”
Aaron was saved from explaining the intricacies of the console wars by the arrival of Jar’Bek. The lawyer was wearing a very smart suit and an exhausted expression, and walked straight to the food replicator with only a perfunctory wave to the others as a greeting. “Arkellian bastards.”
Aaron, happy to change subject, moved to the table and sat beside Embar. “Problems?”
Jar’Bek returned with a glass of water, and a plate of salad. “Stalling, lots of stalling. Everything they do is to buy time until the Azrimad leaves, then they can spin this out forever, and just ignore us.”
Aaron tapped his foot as he thought. “How long do the planet inspections usually take?”
Ranjaz called out from the sofa. “Small colonies can be done as fast as thirty cycles. A home world takes a whole celes at least. It’s a whole damn planet.” Aaron was beginning to breathe a sigh of relief when Ranjaz continued, “We’ve been here almost one and a half celes, but have encountered so many regulation breaches we've been working almost nonstop. Glad we're leaving in ten cycles - some crudhole station and a string of colonies a few systems over is next. Should be calmer.”
Aaron turned back to Jar'Bek. "Shit. What do we do?"
Jar'Bek nodded, unceremoniously shoving a forkful of leaves into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and took a long drink of water before replying. "We need to apply pressure, but we have none. You don’t even have a planet to get outraged on your behalf.”
A voice drifted up from the other side of the sofa as Ranjaz offered his wisdom. “You’re a bounty hunter now, just get them to commit a crime and shoot them.”
Jar’Bek’s eyes grew wide with surprise.”Bounty hunter?”
Embar laughed; it was a source of great pleasure to him seeing the lawyer caught off guard. “It’s true. The documentation should be through tomorrow.”
Jar’Bek looked genuinely perplexed. “Why? Do you think we’re going to lose?”
Aaron leaned back in his seat. “I never applied. Look, forget the bounty hunter stuff. We’ve got to figure out how to get an agreement out of the Arkellians while we still have the Azrimad forcing them to play nice.”
Ranjaz’s voice floated up from behind the sofa. “Can I be a bounty hunter?”
Embar replied sharply, “Not with your record.”
“Awww.”
Embar seemed to recall something. “Sassie is getting a license as well, she was part of the arrests and has the same status as Aaron.”
“Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Aaron waited a second before realising no one else would get that.
Ranjaz was incensed. “She’s already an Ambassador! It’s not fair!”
Embar laughed. “She was not wanted across a dozen systems.”
Ranjaz whined loudly. “I want to be a Bounty Hunter, I bet I’d be awesome. I already know all about criminals so catching them would be easy.”
Embar scooped up the cushion Ranjaz had thrown and tossed it back at the Kittran. “You are a criminal!”
Ranjaz, in a mock wounded voice, replied, “Was a criminal. I’m an upstanding X.B.P.A. agent now.”
Jar’Bek sighed. He had sought other living quarters, but when word had spread that he was an Ashi the availability of rooms for rent plummeted. It was kindhearted of Aaron to take him in, and he was grateful for the assistance, but the constant comings and goings were an unbearable distraction. Ranjaz in particular had a way of derailing conversations that left the Ashi baffled. Alexa had put some games onto his datapad and that had bought them some peace. “Can we please focus on the time-sensitive lawsuit and not the ridiculous notion of becoming bounty hunters. This is not a stupid Selva Blaster novel!”
Ranjaz’s head popped up over the back of the sofa. “Selva Blaster would shoot you for saying that!”
Jar’Bek bristled. “Yes, he would. Because those books always paint my race as bloodthirsty raiders! You know, he has killed at least a dozen Ashi in every book.”
Ranjaz sank back down. Realising he may have hit a nerve, he decided it might be best to stop. Then discarded that idea. “He doesn’t like lawyers either, so you’re double fucked.”
Jar’Bek shot up from his seat, knocking it backwards onto the floor. “Because he never follows the law. He should be the wanted one! He has kidnapped, tortured, lied, murdered and slept his way across the Federation and half the Imperium at this point. He should be the most wanted criminal ever!” Jar’Bek’s voice was getting louder, and Embar put his hand out to calm him. It was irritably pushed aside. “He kills Ashi on sight, and then wonders why they shoot at him on sight. He stole a secret weapon from the Rinoxian military and blew up a moon. Did he face charges? Was it even an appropriate response to someone stealing his grandfather's gun?”
Ranjaz yelled back, “It has sentimental value!”
The lawyer grabbed fistfuls of his own hair and screwed his face up in silent anger. When he spoke his voice was calm and even, but strained, as if the yelling was a sliver of control away. “You can’t do whatever you want just because you’re popular!”
Ranjaz, his voice holding no anger, but perhaps a note of humour. “Pretty sure that’s exactly how politics works.”
Jar’Bek looked from Aaron to Embar, and seeing their blank expressions realised he had once again been goaded into a frivolous argument by the Kittran. “I’m going to Alexa’s room to try and think of a solution without annoying interruptions.” He gathered his things quickly, shooting the back of the sofa murderous glances.
As the door to the second bedroom closed, Ranjaz said, “See, Embar. Everyone reads those novels. Not just kids.”
Embar stood and stretched. “Stop teasing him, we need him to focus. Aaron can’t just declare war on everyone until he gets what he wants.” The sergeant turned to Aaron. “You aren’t declaring war again, right?”
Aaron pretended to consider the suggestion. “I mean, it worked last time. And I have a general to advise me.”
Embar was halfway to the door. “You’re as bad as Ranjaz. I’m going home, you should be focusing on the problem before you.”
Aaron nodded, but his mind was already elsewhere.
Aaron stepped out of the training shuttle, swinging a small bag over his shoulder. Alexa was waiting for him with Sassie, and he immediately knelt to greet his dog. Playfully he pushed her back as she used her body weight to lean on him, her tail wagging furiously. Alexa watched as the instructor gripped the door frame tightly, and shakily stepped down onto the shuttle landing pad. “Did it go well?”
Aaron looked up, still wrestling gently with Sassie. “Yeah. Getting the hang of it. The new controls you designed are much better.” He patted his bag. “Pretty handy they let you adapt them to your species.”
“Not all species have the same appendages.”
“Exactly, and I’m already very familiar with a playstation controller. A few extra buttons and a separate keypad. Boom! Ace pilot. Well, I got my learner’s permit at least.” Aaron stood, looking particularly pleased with himself as he displayed a green card with a 3D hologram of his head floating from its surface.
Alexa shook her head in faux disgust. "You are a filthy casual," she said with a broad smile, and held up a gold card. "I passed my full test, and I am licensed for Intra-System Grav Drives.”
Aaron turned back to thank the instructor, who squealed angrily and fled. “What did you do?” Alexa asked Aaron pointedly.
Aaron turned back around, looking genuinely perplexed. “Nothing! I told you, the new controls were great, just like a game. I was in perfect control, loops, rolls and the acceleration was awesome. I’m telling you I’m a natural. In fact, I think I might look at getting a Kittran racer, something with a bit more speed.”
As they walked towards the exit they passed by Ha’Mon’s workstation where the instructor was yelling at the three vehicle enthusiasts. “It was you, wasn't it Clak-Soon! You sent that lunatic!”
On Ha’Mon’s screen was a display of the course, a series of nav-points the pilot must navigate through with some holographic obstacles thrown in. The suggested blue line cut a sweeping route through the points, a red line cut a much sharper line, zig-zagging wildly. Clak-Soon was puffing out his chest. “Look at that time! The last human is a natural.”
Ha’Mon was trying to calm down the instructor as Aaron walked past. “First!” he yelled. “First human!”
“I damn well hope not,” the instructor yelled back before throwing down his datapad and storming off.
Captain Slo was looking over the flight data. “Human, you should be more careful. You will get longer battery life if you use lower braking and acceleration.”
Ha’Mon was looking at the ship's internal data with an engineer's eye. “Lefu’Yendra, your reaction speeds are incredible.” Aaron was about to reply when Ha’Mon continued, “Wow! Look at Alexa’s score!”
A purple line appeared on the display, taking an optimised path between the red and blue, expertly balancing speed and efficiency. Alexa had a slightly slower time but had preserved an additional six percent battery. She smiled and gave Aaron a playful shove. “Looks like I am first.”
The others laughed, and after they all congratulated Alexa and explained to Aaron how he could improve they were finally able to say their goodbyes. Once inside the elevator Aaron’s shoulders sagged as he relaxed. “You have a license, so you can take me out for more practice before the test?”
Alexa nodded. “You don’t need more practice, though - you will pass with ease.”
Sassie pushed her head against Aaron’s pocket and he pulled out a biscuit. “Last one. Sorry, I’ll make you some proper food when we get back.” Sassie crunched the biscuit and Alexa smiled at the pair. “What’s so funny?”
“I am still not sure which of you owns the other.”
“We’re a team.” Aaron gave Alexa a slap on the shoulder. “You too. Earthling Crew.”
Alexa had never felt a sense of belonging, the world they had been found on simply a place that had had the right composition of rare earth minerals. Her people were at once individuals and a collective, feeling no emotional bond. Here and now though, she felt like she belonged. It didn’t matter where they were, these two were her home. However... “We are not being called Earthling Crew.”
“Sol Squad?”
“No.”
“Gaian Gang?”
“Ugh, no.”
“Team Terran?”
“No… well, maybe. I’m not from Earth.”
The doors opened and Aaron led them from the elevator. “True. So something with Alliance? Or Association? Maybe League?”
“Cupcake Coalition.” Aaron turned to look at her and she patted him gently on the head as she walked past. “Named after your greatest contribution to the galaxy.”
“Not bad, actually. I sold over one hundred and thirty-five thousand yesterday.” He saw the look of shock on her face and smiled.
“How?” Alexa was genuinely amazed; only a few cycles ago it had been eight thousand.
Aaron tapped the side of his nose. “Top secret. Actually, I might need your help for the next part. You in?”
“Is it illegal?”
Aaron looked at the back of Alexa’s head as she led the way back to their suite. “No! Absolutely not. Well… I haven’t checked. But, probably not. Does it matter? We’re not technically in the Galactic Federation. We can get away with a little rebellion.”
“Rebel Alliance?” Alexa suggested, turning her head and winking awkwardly.
“Only if you make me a lightsaber.”
“For the hundredth time, no.” Alexa pointed at him. “You promised Estrilla you wouldn’t make one. Everyone loses a hand in those movies and she is not reattaching hands so you can have a lethal toy.”
“I know, I know.” Aaron caught up with Alexa, Sassie walking between them. “So, you wanna know how I sold so many cupcakes?”
Next
submitted by Sooperdude24 to HFY [link] [comments]

AGA's CEO calls on US Congress to repeal federal excise tax on sports wagers 24th JULY FOOTBALL BETTING TIPS TODAY/ FREE FIXED MATCHES,HT/FT,CORRECT SCORE,UNDER/OVER FRIDAY HOW TO INVEST IN THE STOCK MARKET: PART 2 Breaking it down for beginners. Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk 7/13/20: Federal Reserve Is the Leading Cause of Economic Inequality USA: Violent clashes erupt between protesters and federal agents in Portland

There are hundreds of federal-level political races to be decided in November, and prediction markets have data on all of these. Betting sites, too, cover a large number of the most contested races. Right now, Democrats are expected to do well in the general, with Biden beating Trump and the GOP losing the Senate. Usually, sportsbooks will only cover the federal election betting market (with the exception of tight governor’s races). This is because there is far more bettor familiarity with US Presidency, House, and Senate races than there is with local elections and the tens of thousands of politicians that populate them. Political betting odds are not solely available just for the major elections. Whenever any US politician for either the Republicans or Democrats (or any third party) runs for office, delivers a speech, participates in a debate, or attempts to pass a bill or mandate, oddsmakers waste no time posting a variety of betting odds surrounding these events. Browse over 131 Politics bets, choose a market, such as: Non sport, and then either match a bet, or set the odds and place a Politics bet against others. You can bet for or against an outcome – e.g. if you're betting on USA - Presidential Election 2020 , you can place a lay bet if you think Joe Biden will lose, or you can place a back bet if Political betting Political Betting Explained. Voting in Australia’s federal elections has been compulsory since 1925…but betting on political markets is a much more recent thing. For the House of Representatives, a preferential ballot system has been in use since 1919, in single-member seats.

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AGA's CEO calls on US Congress to repeal federal excise tax on sports wagers

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