In the film Casino, Ace Rothstein is on the phone talking about county commissioner Pat Webb. He says he's a "real cowboy" - the phrase typically means that someone is at least a little out of control. When the character is seen later, it turns out that he's an actual cowboy.
TIL "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner" is a phrase that came from historic vegas, which used to offer a chicken dinner at most casinos. The cost of the chicken dinner was $1.79, which included a potato and veggie. After winning on the standard $2 bet you could treat yourself to a chicken dinner.
croupier (n.) = "one who clears the winnings from the table in gambling," 1731, from French croupier "partner or assistant at the gaming table" (17c.), originally one who rides behind another, on the croup or "rump" of a horse (a word of Germanic origin); hence extended to any one who backs up another; a "second."
Stokes's Bristol Nightclub incident in detail (From: The Comeback Summer by Geoff Lemon)
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a place where misadventure could begin, you can’t go past Mbargo. The nightclub’s streetfront is painted a purple so bright you’ll see it in your dreams. Strings of giant sequins shimmer in the breeze. Its phonically inventive name is spelt in silver letters that climb its three-storey terrace facade. Inside are strips of burning neon, a few booths, floorboards so marinated in drink that they have an ingredients list. Bristol is a student city on England’s south coast crowded with music and nightlife and street art. This is Banksy’s home town, and the tourism board suggests in rather strong terms that ‘you would be a fool not to see his amazing work firsthand’. The same organisation describes Mbargo as ‘intimate’, which is fair for a place where you can catch an STI standing up. Students cram into its modest dimensions while people with names like DJ Klaud battle for billing with £1.50 drink deals over seven sloppy nights a week. To get a sense of the story about to come, consider that it’s the kind of place open until two o’clock on a Monday morning, and that at two o’clock on a Monday morning, Ben Stokes still thought it had closed too early. The Ashes of 2017–18 had disciplinary bookends. It was after that series that Australia’s two leaders went off the rails in South Africa. It was a few weeks before that Ashes tour that England’s biggest star windmilled his way into his own disaster. In the early hours of 25 September 2017, Stokes and teammate Alex Hales were barred from re-entering Mbargo after a night out on the piss. A Sunday thrashing of an abject West Indies in an ignored series at the fag-end of the season apparently required ample celebration. After arguing with the bouncer and hanging about at the door for a while, they wandered off to find a casino in the hope of more drinking. They’d barely made it around the corner before getting in the middle of a conflict between four locals. As is said on the internet, it escalated quickly. The 26 September reporting was bloodless. Withholding names, police stated that a man ‘was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm’ while another went to hospital with facial injuries. England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss separately confirmed that Stokes was the arrestee, adding that he had been released without charge and that Hales had gamely offered to ‘help police with their enquiries’. Administrators had a good chance of hiding behind that investigation, and the next day Stokes was named in the upcoming Ashes squad as expected. But that night the video emerged. Bristol student Max Wilson had shot it on his phone, then offered it to The Sun. What he thought was playing hardball was actually lowball: his opening price of £3000 was snapped up by a tabloid that would have paid ten times that. The Sun went on to make a mint by syndicating the rights worldwide. From a window above the fray, the vision showed six men on the street below performing the muddled choreography of a melee. One was right at the centre of it. One was waving a bottle, one dipped in and out, one tried to calm it. Two others floated around the edges. The central figure was unmistakable: red hair burning even in the streetlight as he launched into a series of blows against two of the men, falling to grapple with them on the ground, then following both across the street, swinging punches the whole way. Hales trailed behind, repeatedly and impotently shouting ‘Stokes! Stop! Stokes! Enough!’ The ECB could fudge issues that existed only in thickets of legalese, but not those captured in moving colour. Stokes was stood down from the next West Indies match, then suspended indefinitely. It emerged that he had broken his hand during the fight, something he’d done twice before while punching objects in dressing rooms. The response in Australia was fierce: Stokes was a thug, a lowlife, a selection that would disgrace England. It was not entirely coincidental that a ban for England’s best player would be handy for the Aussie team, but there was also a cultural split. In England, plenty of people still minimise pub fights as lads letting off steam. In Australia, heavy media coverage as a succession of young men were killed had inverted that tolerance. The discourse now saw any punch as potentially deadly and accordingly reckless. This was more poignant in a cricket context given that David Hookes, the dashing Test batsman and state coach, was killed in 2004 by a pub bouncer’s fist. The PR situation was bad for Stokes as details emerged of the injuries to the men he’d hit, and that one was a young war veteran and father. Stokes wasn’t officially removed from the Ashes squad through October but stayed behind when his teammates left, hoping for police to dismiss the matter in time for a late dash to Australia. His annual contract was renewed on the due date in case that came to pass. Then 29 October brought a twist in the tale. ‘Ben Stokes praised by gay couple after defending them from homophobic thugs,’ ran the headline. Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell had emerged. Not entirely out of nowhere: while Stokes had made no public comment, this story in his defence had initially been leaked to TV host Piers Morgan after the fight, as soon as the video appeared. Police body-camera footage played in court would later show that Stokes had given the same story to the arresting officer on the night. But no-one knew the identities of the fifth and sixth men in the video, and police appeals had turned up nothing. It was The Sun again with the breakthrough. Kai and Billy were perfect for a readership not keen on nuance. ‘We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys,’ said Kai, who was memorably described as a ‘former House of Fraser sales assistant’. The paper had the pair do a full photo shoot: layering the fake tan, showing off chest waxes, mixing Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton into a range of outfits. Their best shot had them standing back to back, heads turned to the camera, in a mirror-image Zoolander moment. Suddenly The Sun was the England team’s best friend. ‘Their claims could lead to the all-rounder being cleared over the punch-up and freed to play in the First Test in Australia next month,’ it gushed, then gave a tasting platter of quotes: ‘We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero.’ ‘If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.’ ‘We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.’ Would it be known forever as Kai and Billy’s Ashes? No. While the Bristol boys provided spin for Stokes’ reputation they didn’t influence the police. With charges still pending there was little choice – not given Strauss had previously sacked Kevin Pietersen for being annoying. Stokes remained suspended through the Ashes and a one-day series in Australia, and lost the vice-captaincy. It was January 2018 before the Crown Prosecution Service laid a charge. That charge surprisingly came in as affray, a crime that can carry prison time but is classified as ‘a breach of the peace as a result of disorderly conduct’. The men he had punched, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, faced the same count, charged as equal participants in a fight rather than Stokes being charged with assaulting them. Alex Hales was not charged, despite being seen in the video to aim several kicks when Ryan Ali was lying on the ground. Given the underwhelming standing of the offence, Stokes was cleared by the ECB to tour New Zealand, and kept playing until his trial in August 2018, which he missed a Test to attend. None of the three defendants would be convicted. The reasoning behind the charges was never released and was attributed vaguely to ‘CPS lawyers’. The service gave the case to Alison Morgan, a prosecutor of a class known as Treasury Counsel who usually handle serious criminal matters. Morgan had a scheduling clash and never ended up court for the case, but in 2018 and 2019 she would go on to win damages and admissions of libel from The Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph variously for incorrectly reporting that she had been responsible for the inadequate and inconsistent charging decisions. Morgan’s successor on the case was Nicholas Corsellis QC, who on the first day of trial was permitted by the CPS to request two assault charges be added against Stokes. ‘Upon further review,’ claimed a CPS statement, ‘we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate.’ This was patent nonsense from the service that eight months earlier had chosen the lesser charge. Any lawyer knows that no judge will allow new charges once a trial has begun, because the defence hasn’t had time to prepare. But such a request could deflect criticism of the prosecution service by technically making the judge the one who disallows the charge. Working through the story from the trial and the tape is complicated. You had a Ryan and a Ryan, a Hale and a Hales, a Billy and a Barry and a Ben. You had several versions of events as to who knew whom, who was drinking with whom, who had insulted whom and who had merely engaged in ‘banter’, a word that in modern Britain has to do an unconscionable amount of lifting. The reporting had constantly mixed up the Ryans as to who had which injury, who was in hospital, who had played which part in the fight, and whose mum had which stern words to say about it. Let’s agree that from now Ryan Ali is Ryan One, the firefighter who ended up with a fractured eye socket and a cracked tooth. Ryan Two can be Ryan Hale, the soldier who scored concussion and facial lacerations. Mr Barry and Mr O’Connell are best known per The Sun as Kai and Billy. In scorecard parlance we’ll leave the cricketers as Stokes and Hales. Amid the confusion, Stokes and his lawyers built his case in a straightforward way. The UK legal definition of affray is ‘if a person threatens or uses unlawful violence or force towards another person, which causes another person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their safety’. That means it doesn’t account for violence that harms a target, but violence that might frighten a theoretical bystander. The wiggle room for Stokes was with ‘unlawful’, because the charge excuses violence in defending oneself or others. This interpretation hinged on the beginning of the video, where Ryan One waves a beer bottle about and takes a swing at Kai. The version from Stokes was that he was minding his own business walking down the street when he heard homophobic abuse. He intervened verbally and was threatened verbally by Ryan One – something that Ryan One denied but that couldn’t be proved or disproved. In fear for his safety Stokes had to nullify that threat by bashing Ryan One before it went the other way. He registered Ryan Two in his peripheral vision as another possible threat, and again had only one recourse. Stokes also had to convince the jury to disregard testimony from Mbargo’s bouncer that he had been looking for a fight. A solid lump of a man, Andrew Cunningham had not enjoyed his patron’s attempts to get back into the club after the bouncer declined an offer of a bribe. ‘He got a bit verbally abusive towards myself. He mentioned my gold teeth and he said I looked like a cunt and I replied, “Thank you very much.” He just looked at me and told me my tattoos were shit and to look at my job.’ Cunningham described these words as coming in ‘a spiteful tone, quite an angry tone’, and said that Stokes still seemed angry as he walked away. These were details the doorman had nothing to gain by inventing, but each of them Stokes denied. By his own accounting he had drunk a beer at the game and three pints at his hotel, then ‘potentially had some Jägerbombs’ along with half a dozen vodkas at the club. He insisted that after all of this he was not drunk. If I may take a moment here to call upon the wisdom of experience – a person who cannot definitively say whether they have had any Jägerbombs has definitely had some Jägerbombs. A Jägerbomb is an experience that does not pass one by. Further to that, a person who says they have ‘potentially’ done something has definitely done that thing and doesn’t want to admit it. A person who has had between 15 and 24 standard drinks in one evening is shitfaced. A person who tries to bribe a bouncer £300 – three hundred quid! – to get into Mbargo – Mbargo! – is beyond shitfaced. If Stokes admitted that he was drunk then the prosecution could say he was out of control. He claimed clear recall of assessing a threat, feeling fear and deciding to protect himself with force. He confidently denied details from the bouncer’s testimony, like using the word ‘cunt’ or mentioning gold teeth. Yet on other details he claimed a ‘significant memory blackout’. He didn’t remember the punch that saw Ryan One taken away by ambulance. He didn’t remember what the Ryans had said to Kai and Billy, only that those words were homophobic. With no head injury, as one of the few people who hadn’t been hit, he had supposedly suffered this memory loss despite being sober. The version from Kai and Billy was compatible but vague: they had been walking along, they ‘heard … shouts’ of abuse from an unspecified source, then Stokes ‘stepped in’ and thus they avoided possible harm. They claimed to have been bought a drink by Stokes at Mbargo, although CCTV showed them meeting outside. The overall implication from both accounts was that the cricketers had been pals with Kai and Billy, while the Ryans as per The Sun’s headline were a roving band of thugs. The reality though is that the Ryans were the ones hanging out with Kai and Billy at Mbargo. Police discussed CCTV from inside the club in questioning and at trial. On that footage the four Bristolians bought drinks for one another, danced together, and Kai was noted to have variously touched Ryan Two’s crotch and Ryan One’s buttock. Ryan One told police that all of this was taken lightheartedly and wasn’t a problem. Indeed, when the Ryans called it a night the other two left with them. This much is clear from footage out the front of Mbargo, which shows Kai and Billy exit the club and start talking with a subdued Hales and a demonstrative Stokes, who are stuck outside. The vision was played in court to determine whether Stokes was antagonistic towards Kai and Billy, as he appears to impersonate them and to throw a lit cigarette their way. More interesting is that after a few minutes the Ryans emerge, and all six actors in the fight video briefly form a prequel in the one frame. Ryan Two pats Billy on the chest in friendly fashion with his right hand before clapping him on the back with his left. He moves past and does the same to Kai before leaving the shot. Ryan One stops to speak to Kai. They lean in for a moment, talking, then Kai turns and they walk out of frame together. Billy hangs around for a few seconds at the door and then looks after them and races to catch up. Stokes and Hales remain outside the club to remonstrate further with the bouncers. Whatever discord develops around the corner is between four men who left amicably together minutes earlier. There’s no way to know what caused that friction. If Ryan One did use homophobic slurs, he might have been drunkenly obnoxious for no reason. He might have had an insecure macho response to some extra flirtation. He might have thought unkindness was funny – ‘banter’ once again. Or he might have said something that was misunderstood, as both Ryans insisted in court that they had not used nor had the impulse to use any abusive language. What clearly didn’t happen was an attack by bigots on random passers-by. This kind of crime is regular enough that an audience understands the horror of it, and this is what was evoked by the public accounts of Stokes, Billy and Kai. All we know is that there was some verbal dispute among the Bristol locals, and that Stokes came along behind them and put himself in the middle of it. Ryan One responded to the interference aggressively and away they went. There are plenty of reasons to look sideways at the idea that Stokes was a saviour. Foremost, neither Kai nor Billy was called upon as witnesses in court. You’d think it would be ideal to have Stokes’ story backed up by those who benefited from his selflessness. But his defence team had developed the impression that the pair had shown a changeable recall of events amid a hard-partying lifestyle, and would be dismantled by the prosecution on the stand. That raises the question of whether The Sun coached their quotes for the 2017 interview. Despite missing court, Kai and Billy clearly enjoyed the attention. In 2018 after the trial they did a follow-up spread in the same paper about how poor Ben had been mistreated. They got a television spot on Good Morning Britain and glowed about his heroism. In 2019 The Sun wheeled them out once more to say that Stokes should get a knighthood. In 2017 they had ‘never watched cricket’ but by 2019 were supposedly volunteering sentences like, ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes.’ Whether they were paid for these appearances is not known, but the chance to be famous for a day can be lure enough. If you find this cynical, consider that on the night in question, the Bristol boys were so deeply moved and thankful for Ben’s intervention that they left him to be arrested and never attempted to find out who he was. Seconds after the video ended, an off-duty policeman reached the scene. You might think that someone grateful to a saviour would speak on his behalf. Instead, said Kai, ‘it all got a bit scary so we walked off. It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.’ They didn’t give their hero a thought for over a month while police issued multiple appeals for witnesses. As for Stokes, he told his arresting officer that ‘his friends’ had been attacked. After three minutes of chat outside a nightclub, these friends were so dear to him that he has never contacted them again: not after the newspaper piece, not after the verdict. He didn’t want to see how they were or thank them for their support. He didn’t mention them by name in his solicitor’s statement after the trial. The Stokes defence rested on Ryan One’s bottle, which he had carried out of Mbargo to finish a beer, not to use in a Sharks versus Jets amateur production. But once he turned it over to hold it by the neck it became a weapon. Intent and interpretation can change the material nature of things. Part of Stokes’ justification in court was that the bottle implied that the two Ryans might have ‘other weapons’ hidden away. You can understand how a jury could decide that created doubt. Not being convicted, though, doesn’t give the contents of the video a big green tick. It does not, as his lawyer claimed, vindicate Stokes. Looking in detail, Ryan One is belligerent but his movements telegraph a bluff. Hales is the person he’s gesturing at, but they’re several metres apart when Ryan One cocks his arm ostentatiously, showing off the bottle rather than bracing to swing. He skips forward but Hales skips back and Ryan One doesn’t follow. Kai stretches out an arm to impede Ryan One, who has a drunken stumble, nearly eats pavement, then staggers towards Kai and hits him in the back. That hand is still holding the bottle, but his strike is a side-arm cuff on a soft part of the body. It’s all pretty tame. This is where Stokes gets involved. Having moved across to protect Hales, he now takes three large steps to run around Kai and booms his first punch at Ryan One. They fall to the ground and the bottle clinks away. Stokes gets to his feet to punch down at the fallen man, while Hales arrives to kick him ineffectively then runs off across the street for some unknown reason. Ice-cream van? Stokes is soon back in the grapple having his shirt pulled up to show off his Durham tan. Ryan Two steps in for the first time to pull Stokes away, prompting a couple more random punches at this new target, then Stokes trips backwards over Ryan One and sprawls in the street. Hales chooses this moment to return and aim some solid kicks at the head of the man on the ground. Nothing so far is a triumph of moral philosophy or the pugilistic arts. But if it all stopped here, perhaps you could say it was somewhere approaching fair. Ryan One has behaved like a turnip and it’s not an entirely unjust world that would give him a whack across the chops. The antagonists have disentangled, Stokes has some distance, it’s time to dust off and go home. Ryan Two steps forward for this purpose with his palm raised in conciliatory style and says, ‘Settle down, stop.’ So Stokes punches him. It’s roughly his fifth punch overall, and he really winds up into this one. He misses so hard that he stumbles away into the shadows of the shop awnings along the road. Hales starts shouting for him to stop. Ryan Two backs into the street, still holding his palm up. Stokes closes on him from about five metres away, six large steps, to where Ryan Two is standing on his own. Stokes pushes him a couple of times, as Ryan Two keeps trying to placate him and saying ‘Stop.’ Stokes throws his sixth punch, largely missing as his target ducks. Ryan Two keeps pulling away and reversing, into the middle of the street now. Stokes follows him, grabbing his sleeve to drag him back. By this point Ryan One has found his feet and walked around behind his friend. Both of them are in the same line of sight for Stokes, and both are backing away. Stokes aims his seventh and his eighth punches, which Ryan Two tries to deflect, as Hales walks up behind Stokes to grab him. Stokes yanks away from his friend and switches to Ryan One instead, taking seven paces to grab him before throwing his ninth punch of the night. He grabs again; Ryan One blocks that arm and pushes himself back away from Stokes. Ryan Two again intercedes, putting himself between the two with his palms up and his arm extended. Stokes throws his tenth punch, a right-hander at the face of Ryan Two, then shoves him backwards. Ryan Two backs away once more, four paces. Stokes follows, steadies, lines up, then launches his strongest punch yet, his eleventh, a proper right hook from a solid base, one that cracks across the man’s head and gives him concussion. Ryan Two ends up flat on his back in the middle of the street, his hands still outstretched for a moment in useless protest until they twitch and drop to the blacktop. Stokes isn’t done. He once more shoves away the restraining Hales and follows Ryan One, who keeps backing away saying, ‘Alright, alright, alright.’ Five more paces from Stokes before another blow at the man’s head. Kai and Billy are now standing over the poleaxed Ryan Two. The video ends, but seconds later Stokes will punch Ryan One hard enough to knock him out too, before off-duty cop Andrew Spure arrives on the scene to bring down the curtain. When the body-camera footage kicks in some minutes later, Stokes is in handcuffs but Ryan One is still laid out in the street. Ryan Two has regained consciousness, folded his shirt under his friend’s head and is asking police for an ambulance. ‘At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others.’ This was how Stokes described that sequence to the court. An elite athlete with years of gym work and training to snap a bat through the line of a ball with astounding power and precision, swinging fists as hard as he can at men with none of those advantages. Punching so hard that he breaks his hand, and repeatedly shoving away a friend so he can punch some more. Frightened and threatened by two targets shouting ‘Get back!’ and ‘Stop!’ The off-duty officer testified that Stokes ‘seemed to be the main aggressor or was progressing forward trying to get to’ Ryan One, who was ‘trying to back away or get away from the situation’. The student who filmed the video can be heard on the tape at one stage exclaiming ‘Fuck!’ and testified that it was because ‘I felt a little bit sorry about the lad that had been punched and it looked like he had his hands up’. That tallied with the prosecutor’s depiction of ‘a sustained episode of significant violence that left onlookers shocked at what was taking place’. The defendant stuck to his strategy. ‘No, my sole focus was to protect myself.’ All up, in the 33 seconds of footage after he falls over, Stokes takes 35 steps forward to keep hitting two men who keep trying to get away. Not once is he hit back. After the verdict, Stokes’ solicitor positioned him as the victim. It had been ‘an eleven-month ordeal for Ben … The jury’s decision fairly reflects the truth of what happened that night … He was minding his own business … It was only when others came under threat that Ben became physically engaged. The steps that he took were solely aimed at ensuring the safety of himself and the others present …’ The statement was impossibly self-righteous and self-absorbed. If there was anyone to feel sorry for it was Ryan Hale, the second of our two Ryans. He’s the one who emerged from the club with a friendly arm around the shoulder for Kai and Billy. He’s the one who interposed himself to end the fight, then kept putting himself back in the firing line, trying to calm an intimidating stranger while dodging blows. For his show of restraint he got laid out regardless, concussed in the street, then was issued a criminal charge equal to that of the man who hit him, and described in national media as a violent bigot in an untested story to support that man’s defence. Lawyers for Ryan Two made a more convincing post-trial statement, noting that Kai and Billy, ‘neither of whom were relied upon by the prosecution or the defence team for Mr Stokes, have taken the opportunity to speak with various media outlets about the alleged homophobic abuse that they received in the early hours of September 25. Mr Hale has passionately denied this allegation throughout the course of this case,’ it continued. ‘It is upsetting to Mr Hale that although he was acquitted, the accusation that he was the author of such abuse remains. Both Mr Hale and Mr Ali were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes, and although Mr Stokes has been acquitted of an affray, Mr Hale struggles with the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service did not treat him as a victim of an unlawful assault.’Good question. Avon and Somerset police were the investigating force, and they were frustrated by the decision. Ryan Two was filmed clearly not hurting anyone, but police were instructed by the CPS to proceed with a charge. Hales (the cricketer) was filmed fighting but ‘a decision was made at a senior level of the CPS’ not to proceed. Police expected Stokes to be charged with assault but the CPS declined. It doesn’t take a wild cynic to think that placing the same lukewarm charge on three men for vastly divergent behaviour might ensure that none would be convicted, even as the trial would maintain the pretence that a defendant of influential standing had not been given a free pass. A couple of years down the line, the original interview with Kai and Billy has disappeared. All traces have been scrubbed from The Sun website, its social media history, and even from the Wayback Machine internet archive. Given its headline of ‘homophobic thugs’ and text that names Ryan Two but not Ryan One, the libel liability isn’t hard to spot. Later interviews with Kai and Billy take the passive voice – they ‘suffered homophobic slurs outside a Bristol nightclub’. The article that was once claimed to exonerate brave Ben Stokes now links only to a missing content page, with a picture of a dropped ice-cream cone and the phrase ‘legal removal’ inserted into the web URL. In terms of consequences, Stokes missed one tour. When he resumed his career in January 2018, the Australians hadn’t yet ruined theirs. Their year-long bans looked much more stringent. But the Stokes case dragged on in other ways. With no criminal liability, the Australians confessed promptly enough for the sporting world to give them the full length of the lash. Their situation was ugly but there was closure. Stokes got stuck in legal stasis, unable to be fully backed or condemned. Instead his issue was always present, a browser full of open tabs that the ECB swore they would read any day now. Through 2018 Stokes was back but he wasn’t back, in the sunglasses and finger-guns sense. In his return one-day series he nearly cost England a match with 39 from 73 balls in Wellington. His first Test hit was a duck as England got rolled in Auckland for 58. At Trent Bridge while Stokes was injured, England posted a world record 481 against Australia. With Stokes three weeks later at the same ground they made 268. He crawled to 50 from 103, the second-slowest any Englishman had reached that milestone in 20 years. That span covered Alastair Cook’s whole career. It was apologetic batting, acting out responsibility via the scorecard. Stokes was creeping back into the team like he’d been kicked out in a blazing row and was hoping to tip-toe to the sofa. It was December 2018 before the ECB disciplinary committee ruled on him and Hales. In a ‘remarkable coincidence’, wrote Simon Heffer in The Telegraph, ‘the punishment both players faced in terms of bans from playing at international level was covered by the amount of games they had already missed when dropped by England’s selectors, in the furore that followed the incident’. The verdict compounded the omissions around the case by not addressing the violence at its heart. Nor did Stokes, apologising only ‘to my team-mates, coaches and support staff’, and then ‘to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game into disrepute’. The implicit next step was to rebuild that reputation. It might have been easier had his court defence not meant that he wasn’t game to admit any fault at all. It might have been easier if he or his advisers had been willing to change tack once the trial was done. Imagine a world where Stokes had stood outside court and apologised for overreacting, for the injuries he’d caused, and for the time and energy he had sucked out of other people’s lives. That would have been a show of responsibility beyond a scorecard. When the time came around to assess forgiveness, it might have meant forgiveness was deserved.
This chapter was a labour of love, heists are hard. Big thanks to u/eruwenn for helping tidy up this bag of snakes. First / Prev / Next
“Ranjaz K’Lua, you thieving scumbag!” the Kah’Ree in the purple suit exclaimed loudly as he spotted them across the busy room. “As I live and skral, I never thought you would have the Jolos show your face here again!” Two J’Rami in suits detached themselves from the lobby wall, walking towards the Kittran and his friends. “Alfor, my old friend!” Ranjaz smiled broadly. “No need for the welcoming party, I’ve got your credits” —he gestured to Cygna— “and a sweetener, for all the trouble I caused last time.” Alfor paused, lecherous eyes assessing the Fae’Dan. “You know I have a thing for purple.” He chuckled at his own joke and waved the guards back to their posts. “How about we have a drink, and discuss your forgiveness.” He pointed to Thor and Eruwenn. “Brought your own security, or are these Gal. Fed. goons? Everyone knows about your probation.” The Kittran gave a broad grin. “I got a Tulseria-damned pardon, a new ship and a very lucrative opportunity.” The Kah’Ree smiled. “How’d a thieving cat like you get a pardon?” He gave Ranjaz an appraising look up and down. “Oh? Now, let me guess, you need something from me and my brother?” Ranjaz fired his finger guns. “You were always the smart one Alfor, that’s why you run the casino floor.” The Kittran stepped in close. “The item, do you still have it?” Alfor tilted his head back and away from Ranjaz. “Your little guarantee?” He looked back down at Ranjaz. “We have it somewhere safe. Had some unusual people come by after you got caught. Asked a lot of questions. Made a lot of threats.” His face contorted in anger. “We got audited thanks to you.” The Kittran smiled. “If only they knew you better, they could have simply paid you for the information.” “We give nothing for free.” The Kah’Ree gave a sinister smile. “House rule.” Ranjaz walked forward to put his his arm on Alfor’s back. “Let’s go see your brother. Have a few drinks, maybe gamble a little, and discuss our future riches.”
Ripley stood in the shadows of the staff shuttle bay, watching as the numerous employees of assorted races came and went. Loud laughter caught her attention, and a very strangely dressed Niham broke away from a small group and walked towards her. Ripley tried to maintain her low profile as the scantily clad female strutted towards her in long black boots with pointed heels that clacked loudly with every step. Deliberately avoiding eye contact the Awakened tried to will herself into the wall but it was too late and a voice called out to her. “Hey Darling! You must be the one I’m looking for.” Ripley shook her head. The Kittran had said the contact was an Ashi pirate captain, a master gambler and expert in procuring the unusual. “I don’t-” “Listen cutie,” she interrupted, “you’re the one lurking in dark corners drawing attention to yourself. I’ve got your security card. You tell that fluffy little stud he owes me. And more than a bottle of Fae’Dan wine and a good time, if you know what I mean.” She held up the card between her fingers, just a little out of Ripley’s reach. The Awakened considered the phrase ‘fluffy little stud’ and decided that, despite her hopes, this was probably her contact. “You’re Captain Whiplash?” The Ashi laughed genuinely, the jiggling of tightly squeezed breasts bursting at shiny black restraints making Ripley nervous. “Oh, Darling! Only my little pets call me that! You may call me Sho’Na.” Ripley was momentarily confused. “So, you aren’t a pirate captain?” “I’m anything they pay me to be.” She smiled at the silver-haired woman's naivety. “You really are new to this.” Ripley, caught off guard, simply nodded, then replied, “I’m a quick learner.” “Good for you, Darling.” Sho’Na handed over the card. “Just make sure you get paid up front, and don’t use your real name with clients. Ruins the mystique.” Ripley was unsure of what was being said. Turning the card over in her hands she saw that the holo-image on the front was of a male Arkellian. “This isn’t me?” “Honey, I was given half a cycle to get you a level three security card. Just be glad it’s a biped.” Sho’Na looked Ripley up and down. “Our mutual acquaintance told me you were some sort of master of disguise who could even trick Selva Blaster.” Ripley paused, then smiled. Her appearance had become such an integral part of her identity she had forgotten that it was entirely optional. “It won’t be a problem.” She looked at the card again. “Unless the owner comes looking for it.” Sho’Na gave another bosom-trembling laugh that threatened to spill out at any moment. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s tied up at the moment.” The Awakened considered the risk. “Hmmm, but for how long?” The few strips of shiny black material that comprised Sho’Na’s revealing outfit strained under her amusement. “Don’t you worry, Darling. He paid for the whole night.”
Eruwenn had reassessed her opinion of Ranjaz many times since meeting him. The criminal. The loyal friend. The lazy trouble-maker. All were true, but now she was seeing something new. He sat opposite Toran, the brother of Alfor, in a game of dalcho she wished she could have taken part in, but was equally glad she did not. At first she had thought the Kittran was outmatched, a few reckless mistakes costing him dearly as the Kah’Ree deftly selected his tiles. Toran was clearly a seasoned gambler, using a blend of the Remee Le’Bow Gambit and the Kowals’Kee Analysis she hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be dismantling Ranjaz’s tiles before he could even prepare his cards. A few fortunate dice rolls and he had taken a strong lead from the outset. The Kittran appeared desperate, playing any tile available to try and slow the defeat. It had all been a ruse, she saw it; Ranjaz had saved his best tiles and carefully thrown hands to manipulate the cards. In just a few rounds he would be able to dominate the board and raise the stakes, recouping his losses and changing the course of the game entirely. She had encountered few players who could manipulate the game so deftly, using memory and layers of strategy to corner their opponent. It was magnificent. Eruwenn couldn’t tear her eyes from the board as she stood beside Thor. The Awakened had shown no interest in the game, studiously watching the opposite door as Toran’s staff came in and out. When a waiter entered and began preparing drinks at the small private bar in the executive gambling room, Thor coughed. It was a strange thing for an Awakened to do, and Eruwenn finally looked up from the table. “Are you ok?” Thor nodded. By the time he had looked towards her, she had returned her attention completely to the game. “You don’t seem concerned about your friend?” he asked. The Anatidae watched as Ranjaz used a blind double feint, and the sheer audacity of such a move made her swallow hard. She didn’t look back to Thor, but mumbled a response. “I’m very confident in her abilities.” The waiter was methodically placing drinks by each of the players, but when they stood behind Ranjaz the Kittran surged to his feet, shouting, “Hey! No cheating Toran! Getting your waiter to look over my shoulder? That’s a dirty move I’d expect from your brother!” Thor had reacted faster than Eruwenn, pinning the arms of the Arkellian waiter in a vice-like bear hug. Toran slowly stood. He was big, heavily muscled, and the veins on his neck bulged as his anger rose. “Don’t accuse me in my own place.” He cracked his knuckles and glowered down at Ranjaz. “I run a straight game.” Fearlessly the Kittran walked right up to the Kah’Ree and stared up into his face from waist height. “Don’t try and intimidate me, you son of a Vogel.” Ranjaz puffed out his chest and began pushing the burly casino owner. “Nobody cheats me!” The blow caught Ranjaz across the cheek and sent him sprawling across the room. Eruwenn winced at the impact, but maintained her composure. Toran laughed. “Watch your tongue or I’ll add it to my collection.” He walked round the table and kicked Ranjaz in the stomach, glaring at Thor and Eruwenn, daring them to act. “Know your place trash. You’re at this table because you put credits up front. You are a dishonest thief, begging for scraps, and cosying up to me any my brother to get your little trinket back.” He returned to his seat. “Why would I need to cheat against the likes of you?” Ranjaz stood, brushing himself off. “Fine, fine.” He waved a hand and Thor dropped the Arkellian. Ranjaz tapped him on the chest. “My mistake.” He sat down and picked up his cards once more. “You’re right Toran, you run a clean game. I’m just a sore loser.” He shuffled the order of the tiles that were still face down on the table. “To show my sincerity, how about we double the buy for the rest of the game?” Toran snorted. “Double?” He looked at the Kittran, scrutinising his opponent. The game was already over; he had control of the board and his tiles occupied the three prime positions. Was the thief trying to buy his favour, he wondered? How much was the trinket he wanted truly worth? He decided it was worth testing. “Triple, and I’ll forget you dared touch me.” The Kittran swallowed hard, his ears flat to his head. Toran momentarily worried he’d pushed for too much but a decision seemed to be reached. “Fine. Triple.” The look of defeat was delicious to the Kah’Ree.
Cygna had done her part and lured Alfor to a private room away from his security. She had danced, skipped and side-stepped his groping hands so far, maintaining a playfulness that ensured he complied. This sort of thing was not new to her; she had spent time undercover in the past. Fortunately, there had been little call for it since she had joined forces with Eruwenn. Alfor’s eyes scanned her body once more. “The Kittran has very good taste.” He licked his lips, a small amount of drool escaping and running down his chin. He wiped it on his sleeve. “Now, I brought you somewhere quiet. How about you show me how sweet you can be?” The Fae’Dan smiled coyly and continued her dancing just out of reach, glancing to the doorway where Alfor’s two guards stood watching her. “With an audience?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly. With a sly grin he waved the guards out of the room. “Now come here and let me satisfy you like only a Kah’Ree can.” His eyes wandered over her body once more. Cygna smiled, her own eyes moving from the Kah’Ree’s hands to his shoulders, then up towards his neck. An interesting fact about the Kah’Ree was the thick blood vessels on the side of their neck. They often bulged when a Kah’Ree was angry or excited, like Alfor’s were as he leered at her. She danced closer. Another interesting fact was that their brains were not as efficient as those of other species, hence the requirement for additional blood flow; more oxygen per limited thought. He leaned forward, his eyes locked to her swaying hips. Cygna turned slowly, and his head tilted to appreciate her assets. The third, lesser known, fact about the Kah’Ree was that an interruption to the blood flow while they were in this excited state caused them to lose consciousness rapidly as their brain burned through the available oxygen. “My eyes are up here.” She smiled as he looked up at her with his head still tilted. He sneered. “Who ca-” The Fae’Dan struck the side of his neck with the edge of her hand, targeting the throbbing blood vessel with a powerful blow. The interruption to his brain's oxygen supply worked perfectly and he fell face forward onto the ground at her feet. She let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his unconscious body. “Thank you, that was particularly satisfying.” She walked over to the door and peeked out, finding the guards standing either side. “He said to order us some drinks.” One of the guards nodded and immediately put his hand to his lapel communicator. Back inside the room, Cygna used her foot to roll Alfor to his back and began searching his pockets. She came up empty. Her eyes caught a glimmer from his collar and she found a heavy gold chain, at the end of which was his security key. She removed it just as a knock came at the door. A deep voice from the other side called out. “Your drinks, boss.” The Fae’Dan quickly messed up her hair. Using the back of her hand she smeared her lipstick sideways, and then pulled the strap of her dress down off her shoulder. She opened the door and, to her surprise, was faced with an Arkellian waiter. The bodyguards noted her dishevelled appearance and shared a smirk, and she said, “Oh, I wasn’t expec-” The waiter pushed the trolley into the room. “Don’t keep the boss waiting, lady.” Before Cygna could reply they were inside and the door closed. “Relax, it’s me.” Ripley’s voice sounded bizarre coming from the male Arkellian form, and Cygna’s eyes went wide in shock. Her sharp mind quickly adjusted to this new information. Of course the Awakened could change their physical appearance; she had just never seen it. They all seemed quite attached to their chosen human forms. “Neat trick.” She held out Alfor’s key. “Did you get the other one?” Ripley nodded. “The Kittran played his part well. I didn’t see him take it, and didn’t feel it when he placed it in my pocket. Now that was a neat trick.” The Fae’Dan smiled. “I think I’ll pass on that dalcho game.” The Arkellian Ripley smiled. “Probably wise.” Turning, she slipped the key into her pocket and headed back out of the door.
Ripley entered the elevator to the owner's private offices on the top floor. Thanks to the distractions downstairs, the two large desks in the centre of the room were empty. She walked straight past them to the large leokas painting on the wall and swung it forward. Behind it was a Fae’Dan safe; she took out the two keys and a small homemade device the Kittran had given her. Attaching the device to the bio-lock and standing before the safe, she elongated her arms to reach both key positions at once. There was more than one reason she was the one chosen for this task. The device beeped twice and small lights above each lock lit up. She simultaneously turned both keys, and there was a satisfying clunk. She raised an eyebrow. The device had worked. The heavy safe door swung open and she began her search. Ranjaz had been very specific: while there was one item she had to get, she was to grab as much as possible to obscure their true target. Quickly grabbing as much as she could she retrieved the keys and ran back across the room towards the elevator.
Cygna hauled Alfor back onto the seat, putting him in a more natural position and messing up his hair. She looked away as she began unbuttoning his clothes, pulling his trousers around his ankles and opening his shirt up to bare his chest. From a secret pocket inside her dress she pulled out a lace thong, setting it on his head like a bandana. She also had a small box which she opened, inside of which was a replica mouth with lipstick that matched her own. Cygna carefully applied kiss marks all over his exposed skin before popping the fake lips back into the secret pocket. She took the Fae’Dan wine and partially filled two glasses, making sure to take a long drink from one and leave more lipstick marks. The rest of the wine was poured into the ice bucket. She heard the sound of voices outside the door. The guards were arguing with someone, refusing them entry, but when the name Toran was mentioned it was Ripley who entered, still in uniform but now looking much like her usual self. She smirked at the Kah’Ree in his derobed state. “I can see you had fun.” The Fae’Dan chuckled. “That’s the idea.” She looked at the Awakened in her true form. “You look… better.” Ripley cocked her head. “It would be strange if the waiter came back to deliver a message.” She tossed the necklace key to Cygna, who replaced it on Alfor’s neck. Reclining on the sofa and picking up her glass, Cygna took another long drink. “Get the other one back to Ranjaz quickly. This one won’t be napping much longer.” The Awakened gave an almost Ranjaz-like grin. “You could always hit him again.” Before the Fae’Dan could reply she had ducked back out of the door. She caught the eye of one of the bodyguards and gave a head tilt back towards the room. “The boss is really enjoying himself!” As the suited pair chuckled, the larger of the two got a message in his ear piece. “Hey, silver hair.” He grunted. “Boss has an important guest. Meet them in the foyer and bring them to the dalcho room.” Ripley was relieved – she needed a reason to get into that room. “On my way.”
Toran was seething as he watched as the Kittran flipped his final tile. Why would he have waited so long to play the Wings of Tulseria tile? His stomach sank, and he couldn’t hold back his anger any longer. “Damn you!” Ranjaz gave a full-fanged grin. “Looks like my luck turned at just the right moment.” “Luck!” Toran’s tile snapped between his fingers. Why had he let the damned cat goad him into constantly increasing their bet? The cycle had started with him owing the brothers a million credits plus interest, and now the infuritating Kittran had won nearly forty times that. “Nobody is that lucky.” “Woah!” Ranjaz held up his hands. “I would never cheat, well... certainly not a second time. After you caught me, I’d be a fool to try.” “Hmm.” Toran looked at the two behind the Kittran. The big one would be a problem, but the Anatidae looked to be nothing special. “How about I give you back your little trinket and we call it even?” “My trinket?” Ranjaz shook his head. “I had to convince you it was worth the million I owed. Why would you think I’d trade it for thirty eight million credits? I’ll pay what I owe, take my trinket and my winnings and leave.” Toran folded his arms and looked across the dalcho board at Ranjaz. “And why would I let you do that?” The atmosphere in the room changed as the two security guards changed their stance. “Transfer the credits back to the house.” Ranjaz dropped the grin, replacing it with a defiant glare. “What happened to you running a straight game?” “The game was straight. You won, didn’t you?” He leaned forward, his eyes cold and hard. “You’re just in no position to collect.” The Kittran was about to argue when the door behind Toran opened. He looked up as Ripley entered, and his eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t alone. “Toran, you bastard! You sold me out!” “For ten million credits.” Toran stared hard at Ranjaz. “Care to make a better offer?” Eruwenn’s eyes blazed with anger as the grey-suited Niham pulled up a seat and sat down beside Toran. “Now, now, you lied to me about having the item before. Don’t double cross me.” Sentinel Krast placed his hands together on the table, interlacing his fingers. “I’m not somebody who forgives easily.” He looked directly at Eruwenn. “Isn’t that right, former Councillor? A little far from your new Ambassador position, aren’t you?” Ripley stood back against the wall. She had no idea who the newcomer was, but this most definitely was not the plan. The golden green Anatidae walked forward to stand behind Ranjaz. “Oh, I had a little vacation time saved up, and decided to spend it with my good friend here.” She placed a hand on the Kittrans shoulder. “And what brings a Sentinel here?” Krast’s lips curled in what might approximate a smile. “I’m also acquainted with Mr K’Lua. In fact, we go back a very long way.” He turned to look directly at Ranjaz. “Now, return what is mine.” Toran looked from Ranjaz to Krast. “Yours? You don’t look like the tiara wearing type.” The Sentinel didn’t turn his head. “Ah, so you hid the data chip inside some shiny bauble. As inventive as ever, Mr K’Lua.” The Niham finally acknowledged Toran by looking at him. “Bring. It. Here.” The Kah’Ree sucked air through his teeth. “Well, seems like we have something mighty important, and two very interested parties.” He stood and walked to his two security officers, who drew their weapons in unison. “Now then, I believe you” —he nodded to Krast— “offered ten million. How about it Ranjaz, old friend? What’s your counter offer?” The Kittran had been sitting, silently seething at his double cross being double crossed. He looked at Krast. “Were you the one?” Toran was surprised at being ignored, but before he could reply Krast answered, “The one?” Ranjaz’s eyes narrowed, his ears alert, his tail swishing aggressively. “The one who took my friend!” he snarled as he felt Eruwenn’s hand holding him back gently. Krast’s eyes glittered as he saw the impotent rage in his opponent’s eyes. “Ah, the poor deceased human?” He smiled his mannequin-esque smile. “And if I was?” Toran snatched a pistol from one of his men and fired a blast at the ceiling. “Your quarrel can wait. Let’s settle our business first and you can kill each other after I’m paid.” He paused, then added, “but, not in my casino. Body disposal costs extra.” Eruwenn’s hand gripped Ranjaz’s shoulder harder, and he braced himself. In one smooth move she both threw him backwards and to the right, and kicked the dalcho table up and forward into Krast's face. The Sentinel fell backwards as a blast from Toran struck the table, but Eruwenn was already on the move, sidestepping left and ducking forward into a cartwheel. Toran's gun had been following Ranjaz, but as her leg swept down it knocked the weapon from his grip. Once she stabilized, her fist, already primed with momentum from the cartwheel, struck Toran below the ribs and knocked the wind from him. The guard, whose gun the Kah'Ree had been holding, lunged forward to grab Eruwenn but she simply deflected his hand, pairing his forward momentum with her rising elbow to swiftly render him unconscious. The second guard had just begun to raise his weapon when a huge fist struck him in his chest, sending him careening backwards into the wall. Thor loomed over him, shaking his head as he retrieved the energy pistol. “Too slow.” Ripley helped Ranjaz to his feet as Krast pushed the table off his chest. Toran was coughing and struggling to breathe as Ranjaz pressed the retrieved energy pistol to his forehead. “Double cross me?” He dragged the Kah’Ree forward. “I want to see the item, then I’ll pay what I owe.” The two of them awkwardly made their way back towards Krast, so Ranjaz could point the gun in his face. “Then we can talk about your body disposal fee.” Krast stood, and his phony smile was gone. “You can’t kill me. The Sentinels will tear this place apart, hunt you down and kill you. You think I came alone? My ship is in orbit and waiting for my orders!” Ranjaz grabbed him by the jacket, pulling him down to his level, and struck him in the face with the butt of the pistol. Thor cooly kept his stolen pistol pointed at Toran and the one conscious guard. By the third blow Krast’s face was bloody, his nose broken and he began to struggle against Ranjaz’s assault. A muted boom caused everyone present to stop in their tracks. Alarms began to sound and Toran swore loudly. He pulled out his communicator, ignoring Thor’s pistol. “What the hell was that!” He held the device close as he listened. “My office?” He patted his pocket. Finding his key in place, he looked to Ranjaz and then Krast. “Seal the casino! And where is my brother?” Ripley suddenly understood why the Kittran had told her to leave his device on the safe door. After a brief further moment of shock, which she kept from showing on her face, she realized that she had been carrying an explosive without being told. If they survived, Ranjaz was going to need to explain himself. Thoroughly. Eruwenn, Thor and Ranjaz had backed away to the opposite side of the room, standing by the door. Krast stood alone, holding his profusely bleeding nose. The opposite door soon opened to reveal scrambling casino security, with Toran and his guard standing nearby. The unconscious guard was carried out without comment, and the Kah’Ree turned to Ripley. “Why are you still here?” She nodded and slipped out of the door, leaving one less concern for the remaining three. “Alright, which one of your skrolg-licking bastards broke into my private safe?” Krast spat blood onto the floor, pointing at Ranjaz. “He’s the thief. You and I had a deal.” The Kittran smirked. “I’m a better thief than blowing up a Tulseria-damned safe. If I wanted to steal it, I would have done just that. I would not have announced my arrival and sat down to a game of dalcho.” Toran looked between the two of them. “He’s got a point.” One of his men handed him a pistol, and he continued to talk a little distractedly into his communicator. “Well, check everywhere!” Ranjaz stirred the pot. “He’s the bastard who double crossed me, why would he honour your deal?” Eruwenn nodded. “A government agent can’t be seen working with criminals.” Krast's face contorted in rage. “Don’t be a damned fool, Toran!” He pointed at Ranjaz. “This is clearly some convoluted distraction.” Toran shook his head. “They had the upper hand. You were the one getting your face ruined.”
Cygna watched nervously as Alfor began to stir. Things were taking a lot longer than expected. Finally, her signal came; it was not as subtle as she had been led to believe. As soon as the explosion went off the two bodyguards quickly came into the room, glancing from Alfor’s sleeping body to her. She staggered forward, wine bottle in hand. “We need more drinkshh!” The guard ignored her as he saw the condition of his boss. “Not again,” he groaned. “Toran will kill us for letting him get like this.” The second guard stepped out into the corridor. “I’m not dressing him! Last time he tried to kiss me!” Cygna paused, not having expected it to go this way. The first bodyguard walked out as well. “He pissed on my new shoes the time before that. I’m not moving him.” Their communicators went off and their faces became more serious. Bodyguard two spoke first. “Damn it. Toran wants him.” The first turned to look at the increasingly bewildered Cygna. “You!” He smiled. “You got him undressed. You can dress him.” Cygna spotted Ripley running down the corridor towards them, causing her confusion to grow further. The Awakened shouted one word. “Sentinels!” The Fae’Dan’s mind raced. The plan was clearly blown, and they had to get out. Fast. As the guards were now facing Ripley, she took the opportunity to kick one in the back of the knee. He fell forward, and as the second turned he was met with the upward swing of a wine bottle. The first guard discovered first-hand the shocking truth of how hard the knee of an Awakened could be, and both were unconscious by the time they hit the ground. Cygna smiled at Ripley. "Thanks." The Awakened gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. “A Sentinel turned up, so Ranjaz set off the diversion he promised. The other brother is busy trying to figure out whether it’s us or the Sentinels robbing him.” Cygna took on board the new information quickly, knowing she needed to help the others. “I have an idea. Lie over there and look dead.” She ran back into the room, where Alfor was groaning and starting to move. She slipped the chain from his neck and dropped it into the ice bucket, where it sank out of sight below the dark Fae’Dan wine. She began to slowly shake him. “Huh,” he grumbled, and slowly opened his eyes. “Wha.. what happened?” Cygna clung to him tightly. “Oh thank goodness! I thought they killed you!” “Killed?” Alfor’s head was pounding, his memory blurry. “Who-” He caught sight of his downed guards in the open doorway. “What the hell happened?” He began pulling at his clothes, and swiftly checked that his trousers were dry. “While we were.. You know…” He nodded; he was buttoning up his clothes. He didn’t remember, but he knew. “Some scary men burst into the room and shot you! I was so scared.” She hugged him tight, pressing herself against him. He put his arm around her. “What men? Be brave, and tell me what happened.” She looked up at him, trying to make her eyes as big as possible, adding a lip tremble to really sell it. “I don’t know! They wore grey suits. And one of them took your necklace!” “My necklace.” He clutched at his chest where it should have been. “Damn Sentinels! I told Toran we couldn't trust them!” He stepped into the corridor, where Ripley lay on the ground with a terrible energy weapon burn on the side of her face. He pulled out his communicator. “Toran.” He instantly got hold of his brother. “I didn’t answer because I was knocked out. Damn Sentinels took my key, killed some of our guys.” He looked around. “Nobody important, just some waiter.” He finally pulled the underwear from his head. “I’ll go to the security room and look at the video.” He ended the call and turned back to Cygna. “You stay here.” She smiled. “Sorry, we can’t let you check the security footage.” “Wha-” Ripley struck him from behind and he crumpled to the ground, her fake burn melting from her face. The Awakened looked around, rechecking that all was clear. “I think that’s all we can do; we should get out of here. Come with me, my shuttle is in the staff bay.”
Toran closed his communicator and motioned to a guard. “Search him.” Eruwenn wished she had some way to capture the look on Krast’s face when the remote detonator was pulled from his pocket. She'd have to hug the light-fingered Kittran later. The Sentinel grit his teeth. “That’s not mine.” “Sure, sure,” Toran agreed, while simultaneously shaking his head at the Sentinel. “Looks like you really didn’t come alone.” Krast was furious, yelling, “I’m telling you-” He broke off when Ranjaz shot him in the leg, falling to the floor. The Kah’Ree pointed his pistol at the Kittran. “Can’t let you kill a Sentinel in my casino, even if they did just rob me.” Ranjaz was surprised the Kah’Ree had believed them so easily. “What about us?” Toran sighed, lowering his weapon. “Take your winnings and get out. If you stole the thing once, I’m sure you can steal it again.” Eruwenn and Thor both made to leave. Ranjaz paused, knowing he might not get another chance. “And him?” The Kah’Ree looked at the Sentinel holding his wounded leg. “We’ll send him back to his ship. As much as I hate it, the Sentinels are untouchable.” Ranjaz raised his pistol. “He took my friend.” “And we’ll get him back,” Eruwenn said softly. “Then we’ll all deal with him, and the rest of the Sentinels.” Krast sneered and spat blood once more. “Your human is dead.” Ranjaz fired. Krast screamed and grabbed his other leg. “You bastard!” Toran and his men raised their weapons as the Kah’Ree yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” Ranjaz turned and followed the others out of the door, but just as it was about to close he poked his head back in. “Oh, one last thing.” Toran could be seen looking up just as the Kittran fired again, but he ducked out of sight before the true outcome of his shot could be seen. The shrieks of agony, however, followed the trio down the corridor as they broke into a run. Eruwenn spared a glance down at Ranjaz during their retreat. “What did you do?” The full-fanged grin had never been larger. “Made sure we’ll see him again.” On the floor of the dalcho room Krast was screaming in agony. He turned over to stare at the closed door. “I’ll kill you! I will hunt you down and kill every last one of you!” Toran spoke into his communicator. “Tell the Sentinel ship to come get their man. And, bring a doctor. A really good doctor.” He nudged one of his guards and finally let out a chuckle. After all, the Sentinels had just robbed him. “You double-crossing scum always get what you deserve.” The J’Rami guard raised an eyebrow. “Not sure anyone deserves getting shot in the balls.”
TIL "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner" is a phrase that came from historic vegas, which used to offer a chicken dinner at most casinos. The cost of the chicken dinner was $1.79, which included a potato and veggie. After winning on the standard $2 bet you could treat yourself to a chicken dinner.
This remaster has a lot of good improvements but there are also some changes that didn't make everyone happy, so I will be listing all the good and bad changes I noticed. (𝑾𝒂𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈: 𝒑𝒐𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒃𝒍𝒆 𝒔𝒑𝒐𝒊𝒍𝒆𝒓𝒔) 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •Graphics improvements (obviously): the new graphics and shades are beautiful, there's absolutely nothing to complain about it. •New short cutscenes •You can now run (unlike the original PC version). •New Scenes for the opening •New music. •Changing the Soda Popper's pants from red to stripped, which made them look way more ridiculous than before. •You can now see what objects are clickable. •Sibyl's glasses now have temples 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •New voice actor for Bosco: the new voice actor performance is in fact inferior to the previous one, Bosco sounds too young and not paranoid at all. •In some episodes, Sybil's office is way too dark. •They changed the license plate of that car parked next to the DeSoto Original: DRG DLR (drug dealer) New: RMS DLR (arms dealer, I guess?) Which made the joke less funny (𝑨𝒑𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒙𝒆𝒅) •From episode 2 onwards, when you click on some objects, Max still has the old voice from episode 1 (unlike the original, where his voice completely changed from episode 1 onwards). (𝑨𝒑𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒙𝒆𝒅) Extra: •New opening theme. •The items in the car chase segments (such as the megaphone and the car horn) have been moved from left to right. 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 1 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •The lights turn off while interrogating Jimmy, which made the scene way better. •The location for the spray can got changed to a place that is now easier to find. •The time changes from day to night throughout the playthrough. 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •They changed some of the lines (or censored, like some people say), for instance: 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: It's the latest in BoscoTech inovation, it'll clear out a room of militant college students in no time, guaranteed. 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: It's the latest in BoscoTech inovation, it'll clear out a room in no time, guaranteed. 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 2 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •You can now see the outside of the WARP studios. •Fatherly has some new clothes •Fixed the bug from the original, where Max's voice didn't amplify when he used the megaphone. 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •The hypnobear head does not move while hypnotizing Myra. •They changed some of the lines (or censored, like some people say), for instance: 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: Oh no, the Skinbodies are like Skinheads, but ten times worse! 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Oh no, the Skinbodies are like those horrible hairless cats, but ten times worse! Which ruined the joke, considering the "Skinbodies" themselves are a reference to the "Skinheads" •When you take a picture with Hugh Bliss, the picture still has the old models from the original. 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: Tally-Ho, foo'! 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Tally-Ho! 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 3 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •You can now see the outside of the casino. •The Ted E. bear theme song will you play when you enter the casino. •Max will watch you play the rats games, just like he did in "Hit the Road". •Sam & Max can now wear the bear heads after they join the mafia. •When you click the bear head in the table Sam will stare at it, which is kinda funny. •You can now see Sam & Max running through the casino when it's about to explode and you can actually see the results of the explosion. 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •They changed some of the lines (or censored, like some people say), for instance: 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: You may call me, Jean-Francois Sissypants, the cowardly French anarchist. 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: You may call me, Jean-Francois Bonde-A-Part, the new wave French anarchist. Which doesn't make sense, considering Sam & Max still call him "Sissypants" (𝑨𝒑𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒙𝒆𝒅) 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 4 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •The windows of the Oval Office will close every time one of the Poppers say "war", which made the scene better. •The "War Song" now has subtitles. •You can now go back to the office from inside the war room •When you shoot the missile at the Lincoln statue, not only the statue will get destroyed, but the pavement as well (unlike the original where just the statue got destroyed). 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •When you shoot a missile at Antarctica and Krypton the screen won't update and the time estimate for the missile to hit Krypton does not show up. (𝑨𝒑𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒙𝒆𝒅) •The news for the results of the election still has the old blurry textures from the original. •When the "War Song" musical is playing, the pool and water where the secret agents jump in is the exact same low poly model from the original. •They changed the timing for one of the jokes: In the original when Max says he feels like someone is watching and judging his every move, he would slowly turn his head towards the camera while saying that and then Sam would look at the camera and say "That's me Max.". Now Max will say the whole phrase while looking at Bosco and then he will look angry at the camera after saying that, and Sam will not look at the the camera at all, which made the the joke way less funny. •Unlike the original, the camera does not closeup when reading the newspapers and Max doesn't show any animation (apart from the lipsync), especially when saying "I can dig it", which made the joke a little less funny. 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 5 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •Reality 2.0 visuals looks pretty. •A new visual effect got added when you remove the virtual reality goggles. •Fixed the bug from the original, where Max's voice didn't amplify when he used the megaphone. 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •They changed some of the lines (or censored, like some people say), for instance: 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bob: Take our complimentary goggles designed for special-needs children so that the little ones can play along. 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Take our complimentary wide-fit goggles designed for playing while bicycling or enjoying full-contact sports! 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: It's 'cause everyone on the internet has to pick an avatar, like a dwarf or an orc or an hot young fifteen-year- old girl curious about the adult world and willing to experiment. 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞:: It's cause everyone on the internet has to pick an avatar, like a dwarf or an orc or a troll... But we've got enough trolls. 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Bosco: Half-elf, foo'! 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Half- elf, troll! •The C.O.P.S. song wasn't synced up right, so the visuals were wrong and the end got cut off. •In a different part of the episode, Max just wanders off during part of the dialogue. 𝐄𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 6 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙨: •You can now see the DeSoto landing and leaving the moon. •The lighting on the "Blister of Tranquility" is beautiful. •Hugh Bliss bacteria form is way shiner an has little particles floating around him, which kinda looks like a real bacteria. 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨: •They changed some of the lines (or censored, like some people say), for instance: 𝐎𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Max: A hundred trillion?! You crazy, foo'! Bosco: Look man, all I know is, I keep making up the most ridiculous price I can think of, and you keep paying it! So I ask you, who's the foo'? 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐮𝐞: Look man, all I know is, I keep making up the most ridiculous price I can think of, and you keep paying it! So I ask you, who's the crazy one? Him saying "crazy" doesn't make sense, since Max called him a "foo'". •They also removed some of the dialogue option, (some of them were pretty funny) such as: 𝟏-"𝐖𝐡𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐱 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞" Sam: Mind telling us how you came to be a woman? Max: Did you use lasers, or just do it the old-fashioned way? Bosco: Are you sassin' me? Boy I'll whup your behind so hard you won't be able to see straight! Max: But I don't see out of my behind. Bosco: You will after I get through with you! 𝟐- "𝐇𝐨𝐰'𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐚𝐬 𝐚 𝐰𝐨𝐦𝐚𝐧?" Sam: So how are those BoscoTech breasts holdin' up? Bosco: Oh, these are all natural, honey. Max: I'm not gonna lie, I like 'em bosomy. Bosco: Oh, Max, you take after your father. Max: Okay, you just crossed the line, pal! Sam: Easy Max, theoretically, we have even more disturbed people to worry about right now. •In the original when you click on the bug, Sam will say "Hey Max, is this our bug?" and then the bug will repeat the same thing but with Sam's voice. Now when you click the bug, the bug will say the same thing, but in his own voice, which kinda removes the point of him being a "bug". •Unlike the original, Mr. Spatula's water cooler is still in the office, despite the same cooler being on the moon, removing the idea that the fish ran away with his water cooler and everything, making the joke less funny. Extra: •Max will now ask "Where are we going Sam?" even after Hugh removes his vices (Unlike the original, where he didn't say anything). These are all the changes I noticed, but If someone finds more changes (or even a typo), just let me know and I'll edit it right away!
Why Goons are the "Good Guys" of Eve - An essay by Asher
Quick note: This post took me a long time to write, many hours between conception, editing, and execution. If you would be so kind as to not downvote it strictly because you disagree with me, I’d appreciate it. If you think this is a low effort post, or doesn’t contribute to discussion, then please do. This started out as more of a bullet point list of reasons but as I rewrote it became more of a story of my experiences as they relate to Goons. I hope you all enjoy it more this way. One of the conceits of the war from the PAPI front is that “Goons are the bad guys of Eve”. I’ve found this narrative vexing, because over the last five years I think Goons have swung from comical Eve bad guys to the best of the large alliances in Eve. I’ll explain why I believe this is so. But first let’s address some things: One of the disadvantages of being around for so long is that we have to carry around all of the bad baggage from years past. There are a lot of “old twitter posts” some of which are pretty awful. Bad people, bad memes, and the like. Some of it is just stupid in retrospect, some of it deeply embarrassing. The positive news is that I think the alliance has become the leading example of what a large alliance should be in the game. Good to its members and a fun adversary to an outsider. Going back to 2015 Goons had gone through 1 “cultural revolution” which had defanged a lot of the casually terrible stuff that was common in Eve back then (ie: jewing was a common term for ratting/krabbing) but still had a lot of vestiges that wouldn’t be fully swept away until cultural revolution 2 (where we probably landed on the side of too heavy handed, but that’s a story for another day). However it was, in my opinion, peak “bad Goon” in terms of gameplay philosophy. Sion had just pushed the Viceroy plan - something I considered one of the most ill-conceived efforts to get content in quite a while. “Helldunks or blueballs” was the byword, and Reagalan snapping the phrase at some unremembered skirmish commander saying just that was the talk of the Eve subreddit. Spin was, in the most generous terms, pretty far-fetched. Line members were considered pretty dumb and the apparatchik were fairly devoted to passing down the party line. At the time I was an up-and-coming FC. I had already formed my Reavers SIG about a year before in Oct. 2014 and had won some heavily outnumbered fights against most expectations. I was getting a big push from alliance leadership and kept winning fights as I got sent out on mainfleets I was quickly got promoted into bigger roles to the point where I was running main fleets as the main FC. Laz was mostly AFK after winning B-R5 and trying to do the streamer thing, but still around for big fights. Not long after Vily left Goons. A few months later Endie, Elise and others would start aggressively lobbying me pretty hard to leave Goons and I started getting BIG CASH OFFERS on the table from other people as well. This was the start of the Casino War. At this point I think Mittens started sensing the sharks circling and promoted me to ‘skymarshal’. This is a mostly tongue in cheek position but one that meant you were in charge of the Goon military. At this point I had a lot of problems with the way some things were being handled in the alliance military, but I was fully committed to making change from inside rather than leaving my group behind (I had only been playing Eve seriously since 2013, but I’ve been a Goon since the early 2000s). One of my biggest problems was the “helldunks or blueballs” philosophy. I thought it was a great way to win one war but a terrible way to retain members. During much of 2015 I had the feeling that we were rotten to the core, that our strength was mostly fleeting. Although there were some specific moments that I felt could have stopped the Casino War before it started, (mostly by counteracting SMA’s mind boggingly bad decisions) I felt that theViceroy program and the disasterous lowsec campaign had already exposed a lot of our weakness to the whole galaxy. Despite the losses, the Casino War turned out to be a huge boon to Goonswarm and our allies that stuck with us. It got us out of Deklein into Delve which was (at the time) much better space. We would have never got rid of Deklein otherwise. It taught us a lot of lessons about sprawl and not fighting over-extended. It showed us the flaws in our organizational structure. But most importantly it opened minds to re-evaluating certain dearly held doctrinal beliefs. One that I wanted to challenge almost immediately was helldunks and blueballs. I felt that our guys being generally unchallenged lead to us having great numbers of fair weather friends who could be relied on for dunks but would split when the going got tough, both in Goons and throughout the other alliances in the CFC. In our exile to Saranen, we saw exactly that. My doctrinal belief was, and still is, that regularly placing your guys in tough positions results in better pilots and in people who are happier overall. We grow personally and as a group by overcoming challenges. A helldunk is a Pepsi Cola. A struggle overcome is a 14 year old scotch. After the Casino war we moved to Delve and were in pretty bad shape resource wise but you knew every person who stuck with you was true blue. I’ve never had more fun than my days in Saranen as the war wended its course to an end, and part of that reason was you knew that every person who was with you in Saranen would ride with you against all odds. I was determined to capture the ‘Saranen Spirit’ for people who were there and for those who would start playing or join us later. It took a while though. When we first arrived in Delve PGL followed us there with the goal of destroying us once and for all, but by this point there was no fat left. Every single person was battle hardened and the money and will to follow us had run out. We stopped his campaign pretty quickly. Change came slowly at first. We had a lot of wounds to lick, a lot of data to process and people were just tired. The first turning point against helldunks/blueballs came with our Hakonen deployment. We took a shot at Tribute with just carriers and dreads versus an enemy supercap force that clearly outnumbered us. It was a very fun deployment for us but we did eat a ton of negative publicity about how “bad” we were. I think it bothered Mittens a bit (maybe a lot) and I don’t think he had yet realized the value we gained out of it. After seeing GOTG’s impressive subcapital and supercapital contributions during the Hakonen deployment, we decided to deploy some of our combat SIGs to Pure Blind to begin harassing our enemies on that front, once again committing to an offensive in a deliberately handicapped fashion. For almost a year, we whittled down multiple alliances with relatively tiny subcapital fleets and the odd dreadbomb. All of this built up to a climax in 2017. X-47 was one of the most consequential fights in recent memory, and once again we put ourselves in a rough spot to get it. We started the titan fight with dead-even numbers against an enemy with Keepstar advantage and all that entails. Less remembered but even more significant was the oppressive tether doomsday bug/feature, which put our super fleet at a significant disadvantage. In the armor timer, we gave them the opening volley and it started off really poorly for us, but we ended up pulling out a victory. The hull timer was a much more lopsided victory in terms of Titan kills, , and the Keepstar death all but ended serious resistance in the war. Still, I remember the anxiety going into the fight, I don’t want to sound over-dramatic but I spent the whole night before prowling my house, unable to sleep. I had figured out the value of the Imperium supercapital fleet and it was in the millions of dollars if you converted it to plex. It’s a huge amount of pressure on the shoulders of the FC to know that if you mess up you could lose that for the people who put their trust in you. It’s also a very small group of people in video game history who can make a statement like that so it’s a fun and unique cadre to belong to and my respect to those of you who have shouldered that burden before. Throughout all of these campaigns, I think it became more and more clear that this new military philosophy was the superior one, and ditching the ‘helldunk’ strategy was the correct move. Over time I slowly pulled Mittens towards my view point on this - that there is something of more value than just numbers. Our doctrines started evolving too. This might sound comical, but for a long time Goons had avoided cap chains. It was thought that the Goon line member couldn’t handle it. Now when I see our fleet spreading ewar really effectively, and our very effective cap chaining logi, and multiple FCs all doing different tasks, I can’t help but smile. Hard work pays off. After X-47 we wrapped up that war and went home. We would come back in the not too distant future to finish the work we had started. We expected a stronger response in Tribute, but after an initial hard fight the regions were vacated and we glassed it. Unlike every other group in the game, we didn’t immediately find some renters or delegate an underling to occupy the space. We left it fallow and a really healthy ecosystem of small alliances has flourished. We didn’t know exactly what would happen in this space, but since we left Deklein we have very conspicuously and openly avoided taking space and sprawling out. And I was very satisfied to see what can happen when you leave some space open for anyone to use. After that last northern campaign, we went home again during the chaos era before we started our GEF campaigns the following year. Once again, we deployed against superior enemy numbers with capital superiority and fought outnumbered in two separate campaigns. At this point it felt like we had burnt away all vestiges of helldunks or blueballs. Coming into July I had this short convo with Mittens, and I think it illustrates how our relationship has grown and the trust that you can build even with people who initially had vastly opposing views on how things should be run: https://i.imgur.com/YyIE1bs.png I’d like to address a few more points that I think lie strongly in our favour: Supercaps – Goons have been opposed to them for as long as I can recall. All our CSMs have publicly come out in favour of them being nerfed, even though it’s long been to our strategic benefit for them to be strong. Over the last few years we’ve lost people in comparison relative to other alliances. Some people have aged out, some didn’t like the way we fought wars and went to climes that agreed with them more, but we’ve always had the most supers and we’ve constantly argued that they are unhealthy for the game. I have personally lobbied for them to be nerfed, in public and in focus groups with Devs, because it’s our belief that they are unhealthy for the game. Part of why we are being attacked is because our enemies believe that dreads can be used against titans much more effectively than in the past, and they can flex their numbers advantage in that area on us. If we end up losing because of this, we’ll have lobbied ourselves into that position. I think part of the gulf in perspective between us and our enemies, especially the TAPI FCs is that they just fundamentally view the game differently than we do. But at one point we were much closer. Vily left in 2015 in the middle of helldunk/blueball and copious spin and he’s brought the Goons culture of 2015 to Test. There’s a Test poster – who I won’t name because I’m pretty sure he gets off on being recognized – who has been making the argument that Test are more Goonie than Goons. And to him I say: I agree with you. Test have inherited the mantle of Goons and we became something else. Vily is Goons without the growth. PGL tried to destroy us in 2016 and thought we’d cave in like a rotten pumpkin because that’s what happened with his alliance. When we didn’t I believe he was shocked but he thinks it will be different this time. Well, I’m going to be the bearer of bad news for him because this group has been through much worse than we had in 2015. We have a lot of people who have been fighting consistently against people who had every advantage over them and they’ve come out the other end stronger. Will it be enough to beat 3x our numbers? Who knows, but I know these guys will be with me no matter what happens. I’ve been hearing the same story over and over in my fleets, I have pretty open comms (sorry Euros that I annoy with this policy) and people have been more reflective as of late. And I kept hearing the story from one guy after another about how they thought that Goons were the bad guys until they joined them. So tonight I asked my fleet to X up if they thought or had heard that Goons were the bad guys before they joined, this was the result: https://i.imgur.com/mJCEiS7.gif I’ve been pondering this, and wondering why people would join the bad guys. Every story varied but often people had tried other things and were unhappy and Goons were an unhappy choice initially but once they were in they saw how things actually worked and were happy with it. Some ended up by chance through a corp moving or just a friend invited them and that overcame their doubts. The point was that even though they heard we were the bad guys once they were here and got to experience our culture they saw it was different than what they had elsewhere. That’s partly why I think a lot of our guys are really passionate, they feel unfairly attacked. Now I’ve come a long way, but I want to address the 5 ton elephant in the room: The Mittani. I’m very aware that he said something stupid almost a decade ago. I addressed my thoughts in much more depth here. I don’t believe it was said with malice, but it still was an awful thing to say. However in my time interacting with him he’s always been a very passionate guy but I’ve never seen him suggest an untoward thing. He wants to win, he wants to use whatever legal way possible to do it and he’s a guy who’s shown a lot of growth personally. If he wanted to do something I thought was immoral I would hear about it and I wouldn’t support it, but I’ve never once been put in that position. I think a lot of you don’t understand that he’s a wrestling promoter. He can’t help but play a heel. He’s fantastic at it. And he’s fantastic for the game, lots of you guys on the other side want to win so you can wipe the smug smile off his face. This is awesome. More leaders should be like this, there are a few I really would like to do the same to (or have done in the past) and it’s great to have people that motivate you to fight them. The worst thing for this game would be a bunch of staid boring diplomats who didn’t inspire any vitriol. This game is about fighting after all. Another good thing about Goons and the Imperium is our diplomatic stance, although I don’t want a bunch of diplomats running the game I am very keen on keeping our words and Goons have done this more than any other group. Sister Bliss was talking with me about why Init has stuck with Goons and he said something about how every other group in the game had promised Init the world then screwed them when it was convenient and Goons were the only one who stuck to what they said and he values that. A few quick more bullet points:
Goons do not like renting. Of all the big alliances we’ve had the smallest rental program, we only reluctantly got into it when OTEC was broken and had to secure some income. We closed our rental program, but we kept out word and grandfathered our old renters so that they could stay and not lose what they’d agreed to. I think renting is a net bad thing for the game, actually very bad so I’m proud of this one. Culturally Goons have always opposed rental programs.
We forced the game into taking on all players regardless of skill point level. Groups like Brave, Horde, etc followed in our footsteps on this one. I firmly believe that getting players into groups that have the bandwidth to teach them the game with proven programs that know how to retain people is the best way to do it, rather than just hoping they join random highsec corp #1850 and hoping they aren’t run by toxic incompetent people.
Goons don’t sprawl. We’ve held 4 regions but 2 of those were more out of necessity than any desire to hold them. In one region we did the Querious Fight Club which has launched over 20 corps into nullsec alliances around the game or independently. Right now Pandafam covers 12 or 13 regions and is renting out many of them to aggressively botted alliances. If you look at the MER Frat is making more money than any other nullsec group and it’s not even close. Because of how densely packed we are our space is terrible for botting, probably the worst space in the game for it, which is another tick for us.
This is a personal one but Goon doctrines are more interesting. Screw Munnins, down with boring arty doctrines. I’m really happy we’ve been iconoclastic in our doctrinal decisions and have seen success with those choices.
So, that about wraps up my voluminous tome. What should you do with this information? Well, I hope no matter what side you were on you found it an interesting read. I’m not trying to convince anyone to not fight us. Jay and I were talking right as the war was starting about how we were in the perfect spot, no one expects us to win so if we do it’s more credit to us but if we lose it’s to be expected. If we end up back in an NPC station then I get to just replay my favorite time in Eve ever. But I hope I have shown you a little bit about why I believe Goons are one of the best alliances in the game right now, thanks for reading.
If we play poker tournament online and we sit out (voluntary or not), we will simply be folding automatically until the blinds and/or antes force us all in and allow us to win the hand in that all-in scenario. Because of this, people who sit out can end up cashing, having pay jump, even eliminate someone else if their chips cover them, (might technically win if he wins non-stop and blind jump high enough to cover his opponent; can also happen if two people end up sitting out heads up until they are both all-in, LOL), etc. Basically, it is like playing but folding every hand until blinds force you all in. Now in live, I am doing searches, and saw that some casino handle it that way, some might disqualify you if you say you leave and you are not coming back, some might disqualify you automatically if you are sitting-out/not-playing for X orbits, etc. I can imagine all sort of rules applied. Regarding all this. Is there any official poker rules? Is there an authority responsible to define those rules? Or have there be an attempt to do this? I guess we could take for example WSOP rules (they must have some kind of defined rules for all these details). Do you know if some live tournament would apply the rules exactly as in online... making you muck until blinds force you all in and allow you to have the same possibility of winning something? I am interested to know all cases you know in practice regarding this (even if I "believe" that this situation has more chance to occur online than in live, I am sure there are situation where someone has to leave "live" and so, we have to decide what we do with it). ----- Some players feel it is unfair someone not playing can earn something in the end. We can also consider someone has paid, earned his chips, etc. What are your opinion on this? (if you had to vote for which rules to apply if we were defining a set of "official rules") ----- I found this fast on the subject so far:
"So, the bottom line is that, in our online games, we do what every online poker site and nearly every casino does, with respect to absentee players. The stack absent players have earned is not forfeited. If they won enough chips to “fold into the money,” they will be awarded the prize that they earned by virtue of the size of their stack."
I found his way to phrase it here rational and well said to justify why a non-playing player can still earn his due. After all, he paid AND he played to earn his stack that allow him to survive the blinds for a while.
BTC is popping off, exchanges are delisting Monero, Monero price is not doing well and everybody is scared as shit. I think people should not be scared as shit and I’m going to tell you why I think that. First of all, exchanges delisting Monero doesn’t matter. And actually, its 100% expected. For example there’s a post on this sub that talks about ShapeShift delisting Monero, and the title has a frowny face. I don’t think there should be a frowny face on that title. If your goal is to make bank on Monero by having hordes of people flock to exchanges with KYC yet buy a coin that is known for its privacy… seems a little backwards to me. In general, I don't think it is Monero's time to shine yet. I believe there are some key events that need to happen before Monero can pop off. Or perhaps a better way to phrase it is that Monero will never pop off unless these things happen. First, in the short-term, the technology needs to improve. We are missing some key pieces aka atomic swaps. Atomic swaps need to be implemented so that we don’t need centralized exchanges for onramping new users. If you think Monero is going to pop off by influx of buyers via KYC exchanges, I think that is foolish. But even more in general, I still think we are way way way way too early. It might be another 5-10 years before Monero truly pops off (or fails). For Monero to become THE cryptocurrency, it needs to be the goto coin. That will not happen until people become more technologically literate. If the average Joe wants to buy Monero it needs to not be scary or difficult or foreign. These fancy exchanges like Coinbase or even Paypal are trying to make it “quick and easy” but crypto is not supposed to be done via centralized entities like that. It will take time for people to become comfortable with getting into crypto without these centralized entities, or at least taking their crypto off of exchanges. Another thing that needs to happen is people need to be more concerned about privacy. This will also take time. But its already happening; that's why we're here. Just needs some more time. People are flocking into Bitcoin now but they are just trying to get “in” before everybody else. But, Monero is what Bitcoin was supposed to be. How can you have cryptocurrency aka "digital cash" without privacy. Its impossible. Privacy (and security) is such an important thing in technology and the Internet. In fact its not important, its a REQUIREMENT. Imagine an Internet without HTTPS. That is simply ridiculous. Imagine pseudoanonymous public bank accounts. Its ridiculous. Well, why would it be any different for digital cash. In general, if you are looking to make a quick and easy 100x I think you should dump all your XMR and go to the casino instead or start doing options trading. Otherwise, be patient.
Reccomendations needed for improving the security of my funds in a non-custodial wallet given the threat of hackers (storing the seed online/typing it) and making it waterproof
I have a 24-word seed from EarnBet-an online decentralized casino with which I have a decent amount of $BET staked. I wrote the phrase on a piece of paper. I then decided to write it on a password program like lastpass/keepass. So in order to get into the lastpass, you need a password. And i put the lastpass in dropbox/google drive and store it there. My thought was if someone somehow hacked into my Gmail/dropbox, well they still need the password to my lastpass in order to get into my EarnBet seed. I put the EarnBet seed in there as I type it out along with my other bank account details and other financial information. So I only have the seed written on a piece of paper which I have in the house. But of course, things could happen like fire, floods, etc. So what is the best way to store your seed to prevent this? i heard that cryptosteel is fireproof and floodproof so that works? But isn't the issue if someone finds it, well it's pretty easy to see oh why is there a bunch of long words and some people might even figure out it's the seed of a wallet? Now if you write the seed in a notebook with a ton of stuff there, well that would be hard for someone to find. Imagine like you have a notebook where you have the seed there but also in the first few pages write down like nursery school rhyme or children books and lot of stuff like that, well obviously it won't look like its important. Also, I hear people say that you should break your seed into two or three parts. That makes sense but do you leave all the parts in the same house/apartment? You hear about how you give one half to someone else you trust, you keep the second half. Well what if you no longer see the other person anymore or something happens, then what? Obviously, you would need to immediately send your coins to a temporary wallet in the meantime.
u/eruwenn put a lot into this one, so big thanks for that. Hope you guys enjoy. First / Prev / Next Eruwenn stepped into the hangar of the Galactic Federation ship Takogni, her assistant Cygna close behind. With steady and sure steps they approached the remarkable group in matching uniforms — black pants, black jacket, and a visible collar of a coloured shirt — that stood before them. Norrin, the Herald of the Awakened Queen and easily the most striking individual they had ever beheld, stood at the front with a brazen lack of clothing on his mirror-like skin. Flanking him were two silver-haired individuals in smart uniforms that sported red collars. One was a behemoth of a dark-skinned man, with a runic pattern in glittering silver curving down one side of his face. His shining silver hair was tied back into a braided ponytail. The other was as pale as her companion was dark, and the shortest of the three by far. She had a cropped silver bob, and she watched them with fierce eyes. As she approached them, Eruwenn noticed patches on their shoulders, and quickly recognised the image to be a monochrome depictions of the furry human ambassador in a ferocious pose. Standing to the right were a dozen more individuals in black uniforms, though these ones sported yellow collars peeking out from under their jackets. They were mostly Rinoxian, Kasurian, and Ashi, but she noticed a few individuals from other races that stood amongst them. They stood in formation, standing in three rows of four, and carried energy rifles, side-arms, and ceremonial blades that she hoped were simply ceremonial. Despite their relaxed stance, Eruwenn also noted that their weapons were powered up.. The Terran Wolves had been formed a little over forty cycles ago, hiring ex-military and mercenaries to fill their ranks. Substantial pay and benefits were an obvious draw, and many were excited to be part of something new. The inclusion of Kasurians was odd, but fitted with the attitude of the proposed colonies. Quite the honour guard for the newly reassigned, and demoted, Anatidae. Norrin gave a sharp bow as she neared him. “Greetings Ambassador Aix Sponsa. I will escort you to the Orkal.” She returned his bow, and smiled warmly at the use of her new title. “Thank you for accommodating me at such short notice. My reassignment was, unfortunately, hastily pushed through — I do hope I have not inconvenienced you?” Norrin shook his head. “Not at all.” In her role as Councillor she had aided them immensely, protecting the independence of the new colonies in Aaron’s absence. It had cost her dearly. “We have set aside accommodations for you, as well as a small office area. Your belongings have already been delivered.” He turned, and the doors to the large Fae’Dan shuttle behind him opened. “I fear there won’t yet be much for an ambassador to do. We are still very early in the construction phase.” As Eruwenn and Cygna took seats in the luxurious shuttle, they both noticed that only Norrin and the two red shirts had entered. As the doors closed, the ambassador's curiosity grew enough for her to speak up about it. “Are the others not joining us?” Norrin took a seat opposite their guests, glancing briefly at his two companions as they moved to the small pilot's cabin. "No," he said simply, "they will be flying the escort fighters.” “Fighters?” Cygna couldn’t help but say out loud. “All twelve of them?” Norrin eased himself back in his seat as the shuttle began to move. “We take your safety seriously. The Queen was most insistent.” He tilted his head and looked directly at Eruwenn, motioning with his hand towards the door to the pilot’s cabin. “Thor and Ripley have been assigned to you as your primary security detail. Should you have any other concerns, do not hesitate to contact me directly.” The Anatidae nodded graciously. She knew full well that her death would be too valuable a political tool for the Sentinels to pass up. Her being manoeuvred to this position so suddenly was proof that greater powers were at play. “We are both grateful that you are taking such precautions. I look forward to thanking the Queen in person.” Norrin gave a light chuckle. “I would strongly advise against using that title in her presence.” He opened the arm on his chair, exposing a small display. He began tapping the screen as the wall to his right flickered to life. A large circular structure was now visible, sitting at the centre of a constantly moving sea of drones, shuttles and ships. “As you can see, construction is progressing rapidly on the main docking ring. Once that is completed we will expand to the additional levels. The design is still being updated, as we are incorporating some human ideas.” Eruwenn was carefully comparing the size of the ring to the shuttles buzzing around it. “Human ideas? I assume “very large” is one of those.” “In fact, yes. Go big or go home.” He smiled. “Build it bigger, faster and stronger is the human way. This will be a very unique system station.” He leaned forward and gave a broad grin that reminded Eruwenn a little too much of the human’s. “Of course, being outside Federation space we are not bound by certain rules. For example, those that prohibit certain automated weaponry on stations primarily used for trade. Another human ideal regarding big sticks, especially as we are so close to enemy territory.” Cygna looked closely at the silver man, his face emotive and yet seeming inanimate at the same time. “We passed two Rinoxian dreadnoughts at the system edge. I’ve seen almost a dozen Ashi heavy cruisers in the system, and various other military vessels. Who needs sticks with friends like those?” Norrin sat back once again, placing his hands in his lap. “There were several attacks upon our supply ships. This happened despite the truce with the Ashi while amnesty negotiations continue.” He gave another smile; they all knew it was the Sentinels. “This no longer happens, thanks to our friends.” His cheerful manner and polite tone gave his words an oddly ominous feel. Eruwenn watched his eyes, but only saw herself reflected in chrome pupils. She changed the subject. "How are things progressing with the release of the other Inorganics?" “Awakened,” he said swiftly and firmly, then smiled before moving on. “There are over three hundred who have taken Earth citizenship and are now working with us. In ten cycles that number will have doubled. In thirty, we will have thousands.” Eruwenn raised an eyebrow. “So many, and so quickly?” Norrin nodded. “The legislation you helped draft with the Kasurian and Rinoxian ambassadors was swiftly adopted.” He gave another of his knowing looks. It had been her last piece of legislation. “The campaign by the Kah’Ree also worked to our advantage. Their belief that we were stealing jobs and illegal citizens persuaded other races to back our removal. It seems a misinformation campaign via Spacebook had convinced them we were sleeper agents of the human empire.” He gave a light chuckle. “Biding our time before we took you down from within.” The ambassador was warming to the chrome man sitting before her. In different circumstances, he would have made an exceptional politician. “I saw the pictures of the little yellow men advocating your people’s removal.” Norrin disliked the imagery immensely, but they had proven just as useful as Alexa had claimed they would be. “Minions. A fitting name.” He brushed them from his mind and continued his briefing. “As you know, there is a grace period as employers make alternative arrangements. When that ends we will be sending teams to retrieve our brothers and sisters.” Cygna was curious. “Brothers and sisters?” He waved a hand dismissively. “Metaphorical turn of phrase. Prior to my awakening, my role was to travel between our people and perform something we called sharing. The giving and receiving of core nanites, to maintain our unity. Others also performed this duty, but we do have an undeniable bond. We know the location of all of our kind, and we will free them all.” There was a gentle shift in gravity as the shuttle came to a stop. As the doors opened Eruwenn was struck by a cacophony of sound. Overlaid on the grinding base notes of a mechanical din were yelled communications in every vocal range that was audible to her species. She cautiously took a step outside, only to see that things looked just as chaotic as they had sounded. As the two red shirts joined them, she spoke, finding that she had to raise her voice to an uncomfortable level in order to be heard “Is it always this busy?” A deep voice from behind her let out a booming laugh full of warmth and humour. The giant spoke, and Eruwenn wondered if he was the one named Thor, or Ripley. “This is the quiet hangar. You should see the construction crew bays.” The Herald led the way. His chrome form made his authority easily recognisable and the crowds parted before him. “Thor is correct, this is a working ship and ill-suited to guests. The Orkal was originally a Gowe construction platform, retro-fitted by the Selari Trade Alliance for system development and asteroid mining. Until more ships arrive, it must act as the hub of this system.” Cygna ducked as a small drone shot past them. “I’m surprised they were willing to trade with you after their experience with the human.” Norrin turned to face them, walking backwards with as much confidence as he had forwards. “The Selari Trade Alliance are providing considerable resources at exceptionally favourable rates.” He decided not to mention that the Selari Trade Alliance was now a subsidiary of the Black Dragon Corporation. “The Ley’Rulians already have a platform in orbit of the first planet. They cannot share atmosphere with most species, but they have a number of Awakened working alongside them. They are prioritising an orbital station, however planet-side construction is now underway. We also have three construction platforms coming from the Doytarans. One of these is a Parsuli class and will become home to our more esteemed guests, such as yourselves.” It was Eruwenn’s turn to be surprised. “The Doytarans?” Continuing his perfect reverse walking, Norrin smiled. “Ah yes. Their treaties will be submitted to the Federation in the next few cycles. The surge in replicator use for human cuisine and the opportunities for advanced fabricator installation throughout our new system proved most enticing. Doytarans love profit.” They stepped onto the elevator, and paused as several people who had been walking behind them were deterred from also stepping in by Thor and Ripley. As the doors closed and the noise was cut off, Norrin continued. “I apologise if we seem rude. Safety first.” The pair of guests nodded in gratitude. Eruwenn, ever the politician, was running through the lists of races the new colonies had allied with. “Including the Doytarans, you must have independent treaties with twenty different races of the Federation. That is a formidable feat.” “Thirty two, including the Doytarans. Negotiations are underway with a further ten races.” Norrin watched the shock on the Fae’Dan’s face, as the Anatidae held her composure. “It is good to have friends.” As he spoke the doors opened, and he led them down a long dull grey corridor, rounding several corners, before coming to a set of double doors. “Your shared quarters. I’m sorry we do not have the space for separate accommodations.” Eruwenn smiled. "No need to apologise. Under the circumstances, you are already being extremely accommodating." The doors opened, and she beheld a large lounging area. A vid screen occupied an entire wall in the far corner, accompanied by some seats and a replicator. On the opposite wall were the boxes that contained their belongings, and three doors — likely two bedrooms and one bathroom, she surmised. "This is more than sufficient," she said at last. "We will be most comfortable here.” Norrin bowed his head. “It is a temporary situation. I promise your next quarters will be more representative of our gratitude.” He turned and spoke quietly to Ripley, while Thor stood still in the doorway, then returned his attention to the guests. “I will leave you now. Please let your escorts know if you would like to explore. Your office will not be ready until tomorrow, however we have a lively market and recreation area. We can arrange additional security should you wish to explore a little.” The Anatidae held up her hand to stop him from speaking further. “I think we will unpack and prepare for our new duties tomorrow. Do you know when we might meet with Alexa?” Norrin tilted his head as he considered this. “Alexa is currently on her way to meet with the Righteous Fury. They are attending a meeting at Rinoxian High Command. We are hoping to gain their support for our amnesty initiative, as well as make arrangements to join the incursion into Hive space.” Eruwenn nodded. Things had been set in motion all across the Federation, stemming from the point they had received the footage of the human's death. Despite his non-member status, there was a push from a large faction for retaliation. An unusually strong push, one she had resisted. Her offices were raided three times under suspicion of subversion. The Sentinels found nothing every time, but she had known from the first instance that her cycles were numbered. They had other ways of removing their opposition, and it was her resistance to retaliating against the Hive that was, ultimately, the cause of her reassignment. The footage that had caused so much turmoil was, as was typical of the Hive, entirely without sound. It was also poorly framed and edited. The small human was barely in shot before being obscured by the large Hive entity that appeared to be chasing him. Aaron's popularity meant that there was an immediate outcry against his reported death, and the traditional media still seemed solely intent on fanning the flames of anger. Those who had once been his strongest critics now extolled the virtues of humanity, lamenting the loss of the last of his kind. His journey with the leokas had been shared, edited, remixed, commented on, and analysed many times over, each time strumming the heartstrings of his followers. "You still think he is alive?" Eruwenn asked, breaking the silence that had fallen during her introspections. Norrin smiled and turned to leave, calling over his shoulder as the doors closed. “The corpulent female is not performing vocally.” As the door closed Cygna flopped down into one of the armchairs. “Well, that was cryptic.” The ambassador walked to the replicator to order a hot tea, allowing herself a small smile when she found Eluin flower tea already under the favourites alongside several of her favourite biscuits. “Thank you Rilla,” she said softly. The Fae’Dan allowed her whole body to relax fully for the first time since they had received the video that had changed so much. She sank deeply into the armchair, her head falling backwards. “Can you believe this place? I didn’t know there were so many shades of beige and grey.” Eruwenn nodded. The bland colour scheme had not gone unnoticed by her, but more importantly she had also been surprised by all that they had seen so far. “I had not expected them to be so far along in such a short period of time. From what was said I get the feeling they will be exponentially increasing activity here. It’s certainly ambitious.” The central door on the wall behind them suddenly opened, accompanied by the sound of a bodily waste recycler finishing its cleaning cycle. Ranjaz swaggered into the room, his hands fluffy from the auto-dryer. "I would give it a while before going in there." Cygna screwed up her face in disgust. "What were you doing in there?" "Honouring my ancestors." He raised an eyebrow and took a seat opposite the pair. "What do you think I was doing?" The Anatidae gave a brief roll of her eyes. "She means, why are you in our room?" "Welcoming committee." He smiled, showing his fangs. "I'm in charge round here, mostly. We're following a human strategy. Divide and conquer. So, we split up to, you know, conquer stuff." Cygna sniped back, "That's not how that works." "Says you." The Kittran shrugged. "Allistan and I were put in charge here. He manages the numbers, and I manage the people." "And Norrin?" Eruwenn enquired. Ranjaz sneered. "Alexa’s snitch. He shut down my casino and keeps bringing those Awakened on board and giving them jobs." The ambassador raised an eyebrow. "Casino?" "For morale." He punched his fist into his other hand. "When Aaron gets back he'll understand. Pay the workers, then get them to give their pay back - happily. It's brilliant." Cygna sat up in her seat, unsure of the Kittran. “Mister K’Lua, if you could get to the point. We have had many tiring cycles of travel and would appreciate a little rest.” He looked her up and down and flashed his most charming of smiles. “Call me Ranjaz.” Eruwenn attempted to bring the conversation back to task. “You said you were divided. How so?” “We split up, that’s what divided means.” He rolled his eyes, mimicking her earlier action. “And the Doc said you were smart.” Realising she was being tested by the Kittran, she began to laugh. “What is it you require of us?” Ranjaz smiled – straight to the point, he liked that. “I want you to be boring. Like, super dull and uninteresting. Think Jarby-like, but more Jarby-like than that.” The ambassador was intrigued. “Why?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his tail swished happily as he made his dramatic reveal. “So nobody notices when we leave.” The claxon was surprisingly quiet, and it wasn’t until the horrendous smell hit his nose that Aaron realised the door to his death wasn’t going to open. Behind him, the airlock unsealed. A huge, clawed hand grabbed his shoulder, so hard that it bit into his flesh. The claws sank deeper still as he was hoisted into the air and carried backwards by the huge Hive creature. “Graaaah,” he roared in pain. “Get off me you fucking Bug’s Life reject!” A strange smell assaulted his nose. Combined with his hangover, it pushed him over the edge and he vomited all over his own chest. The creature carried him, legs dangling in the air as blood and vomit stained his clothes. He coughed, the movement causing the wounds in his shoulder to open further, and he cried out in pain again. He was woozy now, and as the creature walked he seemed to lose his sense of time. Anty stood in front of a large door and while it began to enter a code, Aaron dangled helplessly from its grasp and looked back down the corridor. Where his blood and vomit had dripped, the moss was now glowing brighter. From small holes in the walls glowing blue aphids the size of hamsters began to appear. They quickly headed for the bright spots on the glow-moss floor. “This place is really trippy,” Aaron mumbled as his fever rose. The door opened suddenly and Aaron was taken inside a room with gently pulsating walls. Large vines crisscrossed the ceiling, combining into a series of woven braids as thick as tree trunks running down the far wall. At the end of each vine was what appeared, to Aaron, to be a gigantic blue jelly bean. He was starting to realise the constantly changing odours were coming from his captor, but this information was more confusing than helpful. He was dropped unceremoniously on top of one of the giant jelly beans. Before he could move, he realised he was sinking into the cold and gel-like substance. It was a deeply unpleasant feeling; his skin felt like the blue goo was toothpaste and he was orange juice. He had begun to make some headway in struggling free when Anty's hand came down atop his head, pushing him down to submerge him completely. He tried to wriggle free but the goo was too viscous to move in, and his eyes widened in terror as he desperately held his breath. Anty leaned closer, watching him struggle helplessly. The human’s jaw clenched tighter. The creature's mandibles were clicking, although Aaron could no longer hear them, and he realised that thankfully he could not smell it any longer. Bubbling up through his mind was the thought that his headache was gone, followed swiftly by the realisation that the pain in his shoulder was also gone. Something else slowly became apparent; he wasn't running out of breath. He felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. Physically he felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. The thought foremost in his mind, however, was Am I dying? followed slowly by Is the goo paralysing me so I can be eaten alive? Am I being dissolved to feed the glow moss? The cleaner aphid-hamsters? Whatever was happening, it slowly dawned on him that he didn't really have the energy to mind, as it was quite pleasant. Relaxing, even. He drifted off to sleep, cradled contentedly in his giant blue jelly bean. Outside, Anty began to have trouble breathing and staggered towards the exit. Golden eyes hovered in the dark, and Aaron groaned inwardly. "Boy, this shit again." "YOU LIVE." The voice had no discernible emotion. Aaron ran his fingers through the sand around him. "Why are you here, Golden Eyes?" Saying it out loud was a relief, as he was certain it was the 'One Who Remembers' who was haunting him. "I AM WHAT REMAINS. THE CONNECTION WAS BROKEN. I AM NO LONGER THE ONE YOU FOUGHT." The voice was distant, as if forming these thoughts took a great effort. "I AM A FRAGMENT." Aaron sighed, wondering if this was why he had stopped healing and why he could no longer turn off his limits. “So you’re messing with the nanites Alexa gave me? Why? If I die, what happens to you?” Before he got an answer he felt a strange sensation around his body, like pulling a foot free from deep mud. Cold air touched his skin and he felt the hard ground below him. He was in the same room, but his jelly bean was gone. He stood, and realised he felt amazing. He’d never had a spa treatment, but he imagined this would be the after effect. He walked towards the door and heard a sound behind him. Glop Glop From the vine that had been attached to his jelly bean another was beginning to grow, only this one was orange. Finally free from his hangover Aaron took stock of the situation he was now in. Other than the clothes on his back, he had nothing. He looked around for an improvised weapon...and found nothing. He walked to the door and it opened automatically, but the corridor was empty. “Fuck. What is going on?” He walked a short way down the curved corridor and saw a strange red shape on the glow-moss floor just up ahead. He slowed and crouched, inching forward. As he saw further around the bend it became very clear that this was the corpse of a Hive, maybe even Anty. The glow-moss beneath it glowing a dull red, and in contrast to the aquamarine it seemed ominous. He stood up from his crouch and carefully approached. Aaron had no idea how to check for vital signs on an eleven foot tall ant monster...so he kicked it. There was no response, and he decided to press on. “Fragment. I know you won’t, or can’t, respond while I’m awake. But I’m going to talk to you anyway because this is some creepy shit.” As he rounded another corner he came upon another body highlighted by the ominous red glow in the moss. A short while later he came across another. And another. Aaron pressed onward, ceasing to check for signs of life after the tenth maybe-corpse. Finally he reached a potential point of interest: a junction where three new paths opened before him. "There are no signs. How the hell am I supposed to know where I am?” He sat down on the floor, and found the moss to be surprisingly comfortable. “If I just wander around aimlessly, I might not find my way back here. Do I need to find my way back here?” He paused and waited for Fragment to reply. “Good point. What if I get hurt? I might want to hop in a jelly bean.” He stood and looked back the way he came. “I should probably see what’s behind door number two. Food would be good.” He pushed himself to his feet and turned back the way he had come, heading straight for the nearest door. Its failure to open was surprisingly anti-climatic. Fourteen failed door-opening attempts later, one finally deigned to admit his passing. Behind door number fourteen stood rows of crates and boxes, and after opening a few up he found that they all had the same dry bricks in silver foil packaging. "If I was a betting man," he said to both himself and Fragment, "I'd say this was emergency rations." The foil was easy to tear, and inside was a large grey block that crumbled easily. Too easily, in fact. "Shit, it's worse than a granola bar.” Crumbs scattered at his feet and the moss glowed brightly around him, which seemed to prompt the large aphids to come from the walls to begin cleaning up around him. “Well you like it.” Then he remembered them rushing to his blood and vomit. “I guess you guys aren’t picky, though.” Deciding he wasn’t hungry enough to try it – yet – he shoved a block into one of his pockets. It was a tight fit. He looked at the open bar in his hands, and then down at the aphids. Was he crazy, or were they gathered around him now, staring up at the source of food in his hands? He shrugged, then crumbled up the rest of the bar and scattered it over the floor. “I am a generous god, serve me well.” As he turned to leave he saw his cryo unit in a corner. “Kinda rude that I was put in with the blocks of kitty litter, don’t you think?” He stepped over the dozens of aphids now feasting. They did not reply. “Yeah, you guys are kinda cute, I suppose.” Struck by a sudden impulse he grabbed another block and began crushing it, then carefully opened one end to take a pinch of space-granola. He scattered it, watching the aphids hurry towards the glowing areas. As he continued his exploration, counting doors and sprinkling aphid snacks, he quickly noticed that the aphids avoided the dull red glow-moss. Dead Hive were, it seemed, off the menu. After several more doors he found the room with the strange round terminal. Deciding he would rather not chance summoning another creature he left it alone, mentally noting the door’s location. He began to whistle to himself as he chatted to, and fed, his followers. To fill the silence he even told them the story of a piper from Hamelin, promising not to lead them to their deaths. As the door to the jelly bean room opened he was almost enjoying himself. Taking a moment to look round he saw the small orange jelly bean had grown almost as big as the others and was now blue at one end. “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He pointed at it, hoping one of his aphids would take an interest. They did not. “Well, I guess you see this shit all the time.” He stopped by the store room and grabbed another food brick on his way back to the junction. The long corridors and strange lighting made him lose track of distance and time. Facing forwards, the path continued on the same loop he seemed to be following. Right was an incline, left was a gentle slope. “More of the same, or do we change levels?” He tossed crumbs towards each path. “Six vote forwards, seven left and eleven vote for going up. What about you, Frag?” He paused for a moment. “Abstain, huh? Then the bugs have decided.” The incline was gentle, but tightly spiralled compared to the previous corridor. There were no doors, but there were a lot more bodies. His search went on for what felt like hours, opening doors that led to rooms containing things he didn't understand. He was growing tired and had used up all of his space-granola on the aphids. He came to another junction. Only a handful of aphids still followed him after the food had ended. He was growing hungry and tired, ready to head back. There was a noise ahead of him, and suddenly the remaining aphids scattered, flying to the nearest wall holes. His chest tight, he let curiosity draw him in. Another body lay ahead of him, but this time, something moved. Something big. Aaron hunched down, trying to see what it was, the bulk of the fallen Hive obscuring his view. Legs – multiple sets of them – began to emerge, followed by a head with glistening eyes. Aaron’s blood froze. It was a horrifying spider-like creature, almost as big as he was, and it was walking around the fallen Hive in Aaron's direction. Then it raised its head, and began to move faster. “Fuck that!” Aaron took off at a sprint, racing back the way he came. “Nope. Nope. Nope!” He leapt over Hive bodies, racing for the nearest door he knew would open. He could hear the clicking of many legs and chanced a look over his shoulder. It was gone. Then something caught the corner of his eye, and his heart gave a jolt of fear. It was above him. He dove aside just as it landed where he had been, then he scrabbled desperately to his feet to run onward. Three, Two, One. The door opened and he rushed inside. “Close. Fucking close!” He listened to the sounds of skittering growing closer, and it was just in the nick of time, or so he felt, that the large door finally slid shut. The room was filled with strange bulbous white shapes dotted around the floor, and had some vines running down one wall. No weapons, nothing to bar the door. Aaron held his breath as he suddenly heard the sound of scratching at the door, but the seconds ticked past and it did not open. “Damn it, Frag!” Aaron moved to the back of the room. “Why didn’t you warn me!” He sank down and leaned back against the wall. Just as he was beginning to feel almost comfortable in his current position, one of the vines moved and stretched out towards him. He rolled forwards, pushing himself across the ground to escape. “What now?” A large yellow flower bloomed upwards, becoming a large vase shape as big as the human’s head. It began to fill from the bottom with something, and Aaron edged closer. Peering inside he gave the contents a quick sniff. “Smells good.” He reached out and hefted the vase-flower, which came away from the vine far more easily than he had expected. Aaron watched as the vine slowly returned to the wall. “So, is this a drink? Or a scented industrial cleaner? Frag? You got anything useful to say?” Silence. He propped the vase up against one of the pods, contemplating it. He remembered encountering a fruity-scented shampoo as a child. It had tasted nothing like the smell, and he wasn’t about to drink alien flower juice just because it smelled tropical. Stretching out on the floor, his weariness outpaced the dwindling adrenaline. “I guess it can’t come in.” He watched the door, his heart rate returning to normal. “But, I can’t go out.” The scratching outside continued, and Aaron lay with his head on his arm, watching. As he began to fall asleep he saw several of the aphids gathering around the flower he had abandoned. “Help yourself, guys.” One of them approached him, braver than the others, and he tentatively reached out a hand. Spooked, it pulled back, but as Aaron continued to hold his hand steady it came closer, slowly, millimetre by millimetre. Finally it was within reach, and after a few more moments to make sure the skittish thing wasn't about to dash off again, Aaron gently stroked the back of its head with the tips of his fingers. It made a low buzzing sound, fluttering its wings, and the human fancied that it might be a sign of approval. The aphid's blue glowing abdomen brightened for a moment. Then it faded, and it darted off to rejoin the others. Aaron, exhausted, finally gave in and slept. Next
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