02-04 20:32 - 'I do my job badly, so they get bored and tell me to do something else. It’s not a binary choice “do the work or die” he had options. / Edit: Von Braun was *proud* of his work for the Nazis. Here’s what he had to say...' by /u/Discoamazing removed from /r/HistoryPorn within 640-650min
''' I do my job badly, so they get bored and tell me to do something else. It’s not a binary choice “do the work or die” he had options. Edit: Von Braun was proud of his work for the Nazis. Here’s what he had to say after the war: "I have very deep and sincere regret for the victims of the V-2 rockets, but there were victims on both sides ... A war is a war, and when my country is at war, my duty is to help win that war." He was a Sturmbannfuhrer in the SS for crying out loud. He was an unrepentant Nazi, where is is apologia coming from? ''' Context Link Go1dfish undelete link unreddit undelete link Author: Discoamazing
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You’re probably closer to independence than you realize
Financial Independence, as most spreadsheets frame the idea, is the art of replacing your spending with investment returns. More quietly stated is an implicit promise that after you’ve done it, you’re free. Chasing that freedom is an incredible motivator if you’re anything like me. And you’re probably at least a little like me, if you’re on this subreddit. Except, of course, we all know you’re never completely free. The outside requirements on a human life don’t stop at the financial. You still have to go to the doctors office to make sure your body is running OK. You need to take out the trash. Your desk gets messy and you have to clean it up. You feel guilty if you forget send your mom a card on her birthday. You’re not free, you’re still a human being. Just a human being with a lot of flexibility. And, of course, once most people do the math, it becomes clear that in order to get spending low enough to make it work, your part time job effectively becomes frugality. Being frugal isn’t a terrible part time job. You autonomously set your own schedule, it gives you an opportunity to be creative, you develop skills which have an impact on your life, such as gardening and thrifting. Frugality challenges your comfort levels at times, which in turn allows you appreciate luxury when it’s available. For me, it’s pretty much the checklist for what counts as an incredibly satisfying job. I don’t have a problem with any of this. And as a thoughtful person who’s put some brain time into designing your life, you already implicitly know everything I’m saying. But it’s useful to say explicitly. I sat down this week to write a plan for what I would do if I lost my job tomorrow, and was barred from full time employment for the rest of my life. I was not shocked to discover that even without 100% FI savings, I could design several options for lifestyles where my FI goals of satisfying work, low stress, extreme autonomy, meaningful relationships, and security were accessible. But what I was shocked to discover was that I could also design such a life without relying on any of my considerable savings or investments at all. The savings and investments made it a lot easier, but they really weren’t necessary. It turns out the important part of this thought exercise was forcing myself to give up my current job. With that, I had to get rid of my own internal limiters: the unconscious need to project success to peers, the fear of giving up what I’ve already worked for in my current job, the iron clad spreadsheet and financial plan that I’ve been faithfully following for seven years, the fear of something new. When all that creativity was being pointed towards the actual life goals, as opposed to purely the financial goals that I thought would help with the life goals, a lot of shortcuts became apparent. And I couldn't have done it without having put a tremendous amount of thought into clarifying what, exactly, I want out of life. Of course, I’m not quitting my job immediately. And it’s not like my current lifestyle is too far of a cry from my goal lifestyle. It has a little less autonomy than I’d like, and a little more stress, but we’re in the ballpark. But the lesson that I think is important to remember is that financial goals are easy to measure, easy to track, and easy to let swallow you to the point of distraction. Life is not a binary between FI and failure. Extreme saving is a tool, and only a tool, and it’s worth putting thought into what you need that tool for, and not just how to get your hands on it.
Fallout 4 feels to me like a huge, shallow time sink with no payoff and not enough memorable things. [POTENTIAL FALLOUT 4 STRUGGLE SESSION]
I've spent about 60 hours on Fallout 4 in the last few weeks, and I've finally realised that Bethesda games are enormous time wasters. At least Fallout 4 and Skyrim are. The complaints below might be anodyne to a lot of the people here, or they might be very controversial, but these things are hitting me particularly hard while replaying Fallout 4. I've played it before, but having spent so much time with it recently, the realisation has dawned on me more harshly. Bethesda build these amazing worlds with so much detail and complexity to them, only to inundate you with hours of fetch quests, bore you with a main quest that has no substance, and have you follow a map marker to the detriment of the world they’ve built. They encourage you to look down at the bottom of the screen to the degree that you never have to actually look around at the world to try and find a solution to whatever problem the game throws at you. Even if you turn the objective marker off, the problem that the games have is that 1) some quests require you to know the exact location of an item for you to progress and 2) you're incentivised to look at the bottom of the screen to find new locations to explore instead of just stumbling across them naturally (or with the help of your Pip-Boy map). You're not encouraged to just look at the world. You're not encouraged to memorise the landscapes or routes from one location to another. The fast travel isn't the problem here, either. It has everything to do with the way the game pushes you to walk in one direction nonstop until you reach your objective, and the way new locations are shown to you before you even find them. It's hard to call this "distracting" when it's a fundamental way the game is constructed. You're meant to look at the bottom of the screen. They clearly want your eyes there at all times. Another problem I have is that almost no companion in either Fallout 4 has a legitimate reason to follow you or feels motivated - ideologically or opportunistically - to do so. I can’t recall a single one of them struggling to have a reason to follow you and just doing it because that’s what the game expects of them. While this problem extends to Skyrim, I want to keep the complaints to Fallout 4 since that's the topic of the sub. Preston has possibly the best reason to follow you: You saved his life and the lives of his friends, and he has nothing else to fight for after the Minutemen are disbanded and his friends find safe haven in Sanctuary. So he doesn't bug me that much. But Piper follows you for basically no reason, because you answer some questions. Does she require you to find her a scoop for her newspaper, or uncover dirt on the mayor? Nope. Nick Valentine kind of abandons his job to follow you after he does a job for you, which makes it seem like he doesn't actually have a full-time job with an employee working for him; he doesn't even require your assistance to work through a different job before he agrees almost unconditionally to follow you. Paladin Danse following a wastelander - even one that helped him in a rough spot - makes even less sense because that's the sort of shit that if his commanders found out about they'd probably reprimand him. They fucking hate Paladins associating with wastelanders. This is established canon. Deacon immediately likes you despite knowing very little about you and requires no convincing for him to follow you. John Hancock is pretty similar. There's just no depth to these companions and even though they all have distinct personalities, the lack of conflict and the lack of conversation options makes them feel very boring and bland. They're fun and entertaining but only on a surface level. What annoys me more about this is that they will idolise you if you do enough odd tasks to placate them. Pick a bunch of locks with Piper around? She'll sleep with you after you pass a speech check. Use chems around Hancock? He'll tell you what a hip, rad person you are with basically no effort on my part as a player. Just be an asshole to everybody with Cait around? She will fall in love with you. It's so stupid to me. Again, Preston is the one whose affection for the player makes the most sense and requires the most effort; you have to do a lot of pro-Minutemen quests or do a lot of good deeds and stand up to shitty people for him to like you. His loyalty feels earned, and he's pretty much the only one that applies to. But I honestly don't think the level of trust applies to the other characters. They trust you if you just do enough random things they like. They'll spill their guts to you or sleep with you despite having few conversations with them and not helping them with any personal problems. Give Piper a pep talk about her sister, and you're all set. It's frustratingly shallow. Literally nothing in this game comes anywhere close to earning Cass's or Boone's or Arcade's or Veronica's trust in Fallout: New Vegas. It's honestly kind of a joke by comparison. Those characters won't just follow you for any reason. You can't just twiddle your thumbs to make Boone follow you. You have to help him meaningfully, and even then he only leaves because he doesn't trust anybody and wants to be gone. Veronica follows you only after she senses you aren't hostile to the Brotherhood of Steel, and because she wants a traveling companion. There are explicit and clear reasons why people follow you in that game. And if you want to earn their trust and get them to live in the endgame with relative peace, you need to do an enormous amount to do so. And if you don't want to help them? If you dislike them and don't want anything to do with them? You can literally kill them yourself. The game gives you that option. With Fallout 4 the character relationships feel arbitrary and meaningless, like there's no weight to the beliefs or decisions of anybody. It doesn't help that every character is potentially bisexual and you can technically fuck every single one of them. Just throw on some Fashionable Glasses, drink some alcohol, and wear some fancy clothes, and passing their speech checks is easy. You can coerce people in this game to do things easily. Which I guess brings me to the fact that there is almost no capacity to roleplay in this ostensibly roleplaying game. You don't have to make sacrifices to accomplish goals, and you don't have to choose a specific path. You can pretty much do anything you want with few limitations, which sounds freeing and liberating, but it actually removes the whole idea of playing a role from a series that has emphasised that for years. An RPG where you can pretty much do anything without risking alienating most people in the world because you chose one side over another is not really an RPG. And when you get around to interacting with people, the dialogue choices are limited as hell, you can't kill essential characters like Preston (which makes saving or helping him a foregone conclusion), questlines play out in an incredibly boring and linear fashion, and outside of a few moments the game doesn't actually give you a lot of room to decide the outcome of major incidents. You don't even have to actually choose one group over another when it comes to combating the Institute. The endings are simplistic and practically binary. I know it's a bit of a meme to compare the choices you have in other Fallout games with this one, and the consequences of those choices, but you have no room to roleplay as a person you want to be in this game. High or low INT doesn't impact the dialogue or speech checks. High or low charisma impacts things minimally. You're pretty much going to have 1 of 2 conversations every time you talk with anybody about anything. Even when you come to the crossroad where you have to choose a side in the main conflict of the game, you can play your cards right and bring everybody together, which sounds good in theory, but it isn't earned in a way that makes the opposing sides set aside their conflict. Ideology dissolves under the weight of the player making decisions that has fuckall to do with these people and their opposition to one another, and it makes it seem like the Minutemen, Brotherhood, and Railroad opposing one another in any way is baseless and petty. There's just nothing to these conflicts. If the characters in your game set aside their differences because the player did 1 thing, then you haven't written compelling conflicts. You've written lousy artifices to trick people into being motivated into bringing them together (which is insultingly easy) or choosing one side over another (which you don't actually need to do). The settlement minigame is kind of cool, but ultimately pointless. The game doesn't change the least bit whether you decide to build settlements or not. There's no reward to it, and very rarely do you need to build settlements to unlock questlines or get a character to like you. It all feels so damn hollow and pointless. For a game that demands so much time from the player to do things, there's nowhere near enough payoff to justify it. I could just go play Rust or Minecraft or another type of game for a more thorough and less frustrating experience building settlements. So yeah, that's how I feel about Fallout 4, and even Skyrim for the most part. They're big beautiful time wasters with no real substance. I remember next to nothing about Skyrim after spending a hundred hours in it and while I remember more about Fallout 4, I don't remember being challenged in any meaningful way. I mostly remember shambling from place to place, helping settlement after settlement with raiders and super mutants, until I got bored and went off to Diamond City to fuck around with the main quest that I found underwhelming, and meeting people who don't force me to analyse their beliefs or my own. The conflicts are mostly petty, the quests I'm given feel like tedious chores, and it's all an excuse to get you to explore the world that they ultimately don't even want you to look at because they force your eyes down to the bottom of the screen. It's numbing, repetitious, and draining. I feel part of my soul dying the more I play either one of these games. Apologies for the melodrama of the writing by the end there, but I'm very frustrated with this game and don't think I'm gonna play it further. I really don't feel like there's a point to anything. I'm becoming a nihilist thanks to this game.
I'm reading every Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award winner. Here's my reviews of the up to 1980 (Vol 4)
It is that time once more, folks. Links to previous posts at the end, links to full length blog reviews are all in one comment. Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
Plot: A normal human could not survive on Mars... our only option? Cyborgs!
Page Count: 183
Award: 1976 Nebula
Worth a read: No... but consider it for a laugh.
Primary Driver: (?????????)
Bechdel Test: Pass... but a real weak pass.
Review: Imagine if you took subplots from a trashy romance, a political thriller, a horror flick, and a space travel story... and forgot to put in the main plot. Starts decently, spirals wildly out of control with astounding speed. Almost worth reading to experience the hilarious concluding deus ex machina. This one is probably in the "so bad it's good category" - but sweet skittles is it bad. Also, turn on safe search if you look this book up.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Plot: After a pandemic causes infertility (and every other apocalypse hits), the only way for humans to survive is through cloning. But are they really human?
Page Count: 251
Award: 1977 Hugo and 1977 Locus
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Disappointing and disjointed. There are a lot of messages here that just get blended together to nothingness. Cumbersome writing, uncompelling characters, bland dystopia, and just a dull story. Odd choices on where to discuss science at length and where to just skip over it. First third was its own story originally, and is the best part.
Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
Plot: There is no joy like dying to advance science, at least according to Doctor Rat.
Page Count: 243
Award: 1977 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: No... but worth a glance at a chapter or two.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: N/A
Technobabble: Frequent descriptions of animal experiments.
Review: This book is truly horrifying to read. It's about the gruesome nature of animal testing - and cruelty to animals in general - and is chock full of graphic animal gore. It's the child of The Jungle and Animal Farm but without subtext. Consider checking it out to read a couple of chapters - the grotesque fascination wears thin. Some might consider the unambiguous use of Nazi imagery for animal testing to be a step or three too far.
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Plot: The Heechee left behind technology so advanced that we cannot understand it; that doesn't stop us from using it to get rich or die trying.
Page Count: 313
Award: 1977 Nebula, 1978 Hugo, and 1978 Locus SF
Worth a read: Yes. Very yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Really good. Cleverly bounces between the story as it unfolds and therapy sessions afterwards - we know that our hero survives, but something terrible has happened. A bit too Freudian. Still, excellent job of making a complex protagonist, interesting world, compelling story. Wanting to know what went wrong kept me reading - and it pays off.
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Plot: Turns out Middle Earth had other jewelry too.
Page Count: 386
Award: 1978 Locus Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is epic fantasy in its purest form; it is myth and legend, at times obtuse, but absolutely riveting. Tolkien's world is fully immersive. Had the physical book to follow the story, the audiobook for pronunciation, and laptop for family trees. Absolutely worth it - even as a casual LoTR fan.
Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
Plot: Something sinister is haunting Franz Westen, and dealing with it involves unearthing answers that might be best left buried.
Page Count: 183
Award: World Fantasy Award 1978
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is a horror story. Atmosphere is excellent. Book begins with some truly unsettling images and world building. The narrative itself is slow and frequently self-indulgent, but atmosphere stays on point. A qualified recommendation; but some scenes from this will stick with me for quite a while.
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
Plot: Long after the end of the world as we know it, Snake wanders the world, healing those she meets to the best of her abilities.
Page Count: 288
Award: 1978 Nebula, 1979 Hugo, and 1979 Locus
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: Less-is-more world building with good execution. A lot of interesting tidbits to keep you wondering what the rules are, who the people are, and so on. Story itself can be slow and stakes are consistently low. "I'm going to a place, surprise! something comes up, I will go to another place along the way." Characters are well written though not particularly complex.
Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen by Michael Moorcock
Plot: In an alternate timeline, Queen Elizabeth I rules over the vast empire of Albion and must do her best to manage a corrupt and twisted court.
Page Count: 368
Award: 1979 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Absolutely No.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This book is remarkable in that it combines shockingly dull and lengthy exposition with some truly awful and problematic ideas about sex. A whole lot of parallel world court intrigue that just does not matter at all. The actual plot starts developing halfway or later into the book - and is not interesting. The title addressing Gloriana's inability to orgasm is a big ol' red flag. A deeply unpleasant read. Really awful.
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
Plot: Humans have built many marvels, but nothing can compete with a space elevator.
Page Count: 317
Award: 1980 Hugo and 1979 Nebula
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Fail
Review: Overall enjoyable. Main narrative is about the space elevator, secondary is about an equally ambitious ancient building project - woven together in interesting ways. The science and vision offered are interesting, though characters are not and tension is infrequent. Marred somewhat by some truly bizarre (and underdeveloped) side plots and unnecessary epilogue.
The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
Plot: All the wizards left behind were riddles, and the only one who might be able to solve them is the biggest riddle of all.
Page Count: 578 (Full Trilogy)
Award:Harpist in the Wind (Book 3): 1980 Locus Fantasy
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: It's an epic fantasy trilogy. It's a good one. Kinda loved it. Heroes and villains are complex, magic is interesting and coherent. Excellent characters. Cool development of powers, though it is far more power sprint than power crawl. Pacing can be odd; a few long pauses followed by frenetic scenes. Very well written. A satisfying read.
Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Plot: The Southerners picked the wrong keep to invade; Ryke will do everything he can to get it back.
Page Count: 240
Award: World Fantasy Award 1980
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: The sweet, sweet taste of subpar writing. World building: "You people from the hot South are not used to how cold it is here up North!" Character Development: "You mean... I don't just need to indiscriminately murder people?!" and "You mean... women can fight too?!" Writing Quality (Verbatim): "He thought it might have ben a room in Tornor. The room was hot. He went to the window to open the shutters. They stuck. He had to force the latch. At last one opened."
Titan by John Varley
Plot: The intrepid crew of the Ringmaster crash in alien territory and must figure out how to survive.
Page Count: 309
Award: 1980 Locus SF
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: It is hard to find such a dumb book that takes itself so seriously. Some legitimately interesting exploration bits not enough to redeem this one. Extremely juvenile. Raises interesting questions and offers insultingly insipid answers. There are elements that are quite good - particularly some crisp dialogue - but it's just not worth it.
Any questions or comments? Fire away! A truly massive thank you to u/gremdelfor mailing me a bunch of books! People like you are what make this endeavor worth the effort. I’ve been using this spreadsheet, as well as a couple others that kind Redditors have sent. So a huge thanks to u/velzerat and u/BaltSHOWPLACE At the request of a number of you, I’ve written up extended reviews of everything and made a blog for them. I’ve included the links with the posts for individual books. I try to put up new reviews as fast as I read them. Take a look in the comments for that link! The Bechdel Test is a simple question: do two named female characters converse about something other than a man. Whether or not a book passes is not a condemnation so much as an observation; it provides an easy binary marker. Seems like a good way to see how writing has evolved over the years. At the suggestion of some folks, I’m loosening it to non-male identified characters to better capture some of the ways that science fiction tackles sex and gender. For a better explanation of why it’s useful, check out this comment from u/Gemmabeta
Hi all. I'm a 40-something gu..... well, I guess I'm a girl, it turns out. That's something I am struggling to come to terms with, especially since it's something that I feel like I should have figured out a long time ago, but I know we come to it when we come to it. So, last week, I came out to my wife, that I feel like I'm not supposed to be a guy, that I'm supposed to be a woman, I think. My wife told me how she was happy that I finally admitted it to myself and was waiting for me to tell her. She knew... Our first few days after that were worrisome. My wife has a severe anxiety disorder, so she thought of every single problem that could arise. She was afraid hormones would change my personality or make it so I couldn't stand the way she smells, and that I'd no longer be attracted or in love with her. She was afraid of me being murdered by bigots, that I'd not be able to keep a job because trans people aren't treated well around here. She was afraid that she wouldn't be strong enough to see me through all of it. But we talked. We held each other. We loved each other. And most of her fears were able to be calmed. I talked to a lot of trans women, and was able to get answers to most of the things she had fears about. For the rest, I found that there's a good progressive community in our little red town, and that there are lists of employers that are LGBT friendly, and great support groups in general. With my wife's fears calmed, she showed how amazingly supportive and wonderful she is. We had talked about me starting by wearing things around the house that make me feel good, that I'd remove all my unwanted body hair, and do things that wouldn't cause much comment out in public. I figured this would take months, but my wife went shopping after work and came home with half a dozen skirts and tops for me, some camis and panties, and so now, around the house, I can dress girly, and when I have to go out, I have a cami and girly underwear on and nobody has to know. We discovered that shaving is not an option for my body hair, so I got an epilator and will be starting to use that in the next week. Last week, I wasn't sure if I was a girl, or if I was somewhere under the non-binary umbrella. Now, with all of the wonderful things my wife has helped me with, I know. I need to be a girl. It's gonna take a long time, but eventually I'm going to get on HRT and get to have boobs and hips and maybe a great butt too, and I will eventually be living my life the way I need, and I have the most incredible wife to go through this with me. Life is hard, but life is good.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
Originally, I was leaning against doing an obligatory post-OSCP Reddit post because I didn’t want to come across as another “look at me - I passed OSCP!!” cringeworthy OSCP Oscar speech, but I decided to go ahead and do one because my experience was perhaps a little unique and answers the much-asked question “can I do OSCP without experience?”. A quick background to add context… I’m 31 years old and my employment history is a mixture of sales, graphics, and media-related job roles. I felt discontented for a long time earning (barely) living wage in job roles I had little passion for. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to quit my latest sales job in November last year (2019) to pursue a career in cybersecurity/infosec. I didn’t know what ‘TCP’ or ‘UDP’ was, and I’d never heard of ‘Kali’ or how to run a VM, but I was convinced that this would be the career path for me. Anyway, I went through Security+ and C|EH from November to March and, just as I was going to start applying for Security Analyst type job roles, our friendly neighbourhood Coronavirus came along and shut down the economy. Even though I had no intention of doing OSCP for another year or two, I thought it was a better option than twiddling my thumbs for a few months, so I decided to sign up for PWK labs and have a crack at it. Fast-forwarding to yesterday, after a few brutal months and an incredible experience, I finally got the OSCP “you have successfully completed” email. Apologies in advance for the essay but I just want to go through my journey for those of you that might be in a similar position to the one I was in - limited/zero IT experience and feeling intimidated by the dreaded OSCP mountain. My journey… In the weeks leading up to the wait to start my 60 days PWK material and labs, I went through The Cyber Mentor’s Practical Ethical Hacking Udemy course and then went on a Hack the Box rampage, so, by the time my lab time started, I felt like I was in a pretty decent position. Unfortunately, because I was a naïve idiot, I tackled the labs straight away and went through the PWK PDF casually on the side. This was a big mistake and something I would definitely change in hindsight because it cost me 5 easy points on the exam (I thought I could smash through the PDF exercises during the last week of labs but this didn’t prove to be enough time). In 60 days I ended up rooting around 40 machines - I didn’t bother going for the networks because it didn’t apply to the exam and, although valuable real-world experience, I didn’t want to get distracted and flood my brain with even more information when it wasn’t going to be relevant for my mission. One big thing that I did get right was note-taking. I can’t express enough how valuable it is to take detailed notes and build your own cheat sheet library. After every machine I rooted, I did a walkthrough on OneNote and added any new tools/commands to my cheat sheet library. This not only saves precious time in the exam, but it helps you build your own knowledge instead of relying on other people’s cheat sheets without really understanding what you’re doing. After my 60 days had finished, I spent 1 month on TJ Null’s OSCP Hack the Box list and IppSec’s video walkthroughs. I also can’t stress enough how valuable this learning methodology is. My only regret is that I rushed through it. I’d already booked my exam 30 days after lab time, so I ended up jumping through walkthroughs when I got stuck on boxes instead of exhausting all options. This was another naïve idiot mistake on my behalf and something I would do differently in hindsight. There’s a difference between “trying harder” and “trying harder, but in a smart way”. I was putting 10+ hours in every day but I wasn’t always being efficient with my time. I’d definitely recommend seeking hints and tips on boxes but only after you’ve exhausted all options first, something which I didn’t always do. Anyway, my first exam attempt came around towards the end of July. Was I ready? No, but I had delusional confidence in myself that has paid off for me more often than not, so I was hoping it would pay off for me again. My first exam was brutal. I sat in my chair for a total of 23 hours and 15 minutes, with only 3 short 5-minute breaks to get food to snack on. My VPN was shut down after 24 hours and I had a total of 65 points, which I’d been stuck on for the last 8 hours of my exam. I got the BO, root on one of the 20-point machines, root on the 10-point machine, and user on the other 20-point machine. I just couldn’t get root on that last machine. I was pretty devastated because I’d put my heart and soul into Sec+, C|EH, and OSCP for 7 straight months and I wanted it bad. But my delusional confidence wasn’t enough. After listening to depressing Taylor Swift songs for a few days (joke), I decided to book another exam in, 4 weeks after my first attempt. This time around, I decided to go through Tib3rius’s Linux and Windows Privilege Escalation courses (they were great) and go back over some of the HTB machines. I honestly felt at this point that there wasn’t much more study material that I could go through. 2nd exam came up and it was an almost minute-for-minute repeat of the first exam. BO done, 20 point rooted, 10 point rooted, but could only get user on the other 20 point. 65 points again. This time I ended up listening to Taylor Swift + Lana Del Rey. I was pretty adamant that I could do this and that I was very close, so I sent Off-Sec an email explaining my situation and they were kind enough to allow me another exam attempt without waiting 8 weeks - I booked another exam in 2 weeks after my second attempt. This time, my preparation was entirely mental. In both my prior exams, I was sat on my chair for over 23 hours because I was flapping around aimlessly like a headless chicken, desperately firing off exploits that I knew wouldn’t work on the other 20-point machine. So, I went into the 3rd exam determined to go at a slow and steady pace, and not let the 24-hour timeframe pressure me into a wild goose chase. Miraculously, it seemed to work. After 14 hours, I’d done the BO, rooted both 20-point machines, rooted the 10-point machine, and got user on the 25-point machine. 85-ish points in total. The point of this story is to get across to people that you need to try simpler, not harder. I perhaps failed my first exam because I’d not gone through Tib3rius’s Priv Esc courses, but I failed on my 2nd 100% due to mentality. There was no skill-level difference between my 2nd exam and 3rd exam. I’ll finish off with my recommended learning methodology and exam tips (for people with limited/zero IT experience): . The Cyber Mentor Practical Ethical Hacking Udemy course (usually on offer at $14.99-ish) . Tib3rius’s Linux and Windows Privilege Escalation course (usually on offer at $12.99 each) . Try Hack Me OSCP Learning Path (I would recommend doing this before HTB - it is $10 for 30 days) . PWK labs (I personally don’t feel more than 60 days are required - unless you work full-time) . TJ Null’s OSCP Hack the Box list ($10 for retired HTB machines - very worth it) . You should be ready for the exam Exam tips: . Become proficient with Nmap but use an enumeration tool like nmapAutomator for the exam . You will need to understand what bash and Python scripts are doing (you don’t need to be able to write them from scratch) . Don’t be tempted to use a fancy BO methodology for the exam, stick with PWK’s methodology - it works (some of the others don’t) . Play around with various reverse shell payloads - sometimes a bash one-liner won’t work so you need to go with Python. Sometimes Bash, Python, and netcat won’t work, so you need to understand what alternatives you can use in that scenario . Get into the habit of reading service manuals. In all 3 of my exams, I came up against machines that had services I’d never even heard of. Fortunately, I’d got into the habit reading service manuals, otherwise, I would have skipped over the services and got lost down a rabbit hole . Get into the habit of exploiting conventional services in unconventional ways. Just because an SUID binary isn’t on Gtfobins, it doesn’t mean that you can’t exploit the SUID binary in an unconventional way. Again, get into the habit of reading manuals to understand what services do . Become familiar with Burp Suite. Many exploits won’t work in the way you might expect them to, but they will work if you run them through Burp. Or, at the very least, you’ll be able to understand why they’re not working. This issue came up in my last exam and I would have been completely lost if it weren’t for Burp . Take breaks if you get frustrated - this is said over and over again by people on this subreddit and it’s an absolute must. The 20 point machine that I couldn’t root after 8 hours on my 2nd exam was on my 3rd exam (thanks Off-Sec - I know you tried to fu*k me with that), but I was able to root it within 1 hour on my 3rd exam, simply because my mindset was different at the time. . Trust your gut - by doing PWK and HTB machines, you should develop a gut feeling of when you are in a rabbit hole and when you’re on the right track. I ended up rooting over 100 machines before the exam (albeit with plenty of hints and tips) and it helped me develop a good gut feeling. I can’t explain why but there were times in my last exam where I knew I was in the right area even though I wasn’t able to enumerate the specific service version. This feeling simply came from experience. I’m sure many of you watch IppSec’s videos and wonder “how the hell does he know to do X or Y?”. I used to wonder this all the time but after going through dozens of machines, I finally got it. It comes down to experience. Try to do as many machines as you can before the exam to build that gut feeling, and trust it in the exam. . Embrace failure - this is perhaps the most important thing that I can say. OSCP is a difficult journey and many people fail multiple times before passing. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to fail. It’s how you react to failure that counts. I’m not particularly smart but I embrace failure and I know deep down that I will keep trying until I pass. I was prepared to take the OSCP exam 1000 times if I had to, I was never going to let the exam beat me. I suggest you approach it with the same mentality and not let silly pride prevent you from having a go at it. One last thing! Join a solid Discord community. This journey has been amazing since day one and a big reason behind that is the amazing online community. I was very active in an HTB community and ended up talking to several people who were going through OSCP at the same time as me. This was honestly such a massive help to me because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I first started! Sorry for the massive rant - I just see so many people on here treating OSCP like an unsurmountable mountain. It’s not. You can do it!
Main tank here for the last 10+ seasons, main Rein. I’ve been trying to figure out why it feels so terrible right now, even with CC toned down. What I feel is that the massive amounts of damage in this game, matched by the massive amount of healing, has taken away a lot of the ability of a main tank to manage personal HP as a resource. One of the basic things I’ve always kept in mind as rein is safely facetanking damage, utilizing the 200 points of armor to reduce damage taken, and allowing that to be healed up. 300 hp has been my mental “safe spot” for judging my aggression. Lately, however, I find that even at full HP, I can never feel safe even just firestriking without the risk of going to extremely low HP or even dying. What I’ve sort of realized is that this mid-ground health doesn’t even really exist anymore. It feels like you are either being pocketed at full hp, or you’re dead, and there’s extremely little time in between. Once I noticed this, I thought “hey, maybe I’m just bad” so in the main tank streams I watch (super and cloneman, for example) I paid special attention to their health totals throughout games, and I noticed a very similar pattern. They would spend the majority of the time either above 400 hp while getting healed, or would immediately drop to roughly 100 hp, where either they’d have to get hard pocketed back to full or die. I think that the damage and healing creep has removed an entire tool (health management) from the tank role, leaving them more reliant on healers than ever before. Specifically, the idea of “facetanking” damage is just too risky now. I can’t alternate my health pool and my shield because there is too high a risk of getting bursted down even within short moments. I think DPS aren’t made as miserable by this because they’re naturally squishy, and by nature don’t want to be focused by multiple members of the enemy team, whereas with tanks that’s your base job. This also leads into CC feeling even worse because the short stun of a cree flashbang is absolutely enough time to get burst down without a bubble or pocket. I also think this is why double-shield is so prevalent, as a symptom of the fact that, with regard to HP pools, the idea of taking “safe amounts” of damage isn’t reliable, and so the best option is to take no hp damage at all, by only playing behind shield where it’s impossible to get burst without the warning of the shield breaking, and to have fortify/suck to keep you from being burst when that shield does go down. I guess basically, how I’d describe the problem I’m witnessing is that the damage and healing creep have made tanks feel far too squishy because of an inability to utilize the middle ranges of HP. As for solutions, I’m not sure the best option, outside of something like a % nerf to both damage and healing across the board, which obviously is an oversimplified solution, but something needs to be done imo to make tank hp pools relevant and not feel like quite such an alive/dead binary. Welcome thoughts, and for now, you can find me queueing support.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – ESCAPE FROM STALAG SULTANATE, Part 1
That reminds me of a story. “HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular. “What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly. “This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.” Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu. Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences. “Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.” Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that. “Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore. Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market. Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means. “I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink. “Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly. Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law. I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong. But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge. But not before I took care of a few loose ends. Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year. Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer. He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work. Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced. Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now. So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat. Then he died. And his chosen took over. Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted. Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included. Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs. Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats. “GET OUT.” This was the clear message of the new sultan. He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country. Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them. Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism. Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne. He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies. Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall. But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country. Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them. So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat. “How low can you go?” reverberated through my head. What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists. Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint? “This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!” “Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.” “Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.” “Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.” True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough. We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal. “Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.” “Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.” “No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.” “Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue. “Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.” “Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?” “ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”! “Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.” I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere. Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy. It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested. “I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…” The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed. “Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?” All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could. “BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy. “Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.” We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass. We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were. The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here. “Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.” “You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly. “That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied. “Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut. “Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied. “Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again. I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention. “Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont” I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled. “Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared. “We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass. “Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could. “Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…” “Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?” “Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.” Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good. “OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.” “Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.” “Excuse me?” I said. “Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.” “OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.” “Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me. “Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters. “Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…” In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home. “That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.” “Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.” “Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have. “Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.” That meant we needed to do some packing triage: • Things going home with us. • Things being shipped. • Things being sold. • Things being left behind. • Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on. “Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here. I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills. Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years. See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line. So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit. Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by… Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is… Oh. And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool. Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos. Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall. Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him. So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range. To be continued…
Beginning|Previous Premier Valast felt a tingle. It began at the base of his spine and traveled moved upward, sending warm fuzzy feelings all throughout his body as it made its way to his brain and inserted itself in his conscious thoughts. After all of the misery. After all of the failures. For once, something had gone right. How delightful. How extravagant. How deserved. The Humans had made a mistake. Clearly, they had thought to expand upon their treachery, believing themselves to be invincible. Their monstrosity of a vessel had appeared just as their last one had, within Halcyon's inner perimeter. After their ruse of parlay, their beast had commenced belching out weapons of mass destruction, clearly in an attempt to retrieve the encryption key and the elite assassin-thief they had dispatched under the guise of a Witness. They thought Halcyon weak. Defenseless. Not true! Not true at all! Kinetics. Valast laughed aloud, his rib cage heaving out great guffaws. Accelerated mass! More laughter. The savages thought to bring such inelegance against the might of the Combine? They mistook their prior fortune for competence. Their one-time success for future capability. Alas, poor Humans, the truth of your inadequacies is made manifest! The brief gap in the defenses brought on by the improbable chain of events that had resulted in their arrival had been filled. For all of their destructive potential, their weapons were useless. Valast continued to cackle, his hindclaws scrunching up the soft material of his pillow, as he watched the Humans receive their punishment for their insolence. The Humans had made assumptions. Perhaps assumptions were fine in their backwater corner of the galaxy, but here, among civilization, assumptions could be quite dangerous indeed. It was quite unwise to assume Halcyon would leave the inner perimeter exposed. They must have thought their Evangi co-conspirators would leave the gates open for them, as the traitor Neeria had done when she had given them access to a Combine wormkey in the first place. Sadly for the Humans, their four-armed friends had been exposed for what they were. A great many of the Evangi now lay motionless on the floor of a Halcyon mainway, a fitting end to their perfidy. Halcyon had stood since the beginning, and it would continue to stand long after the Human infestation had been expunged from the Combine Space. Perhaps the Humans should have spent more time pondering the nature of the place before they had meddled with forces they clearly did not understand. Halcyon existed in defiance of the chaotic nature of the neutron star it orbited. Its survival required an solution to the objects such a gravity well attracted. Halcyon had many such solutions, weaved together to maintain a delicate balance. Among them were the inertial dampeners. The screen in Valast's paws bloomed with colors, indicating firings of Halcyon's inertial dampeners. Each blossom of color was an attempt by the Humans to deploy weapons in clear violation War Accords, cementing Humanity's position as a menace to decent civilization. Had Valast not commanded Bo'Bakka'Gah to take the necessary precautions, the devastation would have been significant. Lines of crimson sailed through the blooms of color. Valast's whiskers twitched, his eyes squinting as it tracked one of these lines. The solution was not perfect. The intertial dampeners in close proximity to Halcyon were a final precaution, and their purpose was narrow. They were a fine net, meant to indiscriminately capture any residual high-speed astral particulate that had escaped the outer defenses. Their efficacy diminished at an exponential rate in proportion to the size and mass of the object they acted upon. Thus far, they had been quite successful at preventing the Humans from making use of their weapons, but dampeners had no effect on the Human vessels. Even if the dampeners could be used for such a purpose, their indiscriminate nature would have required the cessation of all space born travel within Halcyon, an unacceptable disruption to the workings of the Combine's capitol. The Humans' small spherical vessels were thus capable of traveling unimpeded throughout Halcyon space, tracing their crimson lines behind them as they did so. Such a thing did not overly worry Valast. They could not fire their weapons, and they were susceptible to electromagnetic disruption, rendering them easy targets for the Peacekeepers. Were Valast not otherwise consumed with the affairs of state, he would perhaps take to the front line and dispatch a few himself. Sadly, his bravery would find no opportunity for direct expression beyond the valor found in the privilege of command competently exercised. The whiskers ceased their twitching and some cheer returned. It would not be long before the meddlesome Human spheres were swatted from the sky and the encryption key recovered. Then they would dispatch the Human warship. Then Humanity. He need only wait. ----------- "Get spread. Get small." Sana called out. Had to buy time. Had to get a handle on the situation. Not her first rodeo, but it was the first time where she had no idea what the hell she was riding. Maybe the aliens were riding her. Maybe it wasn't a rodeo, maybe it was just a slaughter. That was the problem. No one knew anything. The callsigns in her local were dropping like flies. Squaddies getting wiped without so much as a peep. The eggs in Science were saying EMPs, but the balls were supposed to be fixed against that frakkery. Sensors said the balls were still there even after they went dead, so maybe they were right. Couldn't think about that now. Couldn't think about anything but the mission. Captain Sana Bushida had a shit-shuttle to bring to station. She needed to get from A to B. Normally the quickest point-to-point was a line, but the baddies were coming in from all sides. Trying to corral her in. So be it. She could handle a long and squiggly with the juice she had in the four balls attached to the cockpit. Only question was how long they'd be up for. Whatever they were using on the balls wasn't touching her. She was good, but she wasn't that good. Guess they wanted her kicking and screaming. Predators, not scavengers then. Frakk 'em. Right in their stupid alien faces. Sana's brain shunted command signals as fast as her eyes to parse the readouts in her pilot pod. Dodging. Weaving. Diving. Dipping. Half those words didn't even apply to space, but they felt right. Float like a butterfly, run like cheetah on amphetos. She'd sting 'em later. Run run run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the shit-shuttle can. Swipe. Swipe. Two smaller ships moved in a pincer formation, one cutting off her angle around the larger ship she was skimming around. Sana let out a giggle, as she shoved the shuttle in another direction. "You thought you had me, crapdonkey? You never had me. You're gonna be seeing my ass all day." The giggle somehow transformed into a roar halfway through as a third ship appeared in her view, coming out from its hiding place on the other side of the large ship. "SCREW YOU!" They weren't going to win. Losing wasn't an option. Swipe. Patterns emerged as the ballet played out. Certain ships were the herders. The small annoying frakks that always seemed to be moving around her flanks. Other ships were the receivers. They were the big boys. The ones who just floated there like giant shits in space. Lazy frakks just waiting to be fed some shit-shuttle. Fine then. New info. New tactics. New rule: Get around the herders, never get closer to the receivers. Herders bad. Receivers bad-der-er. As long as she was a step ahead of the herders and two steps away from the receivers, she'd be fine. Problem was they were more agile than her. Problem was there was more of them. Problem was the friendly callsigns on her readouts kept disappearing. Problem was that she was stuck in here instead of out there where she belonged. Ninety-nine problems... Swipe. Swipe. All she needed was a line of sight. A place where she could get a whiff of open space and just gun it. Navigate the maze. Get through it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glass is half full. Metaphor. Analogy. Idiom. The stream of consciousness flowed out of her, expressing itself in her verbiage and in the desperately navigating shuttle some distance away. Step forward. No steps backward. Okay, maybe one step backward, but it'll be okay. She'd take the step forward soon enough. Just...needed...a...line. Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta was gone. It was just her. Swipe. Swipe. The fate of the world. The shit-shuttle must survive. Swipe. Swipe. The gap opened. She saw it. They didn't. "There it is bitches!" All four balls slammed the thrusters on. It wasn't a direct bee line to the Oppenheimer but it was good enough. She just needed to get out of the hornet's nest and into open space so she could keep pouring on the acceleration. She didn't know how much juice the herders had, but it was all she had going for her at this point. Bitter bile rose up in her throat as the shit-shuttle surged forward, leaving A through D behind. Her squaddies. Her friends. Abandoned. She should be out there. She could be. She just needed to get the mission done. She was so close. She was putting distance between her and the baddies. Just a few more minutes...the link cut off. Her thoughts were shunting into a wall. She swiped, her eyes scanning the readouts. Alcubierre - Shuttle - Cockpit (Ejection)(DISTRESS) no longer appeared. For once, Sana was speechless. --------------------- Kai retched air. There was nothing else to throw up at this point. He'd given everything he had to give, and it was now floating about the cockpit in a viscous cloud. He was fairly certain Neeria was collateral damage in the matter. If she were ever to regain consciousness, she'd find she had been provided with a fresh coat of puke paint. At this point, being blind was something of a boon. Congratulations were owed to the sadist in the pilot's seat though, he hadn't emptied his stomach like this since flight sims. He'd raise his hand in salute if it weren't for the incredible g-force shifts whipping him around like a rag doll as the pilot attempted to avoid whatever was out there. Some of the maneuvers seemed impossibly complex, as if the cockpit was navigating through an impassable morass of enemies. Or perhaps the pilot was just drunk. Either seemed possible. The whipsawing continued. Back. Forth. Round and round. Acceleration never seemed to continue in a single direction for more than a few seconds. They were going in circles. They had to be. Finally, it appeared the pilot had decided on a direction as Kai was slammed back into his chair as the cockpit rocketed forward under sustained acceleration. They must have broken through. Or the pilot had fallen asleep at the controls with the throttle down and they were all doomed. Either way. At this point, Kai was just eager for it to be over. The acceleration continued. He felt like he was being crushed. Like an enormous hand was pressing against him, trying to squeeze all of his organs out through his eyes. Whatever was powering the cockpit now was beyond the parameters of the shuttle's acceleration compensators. His vision began to dim and his joints ached. Pain surged up in his right arm, which was still contorted within the goo. He was fairly certain a bone had just snapped. "Oppenheimer..ETA," Kai managed to gasp out, drawing the breath back into his lungs with some effort. "The shuttle is not currently on course to intercept with the UWDFFOppenheimer." "Joan." Kai wheezed. "Connect. Joan." The acceleration cut off. Kai took a huge gulp of air, the relief immediate. "Comm-link. Fleet Admiral Joan Orléans." No response. Kai tried again. Silence greeted him. Grumbling, he raised his left wrist toward his face. He stuck out his tongue and smeared it along the wrist console's interface. None of the expected beeps and chirps sounded out. It was dead, and, he suspected, so was the cockpit along with whatever had been propelling him. No life support. No way to call out for help. No way to do anything but sit there. For all intents and purposes, they were a hunk of space junk drifting off into the black oblivion. Fair enough. It was a fitting end. Helpless. Hopeless. Kai tried to muster some anger at the situation, if only to distract him from the pain coursing through his body, but found he was up to the task. It was easier to be motivated when there was something to do. Some way he could impact the situation. But there was nothing to do but wait. Maybe he'd live. Probably he'd die. He didn't mind it, that was the same binary he faced every other day. It was a bit more present in his mind than it normally was, but the truth was that he was overdue for demise. He'd given death the slip more times than anyone had a right to. Still. It bothered him. Not the death part. The not doing what he set out to do part. He had run through walls, both literal and figurative, to make it this far. He didn't know what making it back to the Oppenheimer would mean for Humanity, but it had to be better than not making it. The encryption key -- what did it do? What could it do? Would it be doable? Neeria -- could she guide them? Could she help them navigate the treacherous galaxy Humanity was just beginning to play a part in? There were so many questions. The answers could matter. Kai tried to remember how much time they had. Without life support, the supply of oxygen would rapidly begin to deplete. He supposed it didn't matter, since he had no idea whether Neeria breathed, what Neeria she breathed, or the rate she consumed it. His space suit had a few hours of stored supply, but it was designed to work in conjunction with his helmet. Without the wrist console, he'd need to find some way to manually vent it. That was something to do. Small, but perhaps meaningful. Anything to tilt the scales just a little bit more in their direction. Just a few more minutes of air could make a difference. "Seconds matter," Kai wheezed out. His breath was wet and tasted of iron. He'd worry about that later. Air first. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing. He hoped Joan's plans were faring better. ------------------- The Admiral's Bridge was awash in a sea of red. Multiple views vied for primacy as the situation continued to deteriorate. So far, the Oppenheimer itself had withstood the sustained EMP assault directed its way, but the same could not be said for the battle balls. Callsigns continued to blink out of existence with every passing second. The Oppenheimer had immediately attempted to provide supporting fire, but its kinetic weaponry was similarly disabled. Whatever the circumstances had been that had allowed the Alcubierre to destroy an alien vessel, they were clearly no longer relevant to the situation at hand. Without kinetics, the vast majority of Humanity's space-born projective power was effectively nullified. Science was looking into explanations and alternatives, but it would take time. The Oppenheimer's EMP arrays had succeeded in firing, but the alien vessels appeared to be impervious to that form of assault. It was unclear whether they possessed EMP hardening around core processes similar to the Oppenheimer or they had other means of deflecting attacks of that nature. In the absence of an alternative, the Oppenheimer was continuously discharging the EMP arrays as they became available, attempting to test for weaknesses. The energy drain from the sustained fire was easily accommodated by the altered physics of local space, but it was unclear whether alien defenses could be worn down by continuous assault. Other oddities were appearing as the situation unfolded. The aliens did not field any tactical fighters that their sensors could identify. There were ships of different sizes, but, thus far, no vessels had moved to directly engage the balls. Kai's cockpit was being corralled by a series of smaller ships working in conjunction with the larger ones, but that was it. Joan considered it, trying to parse out deeper meanings from the absence. Human conflict, both Earthside and in space, had always heavily relied on tactical fighters. They had numerous advantages in terms of firepower projection and significantly increased tactical dynamism in a battle zone. Either the aliens had never considered the approach, or it was considered suboptimal within this environment. Joan squinted, watching as the battle ball's callsigns dropped from the battle status view. She tilted her head. "This environment," she muttered to herself, her eyes drawn to the EMP array firing status. The recharge bars filled and expended. Filled and expended. Each cycle representing an incredibly powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light. Speed of light. Speed. The answer struck her. The ramifications of the answer were displeasing. Plans must be altered. Contingencies reconsidered. The Black Fork was too optimistic. Their position was considerably worse than hoped for, but not entirely beyond anticipated outcomes, which had included their immediate destruction upon arrival in the system. They simply had fewer tools than she desired. Tactical fighters had low utility when combat operated at the speed of light. There was no yield on agility, because no thruster could move faster than light could travel. There was no evading a lightspeed weapon at these distances. Unless a tactical fighter could retain functionality under fire, which the death balls so far could not, they were a pointless extravagance. At best, they could serve as a momentary distraction, particularly when their weapons were inoperable. The unique characteristics of Humanity's birthplace were a hindrance here. Kinetics were the logical path for weaponry to take in an environment where destructive output was a matter of maximizing scarce energy resources. They were also the easiest, most natural extension from their Earthside forebears. Humanity had begun development of lightspeed weapons, the EMP and the Griggs pulse among them, but they placed tremendous strain on ship systems. The Oppenheimer, as a dreadcarrier, was among the few Earth spaceships that contained a full battery of EMP arrays. Due to the extremely demanding specifications, only a Pulser class ship could make use of a Griggs pulse. Had Humanity known what it faced just beyond its doorstep, it would have invested its research and development resources differently. Too late now. The game was not lost yet, they simply must play the hand they were dealt to its greatest effect. A display flashed from green to red and moved toward the center of the wall, increasing in size. Simultaneously, three other displays shifted in color, position and size, in a chain reaction. Joan frowned. Or perhaps the game was lost, and she was only just realizing it. The shuttle cockpit's callsign, along with the four balls that had attached to it, had disappeared. Her hands darted up and began a series of gestures, swiping North to South as she removed some filters from the local space scan and South to North as she applied others. She exhaled. The shuttle had not been destroyed, only incapacitated. It was careening through space away from the cluster of alien ships closest to Halcyon, though a few were in rapid pursuit. The pursuers had acceleration in their favor, but the shuttle's current course brought them toward the Oppenheimer. Joan flicked a few fingers, pulling the course data from the local scan and pushing it into the timer view.
Pursuers to Shuttle: 1m6s
Tactical Fighter to Shuttle: 38s
Oppenheimer to Shuttle: 53s
G4 Fleet First Arrival: 1m42s
Oppenheimer to Exit: 3m0s
Before Joan could issue the order, the nearest balls peeled off and immediately began an intercept course with the shuttle. Joan pulled up the command-chain, it appeared that Captain Bushida had decided to be proactive. Very well, but it would not be enough. The balls were more likely than not to be incapacitated before they could be used in any rescue effort. This required a more substantial intervention if the outcome were to be changed. Joan pushed a new course heading into her comm-link with Ragnar. "Captain, I am moving us off of the Black Fork standing orders." Ragnar glanced at the course heading. "That's even further in." Joan nodded, "It's the only way we'll recover the cockpit. The balls can't get the job done." "There's a risk the Oppenheimer won't get it done either. They're holding back," Ragnar replied, his eyes scanned off screen, bouncing between the various readouts and inbound requests. "Doesn't make any sense they'd only have EMPs. They've got more." "Likely. My current belief is that they will refrain from further escalation until they have either secured the cockpit or believe they can no longer retrieve it. Each moment of escalation from them has been in response to an action on our part directed at the cockpit." Ragnar wiped the back of his sleeve against his brow, mopping up the sweat. "Must be something important." "Must be. The prize is likely worth the pain here, Ragnar. Retrieving the cockpit is the top priority. Preservation of ourselves is an ancillary concern." "G4 is only a few out. We can hold that long," Ragnar said. "Get the job done, Captain," Joan ordered and then cut the comm. Ragnar was a sophisticated battlefield tactician. The overlap between them was significant, and the differences between them were accretive to both. They both knew there was another card to be played, it was just a matter of whether Humanity could adapt to it. Joan opened another comm-link. "Chief Adeyemi." The Chief blinked a few times as the interjection, as if being pulled from a daze. "Idara!" Joan exclaimed. "Where's Science at?" Idara wet her lips, "We've gathered the data and mapped it to a few different explanations...but we need more--" "You don't have it. Best guess, go." "Some sort of inertial dampening field. Effects smaller objects. Weakens as the objects get larger. Only affects objects moving a certain speed. Only affects objects in space. Our kinetics are getting caught. Bigger objects, like the fighters, like the Oppenheimer, are fine. Bullets fired inside of the Oppenheimer are fine. "Any sense on source?" Idara shook her head. "But it doesn't effect the fighters. Doesn't effect energy based weapons." "From what we can see, that's right." Joan's eyes drifted toward the tracker on Kai's cockpit. Hurtling through space. "Idara, when the Alcubierre was heading for Proxima Barrier, your modeling said the ship would survive the impact, correct?" "Yes, Admiral. There isn't an equal an opposite reaction. Actor has primacy in these physics." Joan stared at Idara, lost in thought. The Chief shifted uncomfortably, "Is there something else--" "I have what I need," Joan replied, cutting the comm. She pulled up the status tracker on the balls. Over eight-five percent of launched fighters had already been incapacitated. The Oppenheimer still retained a final wing in its hangers, numbering approximately a hundred and twenty additional balls. Joan watched the timers ticking down. They needed to go on the offensive. To find a way to tilt the situation in their favor. Even if they retrieved the cockpit, it was a long way back to the wormhole, and a long time to survive before G4 appeared. If the aliens had an ace up their sleeve, that would be the time to play it, when they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. She re-opened the comm with Ragnar. "Captain, I think we can even the odds a bit." "I'm all ears, Admiral." Joan pushed a series of orders to Ragnar. He glanced at them and then glared at her, "You want-- "Yes, Captain, that's what I want." "But they'll be destroyed," Ragnar responded. "Not if they're moving fast enough. Get whoever we can get back into the hangers, launch the rest without the pilots. Target the ships. Target Halcyon." Ragnar stared at her, "Halcyon? That's a civilian--" "Captain, I want those balls dumped and under full steam at the designated targets. That's an order." Ragnar opened his mouth and then shut it. A hand came off screen and formed a salute. The comm was dropped shortly after. Almost immediately, the tactical fighters shifted flight plans and began their retreat toward the Oppenheimer. Simultaneously, the wing residing within the *Oppenheimer'*s hangers shifted from stand-by to active. Soon they would be launched, pushing top acceleration toward Halcyon. No EMP would be able to stop them. If the aliens had another card to play, Joan hoped this would force it out and maybe, just maybe, buy enough time for G4 to make an appearance. She just needed a little time. Just needed to survive long enough for the Pulsers to arrive. Seconds mattered. Next. Be sure to leave a comment or an upvote if you're enjoying Alcubierre. If you want a sense of how much it matters to me,here's a very emo journal entry documenting it. Click this linkor reply withSubscribeMe!to get notified of updates to THE PLATYPUS NEST. I have been conducting a strange experiment on myTwitterwhich people seem to be enjoying. I found an AI bot that randomly posts impactful images every few minutes. I've decided to craft a narrative on top of these random images called "The Human Archives."
Wall Street Week Ahead for the trading week beginning August 17th, 2020
Good Saturday morning to all of you here on stocks. I hope everyone on this sub made out pretty nicely in the market this past week, and is ready for the new trading week ahead. Here is everything you need to know to get you ready for the trading week beginning August 17th, 2020.
Stocks are ignoring the lack of a stimulus package from Congress, but that could change - (Source)
Stocks could hang at record levels but gains may be capped until Congress agrees to a new stimulus package to help the economy and the millions of unemployed Americans. Stocks were higher in the past week, and the S&P 500 flirted with record levels it set in February. In the coming week, there are some major retailers reporting earnings, including Walmart, Home Depot and Target, but the season is mostly over and the market is entering a quiet period. There are minutes from the Fed’s last meeting, released Wednesday, and housing data, including starts Tuesday and existing sales Friday. Investors had been watching efforts by Congress to agree to a new stimulus package, but talks have failed and the Senate has gone on recess. There is a concern that Congress will not be convinced to provide a big enough package when it does get to work again on the next stimulus round because recent economic reports look stronger. July’s retail sales, for example, climbed to a record level and recovered to pre-pandemic levels. “The juxtaposition of getting more fiscal stimulus and better data has paralyzed us in our tracks … we’ve seen this sideways [market] action,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Alliance. “It feels like we need more action from Congress, and the concern is the longer we wait, the better the data gets and the less impactful the next round of stimulus will be.” Some technical analysts say the market may pull back around the high, to allow it to consolidate gains before moving higher into the end of the year. The S&P 500 reached an all-time high of 3,393 on Feb. 19. Hogan said he expects stocks to tread sideways during the dog days of August, but they could begin to react negatively to the election in September. He also said it is important that progress continue against the spread of Covid-19, as the economy continues to reopen. Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist at Bleakley Advisory Group, said the market could have a wakeup call at some point that the stimulus package has not been approved. “I think it will cross over a line where they care,” he said. “I think the market is in suspended animation of believing there will be a magical deal.” Boockvar said he expects a deal ultimately, but the impact is not likely to be as big as the last round of funding. “What they’re not grasping is any deal, any extension of unemployment benefits, is going to be smaller than it was, and the rate of change should be the most important thing investors focus on,” he said. “Not the binary outcome of whether there’s a deal or no deal. There’s going to be less air going into the balloon.”
It’s the economy
Still, economists expect to see a strong rebound in the third quarter, and are anticipating about about a 20% jump in third-quarter growth. But they also say that could be threatened if Congress does not help with another stimulus package. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, described the July retail sales as a perfect V-shaped recovery, but cautioned it would not last unless more aid gets to individuals and cities and states. Democrats have sought a $3 trillion spending package, and Republicans in the Senate offered a $1 trillion package. They could not reach a compromise, including on a $600 weekly payment to individuals on unemployment which expired July 31. President Donald Trump has tried to fill the gap with executive orders to provide extra benefits to those on unemployment, but the $300 federal payment and $100 from states may take some time to reach individuals, as the processing varies by state. He has also issued an order instructing the Treasury to temporarily defer collection of payroll taxes from individuals making up to $104,000. “I think in August and September, there will be a lot of Ws, if there’s not more help here,” said Zandi, referring to an economic recovery that retrenches from a V shape before heading higher again. “It’s clearly perplexing. It may take the stock market to say we’re not going to get what we expect, and sell off and light a fire.” Zandi said it could come to a situation like 2008, where the stock market sold off sharply before Congress would agree to a program that helped financial companies. “We need a TARP moment to get these guys to help. Maybe if the claims tick higher and the August employment numbers are soft, given the president is focused on the stock market, that might be what it takes to get them back to the table in earnest,” he said, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that helped rescue banks during the financial crisis. He ultimately expects a package of about $1.5 trillion to be approved in September. The lack of funding for state and local governments could result in more layoffs, as they struggle with their current 2021 budgets, Zandi said. Already 1.3 million public sector jobs have been lost since February, and there will be more layoffs and more programs and projects cancelled. The impact will hit contractors and other businesses that provide services to local governments. “The multipliers on state and local government are among the highest of any form of support, so if you don’t provide it, it’s going to ripple through the economy pretty fast,” he said. Economists expect to see a softening in consumer spending in August with the more than 28 million Americans on unemployment benefits as of mid-July no longer receiving any supplemental pay. “The real irony is things are shaping up that September is going to be a bad month, and that’s going to show up in all the data in October,” Zandi said. “They are really taking a chance on this election by not acting.”
This past week saw the following moves in the S&P:
The S&P 500 Index is a few points away from a new all-time high, completing one of the fastest recoveries from a bear market ever. But this will also seal the deal on the shortest bear market ever. Remember, the S&P 500 Index lost 20% from an all-time high in only 16 trading days back in February and March, so it makes sense that this recovery could be one of the fastest ever. From the lows on March 23, the S&P 500 has now added more than 50%. Many have been calling this a bear market rally for months, while we have been in the camp this is something more. It’s easy to see why this rally is different based on where it stands versus other bear market rallies:
They say the stock market is the only place where things go on sale, yet everyone runs out of the store screaming. We absolutely saw that back in March and now with stocks near new highs, many have missed this record run. Here we show how stocks have been usually higher a year or two after corrections.
After a historic drop in March, the S&P 500 has closed higher in April, May, June, and July. This rare event has happened only 11 other times, with stocks gaining the final five months of the year a very impressive 10 times. Only 2018 and the nearly 20% collapse in December saw a loss those final five months.
As shown in the LPL Chart of the Day, this bear market will go down as the fastest ever, at just over one month. The recovery back to new highs will be five months if we get there by August 23, making this one of the fastest recoveries ever. Not surprisingly, it usually takes longer for bear markets in a recession to recover; only adding to the impressiveness of this rally.
“It normally takes 30 months for bear markets during a recession to recover their losses, which makes this recovery all the more amazing,” said LPL Financial Chief Market Strateigst Ryan Detrick.. “Then again, there has been nothing normal about this recession, so maybe we shouldn’t be shocked about yet another record going down in 2020.”
When a Few Basis Points Packs a Punch
US Treasury yields have been on the rise this week with the 10-year yield rising 13 basis points (bps) from 0.56% up to 0.69% after getting as high as 0.72% on Thursday. A 13 bps move higher in interest rates may not seem like a whole lot, but with rates already at such low levels, a small move can have a pretty big impact on the prices of longer-term maturities.
Starting with longer-term US Treasuries, TLT, which measures the performance of maturities greater than 20 years, has declined 3.5% this week. Now, for a growth stock, 3.5% is par for the course, but that kind of move in the Treasury market is no small thing. The latest pullback for TLT also coincides with another failed attempt by the ETF to trade and stay above $170 for more than a day.
The further out the maturity window you go in the fixed income market, the bigger the impact of the move higher in interest rates. The Republic of Austria issued a 100-year bond in 2017, and its movements exemplify the wild moves that small changes in interest rates (from a low base) can have on prices. Just this week, the Austrian 100-year was down over 5%, which is a painful move no matter what type of asset class you are talking about. This week's move, though, was nothing compared to the stomach-churning swings from earlier this year. When Covid was first hitting the fan, the 100-year rallied 57% in the span of less than two months. That kind of move usually occurs over years rather than days, but in less than a third of that time, all those gains disintegrated in a two-and-a-half week span from early to late March. Easy come, easy go. Ironically enough, despite all the big up and down moves in this bond over the last year, as we type this, the bond's price is the same now as it was on this same day last year.
At the headline level, July’s Retail Sales report disappointed as the reading missed expectations by nearly a full percentage point. Just as soon as the report was released, we saw a number of stories pounce on the disappointment as a sign that the economy was losing steam. Looked at in more detail, though, the July report wasn’t all that bad. While the headline reading rose less than expected (1.2% vs 2.1%), Ex Autos and Ex Autos and Gas, the results were much better than expected. Not only that, but June’s original readings were all revised higher by around a full percentage point. Besides the fact that this month’s report was better underneath the surface and June’s reading was revised higher, it was also notable as the seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of sales in July hit a new record high. After the last record high back in January, only five months passed until American consumers were back to their pre-Covid spending ways. For the sake of comparison, back during the Financial Crisis, 40 months passed between the original high in Retail Sales in November 2007 and the next record high in April 2011. 5 months versus 40? Never underestimate the power of the US consumer!
While the monthly pace of retail sales is back at all-time highs, the characteristics behind the total level of sales have changed markedly in the post COVID world. In our just released B.I.G. Tips report we looked at these changing dynamics to highlight the groups that have been the biggest winners and losers from the shifts.
100 Days of Gains
Today marked 100 trading days since the Nasdaq 100's March 20th COVID Crash closing low. Below is a chart showing the rolling 100-trading day percentage change of the Nasdaq 100 since 1985. The 59.8% gain over the last 100 trading days ranks as the 3rd strongest run on record. The only two stronger 100-day rallies ended in January 1999 and March 2000.
While the Nasdaq 100 bottomed on Friday, March 20th, the S&P 500 bottomed the following Monday (3/23). This means tomorrow will mark 100 trading days since the S&P 500's COVID Crash closing low. Right now the rolling 100-day percentage change for the S&P 500 sits at +46.7%. But if the S&P manages to trade at current levels tomorrow, the 100-day gain will jump above 50%. It has been 87 years (1933) since we've seen a 100-day gain of more than 50%!
Whether you want to look at it from the perspective of closing prices or intraday levels, the S&P 500 is doing what just about everybody thought would be impossible less than five months ago - approaching record highs. Relative to its closing high of 3,386.15, the S&P 500 is just 0.27% lower, while it's within half of a percent from its record intraday high of 3,393.52. Through today, the S&P 500 has gone 120 trading days without a record high, and as shown in the chart below, the current streak is barely even visible when viewed in the perspective of all streaks since 1928. Even if we zoom in on just the last five years, the current streak of 120 trading days only ranks as the fourth-longest streak without a new high. While the S&P 500's 120-trading day streak without a new high isn't extreme by historical standards, the turnaround off the lows has been extraordinary. In the S&P 500's history, there have been ten prior declines of at least 20% from a record closing high. Of those ten prior periods, the shortest gap between the original record high and the next one was 309 trading days, and the shortest gap between highs that had a pullback of at least 30% was 484 tradings days (or more than four times the current gap of 120 trading days). For all ten streaks without a record high, the median drought was 680 trading days.
Whenever the S&P 500 does take out its 2/19 high, the question is whether the new high represents a breakout where the S&P 500 keeps rallying into evergreen territory, or does it run out of gas after finally reaching a new milestone? To shed some light on this question, we looked at the S&P 500's performance following each prior streak of similar duration without a new high.
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(VIDEO NOT YET POSTED!) Here are the most notable companies (tickers) reporting earnings in this upcoming trading week ahead-
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Walmart Inc. $132.60
Walmart Inc. (WMT) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 7:00 AM ET on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $1.20 per share on revenue of $134.28 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $1.29 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 81% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 5.51% with revenue increasing by 2.99%. Short interest has decreased by 12.5% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 0.6% from its open following the earnings release to be 9.9% above its 200 day moving average of $120.64. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020 there was some notable buying of 12,381 contracts of the $135.00 put expiring on Friday, August 21, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 4.9% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 2.3% move in recent quarters.
NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:20 PM ET on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $1.95 per share on revenue of $3.65 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $2.01 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 84% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for earnings of $1.83 to $2.06 per share. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 65.25% with revenue increasing by 41.53%. The stock has drifted higher by 31.0% from its open following the earnings release to be 57.7% above its 200 day moving average of $293.24. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, August 14, 2020 there was some notable buying of 3,787 contracts of the $460.00 call expiring on Friday, August 21, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 7.7% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 4.0% move in recent quarters.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 7:10 AM ET on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $1.99 per share on revenue of $21.13 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $2.11 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 83% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 8.74% with revenue increasing by 26.22%. Short interest has increased by 30.1% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 25.0% from its open following the earnings release to be 20.0% above its 200 day moving average of $211.59. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, August 7, 2020 there was some notable buying of 12,935 contracts of the $300.00 call expiring on Friday, November 20, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 6.2% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 3.1% move in recent quarters.
JD.com, Inc. (JD) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 5:50 AM ET on Monday, August 17, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.38 per share on revenue of $26.98 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.46 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 78% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 52.00% with revenue increasing by 23.25%. Short interest has increased by 16.7% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 24.1% from its open following the earnings release to be 36.9% above its 200 day moving average of $45.34. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, August 14, 2020 there was some notable buying of 12,799 contracts of the $62.00 call expiring on Friday, August 21, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 8.0% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 6.4% move in recent quarters.
Home Depot, Inc. (HD) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 6:00 AM ET on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $3.71 per share on revenue of $31.67 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $3.75 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 78% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 17.03% with revenue increasing by 2.69%. Short interest has decreased by 39.8% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 16.7% from its open following the earnings release to be 22.4% above its 200 day moving average of $229.20. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, August 14, 2020 there was some notable buying of 3,323 contracts of the $300.00 call expiring on Friday, August 28, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 4.2% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 2.5% move in recent quarters.
Lowe's Companies, Inc. (LOW) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 6:00 AM ET on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $2.93 per share on revenue of $21.29 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $2.97 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 78% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 36.28% with revenue increasing by 1.42%. Short interest has decreased by 19.2% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 25.9% from its open following the earnings release to be 31.2% above its 200 day moving average of $117.67. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, August 7, 2020 there was some notable buying of 1,994 contracts of the $170.00 call expiring on Friday, August 21, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 6.0% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 5.8% move in recent quarters.
Target Corp. (TGT) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 6:30 AM ET on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $1.56 per share on revenue of $19.30 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $1.64 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 75% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 14.29% with revenue increasing by 4.77%. Short interest has decreased by 36.8% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 10.0% from its open following the earnings release to be 18.0% above its 200 day moving average of $115.73. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Monday, August 10, 2020 there was some notable buying of 4,479 contracts of the $135.00 call expiring on Friday, September 18, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 6.3% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 7.7% move in recent quarters.
Sea Limited (SE) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 6:30 AM ET on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. The consensus estimate is for a loss of $0.47 per share on revenue of $1.03 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is ($0.36) per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 74% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 34.29% with revenue increasing by 136.16%. Short interest has decreased by 8.5% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 91.7% from its open following the earnings release to be 98.1% above its 200 day moving average of $63.87. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Tuesday, August 4, 2020 there was some notable buying of 4,000 contracts of the $110.00 put expiring on Friday, January 15, 2021. Option traders are pricing in a 12.9% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 16.7% move in recent quarters.
Niu Technologies (NIU) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 3:00 AM ET on Monday, August 17, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.07 per share on revenue of $88.07 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.11 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 57% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 30.00% with revenue increasing by 13.97%. Short interest has increased by 18.9% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 129.8% from its open following the earnings release to be 90.3% above its 200 day moving average of $10.94. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. The stock has averaged a 3.7% move on earnings in recent quarters.
BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc. (BJ) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 6:45 AM ET on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.57 per share on revenue of $3.64 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.60 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 73% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 46.15% with revenue increasing by 8.79%. Short interest has decreased by 3.2% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 33.8% from its open following the earnings release to be 46.7% above its 200 day moving average of $28.27. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Wednesday, August 12, 2020 there was some notable buying of 2,119 contracts of the $50.00 call expiring on Friday, September 18, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 12.4% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 10.0% move in recent quarters.
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