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Stokes's Bristol Nightclub incident in detail (From: The Comeback Summer by Geoff Lemon)
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a place where misadventure could begin, you can’t go past Mbargo. The nightclub’s streetfront is painted a purple so bright you’ll see it in your dreams. Strings of giant sequins shimmer in the breeze. Its phonically inventive name is spelt in silver letters that climb its three-storey terrace facade. Inside are strips of burning neon, a few booths, floorboards so marinated in drink that they have an ingredients list. Bristol is a student city on England’s south coast crowded with music and nightlife and street art. This is Banksy’s home town, and the tourism board suggests in rather strong terms that ‘you would be a fool not to see his amazing work firsthand’. The same organisation describes Mbargo as ‘intimate’, which is fair for a place where you can catch an STI standing up. Students cram into its modest dimensions while people with names like DJ Klaud battle for billing with £1.50 drink deals over seven sloppy nights a week. To get a sense of the story about to come, consider that it’s the kind of place open until two o’clock on a Monday morning, and that at two o’clock on a Monday morning, Ben Stokes still thought it had closed too early. The Ashes of 2017–18 had disciplinary bookends. It was after that series that Australia’s two leaders went off the rails in South Africa. It was a few weeks before that Ashes tour that England’s biggest star windmilled his way into his own disaster. In the early hours of 25 September 2017, Stokes and teammate Alex Hales were barred from re-entering Mbargo after a night out on the piss. A Sunday thrashing of an abject West Indies in an ignored series at the fag-end of the season apparently required ample celebration. After arguing with the bouncer and hanging about at the door for a while, they wandered off to find a casino in the hope of more drinking. They’d barely made it around the corner before getting in the middle of a conflict between four locals. As is said on the internet, it escalated quickly. The 26 September reporting was bloodless. Withholding names, police stated that a man ‘was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm’ while another went to hospital with facial injuries. England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss separately confirmed that Stokes was the arrestee, adding that he had been released without charge and that Hales had gamely offered to ‘help police with their enquiries’. Administrators had a good chance of hiding behind that investigation, and the next day Stokes was named in the upcoming Ashes squad as expected. But that night the video emerged. Bristol student Max Wilson had shot it on his phone, then offered it to The Sun. What he thought was playing hardball was actually lowball: his opening price of £3000 was snapped up by a tabloid that would have paid ten times that. The Sun went on to make a mint by syndicating the rights worldwide. From a window above the fray, the vision showed six men on the street below performing the muddled choreography of a melee. One was right at the centre of it. One was waving a bottle, one dipped in and out, one tried to calm it. Two others floated around the edges. The central figure was unmistakable: red hair burning even in the streetlight as he launched into a series of blows against two of the men, falling to grapple with them on the ground, then following both across the street, swinging punches the whole way. Hales trailed behind, repeatedly and impotently shouting ‘Stokes! Stop! Stokes! Enough!’ The ECB could fudge issues that existed only in thickets of legalese, but not those captured in moving colour. Stokes was stood down from the next West Indies match, then suspended indefinitely. It emerged that he had broken his hand during the fight, something he’d done twice before while punching objects in dressing rooms. The response in Australia was fierce: Stokes was a thug, a lowlife, a selection that would disgrace England. It was not entirely coincidental that a ban for England’s best player would be handy for the Aussie team, but there was also a cultural split. In England, plenty of people still minimise pub fights as lads letting off steam. In Australia, heavy media coverage as a succession of young men were killed had inverted that tolerance. The discourse now saw any punch as potentially deadly and accordingly reckless. This was more poignant in a cricket context given that David Hookes, the dashing Test batsman and state coach, was killed in 2004 by a pub bouncer’s fist. The PR situation was bad for Stokes as details emerged of the injuries to the men he’d hit, and that one was a young war veteran and father. Stokes wasn’t officially removed from the Ashes squad through October but stayed behind when his teammates left, hoping for police to dismiss the matter in time for a late dash to Australia. His annual contract was renewed on the due date in case that came to pass. Then 29 October brought a twist in the tale. ‘Ben Stokes praised by gay couple after defending them from homophobic thugs,’ ran the headline. Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell had emerged. Not entirely out of nowhere: while Stokes had made no public comment, this story in his defence had initially been leaked to TV host Piers Morgan after the fight, as soon as the video appeared. Police body-camera footage played in court would later show that Stokes had given the same story to the arresting officer on the night. But no-one knew the identities of the fifth and sixth men in the video, and police appeals had turned up nothing. It was The Sun again with the breakthrough. Kai and Billy were perfect for a readership not keen on nuance. ‘We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys,’ said Kai, who was memorably described as a ‘former House of Fraser sales assistant’. The paper had the pair do a full photo shoot: layering the fake tan, showing off chest waxes, mixing Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton into a range of outfits. Their best shot had them standing back to back, heads turned to the camera, in a mirror-image Zoolander moment. Suddenly The Sun was the England team’s best friend. ‘Their claims could lead to the all-rounder being cleared over the punch-up and freed to play in the First Test in Australia next month,’ it gushed, then gave a tasting platter of quotes: ‘We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero.’ ‘If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.’ ‘We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.’ Would it be known forever as Kai and Billy’s Ashes? No. While the Bristol boys provided spin for Stokes’ reputation they didn’t influence the police. With charges still pending there was little choice – not given Strauss had previously sacked Kevin Pietersen for being annoying. Stokes remained suspended through the Ashes and a one-day series in Australia, and lost the vice-captaincy. It was January 2018 before the Crown Prosecution Service laid a charge. That charge surprisingly came in as affray, a crime that can carry prison time but is classified as ‘a breach of the peace as a result of disorderly conduct’. The men he had punched, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, faced the same count, charged as equal participants in a fight rather than Stokes being charged with assaulting them. Alex Hales was not charged, despite being seen in the video to aim several kicks when Ryan Ali was lying on the ground. Given the underwhelming standing of the offence, Stokes was cleared by the ECB to tour New Zealand, and kept playing until his trial in August 2018, which he missed a Test to attend. None of the three defendants would be convicted. The reasoning behind the charges was never released and was attributed vaguely to ‘CPS lawyers’. The service gave the case to Alison Morgan, a prosecutor of a class known as Treasury Counsel who usually handle serious criminal matters. Morgan had a scheduling clash and never ended up court for the case, but in 2018 and 2019 she would go on to win damages and admissions of libel from The Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph variously for incorrectly reporting that she had been responsible for the inadequate and inconsistent charging decisions. Morgan’s successor on the case was Nicholas Corsellis QC, who on the first day of trial was permitted by the CPS to request two assault charges be added against Stokes. ‘Upon further review,’ claimed a CPS statement, ‘we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate.’ This was patent nonsense from the service that eight months earlier had chosen the lesser charge. Any lawyer knows that no judge will allow new charges once a trial has begun, because the defence hasn’t had time to prepare. But such a request could deflect criticism of the prosecution service by technically making the judge the one who disallows the charge. Working through the story from the trial and the tape is complicated. You had a Ryan and a Ryan, a Hale and a Hales, a Billy and a Barry and a Ben. You had several versions of events as to who knew whom, who was drinking with whom, who had insulted whom and who had merely engaged in ‘banter’, a word that in modern Britain has to do an unconscionable amount of lifting. The reporting had constantly mixed up the Ryans as to who had which injury, who was in hospital, who had played which part in the fight, and whose mum had which stern words to say about it. Let’s agree that from now Ryan Ali is Ryan One, the firefighter who ended up with a fractured eye socket and a cracked tooth. Ryan Two can be Ryan Hale, the soldier who scored concussion and facial lacerations. Mr Barry and Mr O’Connell are best known per The Sun as Kai and Billy. In scorecard parlance we’ll leave the cricketers as Stokes and Hales. Amid the confusion, Stokes and his lawyers built his case in a straightforward way. The UK legal definition of affray is ‘if a person threatens or uses unlawful violence or force towards another person, which causes another person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their safety’. That means it doesn’t account for violence that harms a target, but violence that might frighten a theoretical bystander. The wiggle room for Stokes was with ‘unlawful’, because the charge excuses violence in defending oneself or others. This interpretation hinged on the beginning of the video, where Ryan One waves a beer bottle about and takes a swing at Kai. The version from Stokes was that he was minding his own business walking down the street when he heard homophobic abuse. He intervened verbally and was threatened verbally by Ryan One – something that Ryan One denied but that couldn’t be proved or disproved. In fear for his safety Stokes had to nullify that threat by bashing Ryan One before it went the other way. He registered Ryan Two in his peripheral vision as another possible threat, and again had only one recourse. Stokes also had to convince the jury to disregard testimony from Mbargo’s bouncer that he had been looking for a fight. A solid lump of a man, Andrew Cunningham had not enjoyed his patron’s attempts to get back into the club after the bouncer declined an offer of a bribe. ‘He got a bit verbally abusive towards myself. He mentioned my gold teeth and he said I looked like a cunt and I replied, “Thank you very much.” He just looked at me and told me my tattoos were shit and to look at my job.’ Cunningham described these words as coming in ‘a spiteful tone, quite an angry tone’, and said that Stokes still seemed angry as he walked away. These were details the doorman had nothing to gain by inventing, but each of them Stokes denied. By his own accounting he had drunk a beer at the game and three pints at his hotel, then ‘potentially had some Jägerbombs’ along with half a dozen vodkas at the club. He insisted that after all of this he was not drunk. If I may take a moment here to call upon the wisdom of experience – a person who cannot definitively say whether they have had any Jägerbombs has definitely had some Jägerbombs. A Jägerbomb is an experience that does not pass one by. Further to that, a person who says they have ‘potentially’ done something has definitely done that thing and doesn’t want to admit it. A person who has had between 15 and 24 standard drinks in one evening is shitfaced. A person who tries to bribe a bouncer £300 – three hundred quid! – to get into Mbargo – Mbargo! – is beyond shitfaced. If Stokes admitted that he was drunk then the prosecution could say he was out of control. He claimed clear recall of assessing a threat, feeling fear and deciding to protect himself with force. He confidently denied details from the bouncer’s testimony, like using the word ‘cunt’ or mentioning gold teeth. Yet on other details he claimed a ‘significant memory blackout’. He didn’t remember the punch that saw Ryan One taken away by ambulance. He didn’t remember what the Ryans had said to Kai and Billy, only that those words were homophobic. With no head injury, as one of the few people who hadn’t been hit, he had supposedly suffered this memory loss despite being sober. The version from Kai and Billy was compatible but vague: they had been walking along, they ‘heard … shouts’ of abuse from an unspecified source, then Stokes ‘stepped in’ and thus they avoided possible harm. They claimed to have been bought a drink by Stokes at Mbargo, although CCTV showed them meeting outside. The overall implication from both accounts was that the cricketers had been pals with Kai and Billy, while the Ryans as per The Sun’s headline were a roving band of thugs. The reality though is that the Ryans were the ones hanging out with Kai and Billy at Mbargo. Police discussed CCTV from inside the club in questioning and at trial. On that footage the four Bristolians bought drinks for one another, danced together, and Kai was noted to have variously touched Ryan Two’s crotch and Ryan One’s buttock. Ryan One told police that all of this was taken lightheartedly and wasn’t a problem. Indeed, when the Ryans called it a night the other two left with them. This much is clear from footage out the front of Mbargo, which shows Kai and Billy exit the club and start talking with a subdued Hales and a demonstrative Stokes, who are stuck outside. The vision was played in court to determine whether Stokes was antagonistic towards Kai and Billy, as he appears to impersonate them and to throw a lit cigarette their way. More interesting is that after a few minutes the Ryans emerge, and all six actors in the fight video briefly form a prequel in the one frame. Ryan Two pats Billy on the chest in friendly fashion with his right hand before clapping him on the back with his left. He moves past and does the same to Kai before leaving the shot. Ryan One stops to speak to Kai. They lean in for a moment, talking, then Kai turns and they walk out of frame together. Billy hangs around for a few seconds at the door and then looks after them and races to catch up. Stokes and Hales remain outside the club to remonstrate further with the bouncers. Whatever discord develops around the corner is between four men who left amicably together minutes earlier. There’s no way to know what caused that friction. If Ryan One did use homophobic slurs, he might have been drunkenly obnoxious for no reason. He might have had an insecure macho response to some extra flirtation. He might have thought unkindness was funny – ‘banter’ once again. Or he might have said something that was misunderstood, as both Ryans insisted in court that they had not used nor had the impulse to use any abusive language. What clearly didn’t happen was an attack by bigots on random passers-by. This kind of crime is regular enough that an audience understands the horror of it, and this is what was evoked by the public accounts of Stokes, Billy and Kai. All we know is that there was some verbal dispute among the Bristol locals, and that Stokes came along behind them and put himself in the middle of it. Ryan One responded to the interference aggressively and away they went. There are plenty of reasons to look sideways at the idea that Stokes was a saviour. Foremost, neither Kai nor Billy was called upon as witnesses in court. You’d think it would be ideal to have Stokes’ story backed up by those who benefited from his selflessness. But his defence team had developed the impression that the pair had shown a changeable recall of events amid a hard-partying lifestyle, and would be dismantled by the prosecution on the stand. That raises the question of whether The Sun coached their quotes for the 2017 interview. Despite missing court, Kai and Billy clearly enjoyed the attention. In 2018 after the trial they did a follow-up spread in the same paper about how poor Ben had been mistreated. They got a television spot on Good Morning Britain and glowed about his heroism. In 2019 The Sun wheeled them out once more to say that Stokes should get a knighthood. In 2017 they had ‘never watched cricket’ but by 2019 were supposedly volunteering sentences like, ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes.’ Whether they were paid for these appearances is not known, but the chance to be famous for a day can be lure enough. If you find this cynical, consider that on the night in question, the Bristol boys were so deeply moved and thankful for Ben’s intervention that they left him to be arrested and never attempted to find out who he was. Seconds after the video ended, an off-duty policeman reached the scene. You might think that someone grateful to a saviour would speak on his behalf. Instead, said Kai, ‘it all got a bit scary so we walked off. It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.’ They didn’t give their hero a thought for over a month while police issued multiple appeals for witnesses. As for Stokes, he told his arresting officer that ‘his friends’ had been attacked. After three minutes of chat outside a nightclub, these friends were so dear to him that he has never contacted them again: not after the newspaper piece, not after the verdict. He didn’t want to see how they were or thank them for their support. He didn’t mention them by name in his solicitor’s statement after the trial. The Stokes defence rested on Ryan One’s bottle, which he had carried out of Mbargo to finish a beer, not to use in a Sharks versus Jets amateur production. But once he turned it over to hold it by the neck it became a weapon. Intent and interpretation can change the material nature of things. Part of Stokes’ justification in court was that the bottle implied that the two Ryans might have ‘other weapons’ hidden away. You can understand how a jury could decide that created doubt. Not being convicted, though, doesn’t give the contents of the video a big green tick. It does not, as his lawyer claimed, vindicate Stokes. Looking in detail, Ryan One is belligerent but his movements telegraph a bluff. Hales is the person he’s gesturing at, but they’re several metres apart when Ryan One cocks his arm ostentatiously, showing off the bottle rather than bracing to swing. He skips forward but Hales skips back and Ryan One doesn’t follow. Kai stretches out an arm to impede Ryan One, who has a drunken stumble, nearly eats pavement, then staggers towards Kai and hits him in the back. That hand is still holding the bottle, but his strike is a side-arm cuff on a soft part of the body. It’s all pretty tame. This is where Stokes gets involved. Having moved across to protect Hales, he now takes three large steps to run around Kai and booms his first punch at Ryan One. They fall to the ground and the bottle clinks away. Stokes gets to his feet to punch down at the fallen man, while Hales arrives to kick him ineffectively then runs off across the street for some unknown reason. Ice-cream van? Stokes is soon back in the grapple having his shirt pulled up to show off his Durham tan. Ryan Two steps in for the first time to pull Stokes away, prompting a couple more random punches at this new target, then Stokes trips backwards over Ryan One and sprawls in the street. Hales chooses this moment to return and aim some solid kicks at the head of the man on the ground. Nothing so far is a triumph of moral philosophy or the pugilistic arts. But if it all stopped here, perhaps you could say it was somewhere approaching fair. Ryan One has behaved like a turnip and it’s not an entirely unjust world that would give him a whack across the chops. The antagonists have disentangled, Stokes has some distance, it’s time to dust off and go home. Ryan Two steps forward for this purpose with his palm raised in conciliatory style and says, ‘Settle down, stop.’ So Stokes punches him. It’s roughly his fifth punch overall, and he really winds up into this one. He misses so hard that he stumbles away into the shadows of the shop awnings along the road. Hales starts shouting for him to stop. Ryan Two backs into the street, still holding his palm up. Stokes closes on him from about five metres away, six large steps, to where Ryan Two is standing on his own. Stokes pushes him a couple of times, as Ryan Two keeps trying to placate him and saying ‘Stop.’ Stokes throws his sixth punch, largely missing as his target ducks. Ryan Two keeps pulling away and reversing, into the middle of the street now. Stokes follows him, grabbing his sleeve to drag him back. By this point Ryan One has found his feet and walked around behind his friend. Both of them are in the same line of sight for Stokes, and both are backing away. Stokes aims his seventh and his eighth punches, which Ryan Two tries to deflect, as Hales walks up behind Stokes to grab him. Stokes yanks away from his friend and switches to Ryan One instead, taking seven paces to grab him before throwing his ninth punch of the night. He grabs again; Ryan One blocks that arm and pushes himself back away from Stokes. Ryan Two again intercedes, putting himself between the two with his palms up and his arm extended. Stokes throws his tenth punch, a right-hander at the face of Ryan Two, then shoves him backwards. Ryan Two backs away once more, four paces. Stokes follows, steadies, lines up, then launches his strongest punch yet, his eleventh, a proper right hook from a solid base, one that cracks across the man’s head and gives him concussion. Ryan Two ends up flat on his back in the middle of the street, his hands still outstretched for a moment in useless protest until they twitch and drop to the blacktop. Stokes isn’t done. He once more shoves away the restraining Hales and follows Ryan One, who keeps backing away saying, ‘Alright, alright, alright.’ Five more paces from Stokes before another blow at the man’s head. Kai and Billy are now standing over the poleaxed Ryan Two. The video ends, but seconds later Stokes will punch Ryan One hard enough to knock him out too, before off-duty cop Andrew Spure arrives on the scene to bring down the curtain. When the body-camera footage kicks in some minutes later, Stokes is in handcuffs but Ryan One is still laid out in the street. Ryan Two has regained consciousness, folded his shirt under his friend’s head and is asking police for an ambulance. ‘At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others.’ This was how Stokes described that sequence to the court. An elite athlete with years of gym work and training to snap a bat through the line of a ball with astounding power and precision, swinging fists as hard as he can at men with none of those advantages. Punching so hard that he breaks his hand, and repeatedly shoving away a friend so he can punch some more. Frightened and threatened by two targets shouting ‘Get back!’ and ‘Stop!’ The off-duty officer testified that Stokes ‘seemed to be the main aggressor or was progressing forward trying to get to’ Ryan One, who was ‘trying to back away or get away from the situation’. The student who filmed the video can be heard on the tape at one stage exclaiming ‘Fuck!’ and testified that it was because ‘I felt a little bit sorry about the lad that had been punched and it looked like he had his hands up’. That tallied with the prosecutor’s depiction of ‘a sustained episode of significant violence that left onlookers shocked at what was taking place’. The defendant stuck to his strategy. ‘No, my sole focus was to protect myself.’ All up, in the 33 seconds of footage after he falls over, Stokes takes 35 steps forward to keep hitting two men who keep trying to get away. Not once is he hit back. After the verdict, Stokes’ solicitor positioned him as the victim. It had been ‘an eleven-month ordeal for Ben … The jury’s decision fairly reflects the truth of what happened that night … He was minding his own business … It was only when others came under threat that Ben became physically engaged. The steps that he took were solely aimed at ensuring the safety of himself and the others present …’ The statement was impossibly self-righteous and self-absorbed. If there was anyone to feel sorry for it was Ryan Hale, the second of our two Ryans. He’s the one who emerged from the club with a friendly arm around the shoulder for Kai and Billy. He’s the one who interposed himself to end the fight, then kept putting himself back in the firing line, trying to calm an intimidating stranger while dodging blows. For his show of restraint he got laid out regardless, concussed in the street, then was issued a criminal charge equal to that of the man who hit him, and described in national media as a violent bigot in an untested story to support that man’s defence. Lawyers for Ryan Two made a more convincing post-trial statement, noting that Kai and Billy, ‘neither of whom were relied upon by the prosecution or the defence team for Mr Stokes, have taken the opportunity to speak with various media outlets about the alleged homophobic abuse that they received in the early hours of September 25. Mr Hale has passionately denied this allegation throughout the course of this case,’ it continued. ‘It is upsetting to Mr Hale that although he was acquitted, the accusation that he was the author of such abuse remains. Both Mr Hale and Mr Ali were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes, and although Mr Stokes has been acquitted of an affray, Mr Hale struggles with the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service did not treat him as a victim of an unlawful assault.’Good question. Avon and Somerset police were the investigating force, and they were frustrated by the decision. Ryan Two was filmed clearly not hurting anyone, but police were instructed by the CPS to proceed with a charge. Hales (the cricketer) was filmed fighting but ‘a decision was made at a senior level of the CPS’ not to proceed. Police expected Stokes to be charged with assault but the CPS declined. It doesn’t take a wild cynic to think that placing the same lukewarm charge on three men for vastly divergent behaviour might ensure that none would be convicted, even as the trial would maintain the pretence that a defendant of influential standing had not been given a free pass. A couple of years down the line, the original interview with Kai and Billy has disappeared. All traces have been scrubbed from The Sun website, its social media history, and even from the Wayback Machine internet archive. Given its headline of ‘homophobic thugs’ and text that names Ryan Two but not Ryan One, the libel liability isn’t hard to spot. Later interviews with Kai and Billy take the passive voice – they ‘suffered homophobic slurs outside a Bristol nightclub’. The article that was once claimed to exonerate brave Ben Stokes now links only to a missing content page, with a picture of a dropped ice-cream cone and the phrase ‘legal removal’ inserted into the web URL. In terms of consequences, Stokes missed one tour. When he resumed his career in January 2018, the Australians hadn’t yet ruined theirs. Their year-long bans looked much more stringent. But the Stokes case dragged on in other ways. With no criminal liability, the Australians confessed promptly enough for the sporting world to give them the full length of the lash. Their situation was ugly but there was closure. Stokes got stuck in legal stasis, unable to be fully backed or condemned. Instead his issue was always present, a browser full of open tabs that the ECB swore they would read any day now. Through 2018 Stokes was back but he wasn’t back, in the sunglasses and finger-guns sense. In his return one-day series he nearly cost England a match with 39 from 73 balls in Wellington. His first Test hit was a duck as England got rolled in Auckland for 58. At Trent Bridge while Stokes was injured, England posted a world record 481 against Australia. With Stokes three weeks later at the same ground they made 268. He crawled to 50 from 103, the second-slowest any Englishman had reached that milestone in 20 years. That span covered Alastair Cook’s whole career. It was apologetic batting, acting out responsibility via the scorecard. Stokes was creeping back into the team like he’d been kicked out in a blazing row and was hoping to tip-toe to the sofa. It was December 2018 before the ECB disciplinary committee ruled on him and Hales. In a ‘remarkable coincidence’, wrote Simon Heffer in The Telegraph, ‘the punishment both players faced in terms of bans from playing at international level was covered by the amount of games they had already missed when dropped by England’s selectors, in the furore that followed the incident’. The verdict compounded the omissions around the case by not addressing the violence at its heart. Nor did Stokes, apologising only ‘to my team-mates, coaches and support staff’, and then ‘to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game into disrepute’. The implicit next step was to rebuild that reputation. It might have been easier had his court defence not meant that he wasn’t game to admit any fault at all. It might have been easier if he or his advisers had been willing to change tack once the trial was done. Imagine a world where Stokes had stood outside court and apologised for overreacting, for the injuries he’d caused, and for the time and energy he had sucked out of other people’s lives. That would have been a show of responsibility beyond a scorecard. When the time came around to assess forgiveness, it might have meant forgiveness was deserved.
I work at a crooked casino. You don't gamble with money here.
Hi, everybody. My name is Sid, and I’m an addict. It took me a long time to accept that. But when you take a job in a casino just so that you can be there all the time and try to gain an edge, you’re an addict. It’s obvious even to me. More so to my family and friends, who I barely see anymore. It’s not pills or coke, booze or heroin that I’m hooked on. I’m addicted to gambling. The casino that made me so obsessed is not an ordinary one, though. It’s far from ordinary. You don’t play for money at Fantasy Casino. You play for your dreams. I hear you laughing. But have you ever had a really, really great dream? One that got so good you snapped awake the second it started to get really excellent? Well, imagine that times a thousand. Times a million. A dream so real and so perfect that all of your fantasies become reality. Time stretches out. You feel like you are there forever. A lifetime passes before your return. Infinite wealth, the ability to fly like superman, you’re surrounded by sex and beautiful people all day as you relax in a palace built to your mind’s most exacting specifications of perfection. But then you wake up, and in an instant it is gone. The power, the wealth, the endless sex and supernatural powers. Everything is suddenly NORMAL again. And so you go back to the casino. I went back to the casino. But the problem with gambling is that you don’t always win. And when you lose, suddenly the winnings are gone as well, vanished without a trace. All I knew was that I had to have that feeling again. So I went inside the giant building and then followed the secret signs which led to a door that led to a staircase going downwards. I went down the stairs and knocked on the door marked “Private” and waited for an answer. “Password.” The voice on the other side of the black door waited for my response. “Seramth Gin.” I said the unnatural words carefully and deliberately, still not knowing their meaning. A friend had told me the password, a fellow gambler who I would later find dead in his apartment. His corpse white, bloated, and maggot-infested. His eyes were black and filled with blood which streamed from his eye sockets like tears. He had bit his tongue clean off and his fingernails were found lodged in various surfaces throughout his apartment. Like he had been trying to claw his way out of a steel box that only he could see. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was later. At this point I was still hopeful for another wonderful dream. Still thankful for his advice to seek out the place. The door opened and I walked inside. It was the same as it had been the day before, only less busy at this time – still early afternoon. I approached the table I had been sitting at the night before. Poker – Texas Hold ‘em: Ten dream limit – the sign read. The rules were simple. You got a stack of chips. If you doubled them, you received a dream. If you lost them, you lost a dream. I wasn’t concerned about losing dreams yet, I still didn’t understand exactly what that meant. When I lost my first stack of chips, I quickly bought in again. And again. And again. Pretty soon I realized I had lost eight dreams with no winnings whatsoever. I was in a slump. A losing streak. I decided to go home and count my losses. Literally, since I had no idea what that even meant. As I got up to leave the table, the dealer looked at me. His eyes were remorseless and cold. “See the cashier on your way out,” he said, handing me eight black chips. I gulped and walked over to the glass window where the cashier sat waiting. Handing him the eight chips, he raised his eyebrows and clicked his tongue. “That’s a shame. Hold out your hand please.” Two men in black suits came up behind me suddenly and stood on either side of me, intimidating in their stature and demeanour. I did as he asked and held out my hand with the palm facing up. The cashier pulled out a strange-looking device from beneath the counter. It had a vial of vermillion-coloured liquid at the top that was attached to the rest of it which resembled a gun with a hypodermic needle at the end. I screamed and tried to pull away, but the two men grabbed me and held my arm through the window. Thrashing and elbowing them, I tried to get away but it was useless. The cashier injected the stuff into my veins quickly and it felt cold and slimy going through my system. I could feel it suddenly in my heart, turning it cold and then up into my mind and my lungs and all extremities causing me to shake and violently seize. I writhed on the floor, blood pouring from my ears and my eyes. Finally the feeling settled down into a numbness that prickled the insides of my blood vessels. It wasn’t until later, once I realized what the casino really was, that I found out what they had done. I went home with the certainty that they had injected me with something. If winning had resulted in the greatest dream I had ever had – essentially an almost never-ending fantasy – what would happen after a loss? Nightmares. That was what it would be. I was sure of it. I settled into bed that night and closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep quickly after such an emotionally exhausting afternoon. As soon as my eyes closed, they opened again and it was morning. It felt as if I had not slept at all. My mind was fuzzy and it was difficult to focus. My eyes wanted to close again but my alarm was telling me that it was time to get up for work, so I hit the “dismiss” button and hopped in the shower. I threw on my clothes and went out the door. At work I noticed a few people looking at me strangely, but I didn’t realize until someone pointed it out to me that my shirt was on inside-out. At this point I was still working in an office doing commodities trading and such lapses were frowned upon. If you couldn’t focus enough to put your shirt on properly in the morning, how could you focus enough to get the work done in such a demanding environment? Millions of dollars changing hands with each transaction meant that such trivial things were put under a magnifying glass and coupled with other subsequent mistakes each following day after that, I found myself in the boss’s office by the end of the week being handed my walking papers. Desperate for rest after days of not feeling any benefit from sleep, I went back to the casino. They knew just by looking at me how to dig their claws in further. After a couple hours I had managed to win myself a dream. They handed me the complimentary cocktail as they had the time before. I hadn’t realized the significance of it and still didn’t, despite the unusual vermillion colour of the drink. I swallowed it in one gulp and went out the door practically dancing and clicking my heels, ready to go home and feel rested again. My dream that night was wonderful. Everything I had hoped for in many ways. But not as good as the first time. I wanted that feeling back again. Knowing that it was a dream the whole time and realizing that it was going to end seemed to shorten the fantasy, made it seem hollow and manufactured. If I could win again maybe it would be like that first time, I thought. The casino drew me in again and again. I found myself a zombie most days, exhausted, at my wit’s end. Ready to call it quits for good and say goodbye. But then I would win again and it would all seem to be alright for a while. My debt kept growing and growing with nearly every trip. The hypodermic needle would be plunged into my skin and every time they had to hold me down. Every time I would feel a little more empty. A little more hollow. Waking up every day began to feel the same. Nothing had definition or purpose. “You’re here all the time,” one of the goons whispered to me as they shot the needle into my vein the time after that. “Haven’t you figured it out yet? You should just get a job here and then at least you’ll be in on the secret.” I applied the next day and got an interview with the boss. I would find out later that if you got someone to apply there you got a one dream bonus. In his office, the well-dressed man was sitting behind a massive polished ebony desk. The room was adorned with paintings, sculptures, and other high-priced artwork. He had photos everywhere of himself shaking hands with world leaders, new and old, for hundreds of years. His face never changed. Never aged. “So, you want to work with us? Tired of dreamless nights without end? You want to have some relief, is that it?” “Yes. Please. Anything. I’ve been coming here for so long and it’s an endless cycle. I want back what I’ve lost but I keep finding myself more and more in debt with each visit.” “Ah, so do you understand it now, then? What the ‘injections’ are?” It finally dawned on me, sitting there. Not injections at all. They weren’t putting something in us. They were taking something out. The vermillion-coloured liquid in the vials – our dreams. “If I take a job with you, will the same rules apply? Will they still take my sleep, my rest, every time I lose?” “Yes. We can’t have the employees living by different rules than everyone else. But we will give you an alternative injection, so that you feel well-rested when you come in for your shift.” “I’ll do it. I need to rest. I need to get some meaningful sleep. My life has been miserable ever since coming here.” “Well, I can’t promise that this will help,” he said, getting up from his desk with a hypodermic gun in his hand. The vial of fluid sitting atop this one was jet-black and looked evil and poisonous. He rolled up his sleeves as he primed it and I watched a few beads of it drip oil-like out of the tip of the needle. “What the hell is that!? I don’t want that stuff in me!” “But you need to sleep, my dear worker. I can’t have you passing out at the blackjack table like a narcoleptic! You agreed to this, after all. You wanted to rest, and the only way for that to happen is for you to have SOME sort of dream. Not everyone is as lucky as you, you know. To have that wonderful vermillion fluid in your veins. Some people come to us begging to take it from them. Some of our employees for example, the ones who do the recruitment for us, are full of this black stuff.” “What?” I had gotten up from the chair and was backing away from him towards the door. But I found it was locked as he approached. “First you have to tell me the password, Sid.” “Seramth Gin.” I said the words that I had said every time to gain access to the casino, only this time I pictured the letters and rearranged them in my mind. “Nightmares.” He smiled as he injected me with the vial of black hate, and it went into my veins feeling hot and unpleasant. I began to sweat and the beads of it turned cold on my skin as I shivered. I’ll sleep tonight. I might even wake up feeling rested. But as long as I live and work at that casino, I’ll be afraid to dream again. Because now my unconscious hours are occupied by the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Nightmares beyond imagining in their awfulness. That is my fate. Unless… Just maybe, I can win one more time. JG TCC
This chapter was a labour of love, heists are hard. Big thanks to u/eruwenn for helping tidy up this bag of snakes. First / Prev / Next
“Ranjaz K’Lua, you thieving scumbag!” the Kah’Ree in the purple suit exclaimed loudly as he spotted them across the busy room. “As I live and skral, I never thought you would have the Jolos show your face here again!” Two J’Rami in suits detached themselves from the lobby wall, walking towards the Kittran and his friends. “Alfor, my old friend!” Ranjaz smiled broadly. “No need for the welcoming party, I’ve got your credits” —he gestured to Cygna— “and a sweetener, for all the trouble I caused last time.” Alfor paused, lecherous eyes assessing the Fae’Dan. “You know I have a thing for purple.” He chuckled at his own joke and waved the guards back to their posts. “How about we have a drink, and discuss your forgiveness.” He pointed to Thor and Eruwenn. “Brought your own security, or are these Gal. Fed. goons? Everyone knows about your probation.” The Kittran gave a broad grin. “I got a Tulseria-damned pardon, a new ship and a very lucrative opportunity.” The Kah’Ree smiled. “How’d a thieving cat like you get a pardon?” He gave Ranjaz an appraising look up and down. “Oh? Now, let me guess, you need something from me and my brother?” Ranjaz fired his finger guns. “You were always the smart one Alfor, that’s why you run the casino floor.” The Kittran stepped in close. “The item, do you still have it?” Alfor tilted his head back and away from Ranjaz. “Your little guarantee?” He looked back down at Ranjaz. “We have it somewhere safe. Had some unusual people come by after you got caught. Asked a lot of questions. Made a lot of threats.” His face contorted in anger. “We got audited thanks to you.” The Kittran smiled. “If only they knew you better, they could have simply paid you for the information.” “We give nothing for free.” The Kah’Ree gave a sinister smile. “House rule.” Ranjaz walked forward to put his his arm on Alfor’s back. “Let’s go see your brother. Have a few drinks, maybe gamble a little, and discuss our future riches.”
Ripley stood in the shadows of the staff shuttle bay, watching as the numerous employees of assorted races came and went. Loud laughter caught her attention, and a very strangely dressed Niham broke away from a small group and walked towards her. Ripley tried to maintain her low profile as the scantily clad female strutted towards her in long black boots with pointed heels that clacked loudly with every step. Deliberately avoiding eye contact the Awakened tried to will herself into the wall but it was too late and a voice called out to her. “Hey Darling! You must be the one I’m looking for.” Ripley shook her head. The Kittran had said the contact was an Ashi pirate captain, a master gambler and expert in procuring the unusual. “I don’t-” “Listen cutie,” she interrupted, “you’re the one lurking in dark corners drawing attention to yourself. I’ve got your security card. You tell that fluffy little stud he owes me. And more than a bottle of Fae’Dan wine and a good time, if you know what I mean.” She held up the card between her fingers, just a little out of Ripley’s reach. The Awakened considered the phrase ‘fluffy little stud’ and decided that, despite her hopes, this was probably her contact. “You’re Captain Whiplash?” The Ashi laughed genuinely, the jiggling of tightly squeezed breasts bursting at shiny black restraints making Ripley nervous. “Oh, Darling! Only my little pets call me that! You may call me Sho’Na.” Ripley was momentarily confused. “So, you aren’t a pirate captain?” “I’m anything they pay me to be.” She smiled at the silver-haired woman's naivety. “You really are new to this.” Ripley, caught off guard, simply nodded, then replied, “I’m a quick learner.” “Good for you, Darling.” Sho’Na handed over the card. “Just make sure you get paid up front, and don’t use your real name with clients. Ruins the mystique.” Ripley was unsure of what was being said. Turning the card over in her hands she saw that the holo-image on the front was of a male Arkellian. “This isn’t me?” “Honey, I was given half a cycle to get you a level three security card. Just be glad it’s a biped.” Sho’Na looked Ripley up and down. “Our mutual acquaintance told me you were some sort of master of disguise who could even trick Selva Blaster.” Ripley paused, then smiled. Her appearance had become such an integral part of her identity she had forgotten that it was entirely optional. “It won’t be a problem.” She looked at the card again. “Unless the owner comes looking for it.” Sho’Na gave another bosom-trembling laugh that threatened to spill out at any moment. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s tied up at the moment.” The Awakened considered the risk. “Hmmm, but for how long?” The few strips of shiny black material that comprised Sho’Na’s revealing outfit strained under her amusement. “Don’t you worry, Darling. He paid for the whole night.”
Eruwenn had reassessed her opinion of Ranjaz many times since meeting him. The criminal. The loyal friend. The lazy trouble-maker. All were true, but now she was seeing something new. He sat opposite Toran, the brother of Alfor, in a game of dalcho she wished she could have taken part in, but was equally glad she did not. At first she had thought the Kittran was outmatched, a few reckless mistakes costing him dearly as the Kah’Ree deftly selected his tiles. Toran was clearly a seasoned gambler, using a blend of the Remee Le’Bow Gambit and the Kowals’Kee Analysis she hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be dismantling Ranjaz’s tiles before he could even prepare his cards. A few fortunate dice rolls and he had taken a strong lead from the outset. The Kittran appeared desperate, playing any tile available to try and slow the defeat. It had all been a ruse, she saw it; Ranjaz had saved his best tiles and carefully thrown hands to manipulate the cards. In just a few rounds he would be able to dominate the board and raise the stakes, recouping his losses and changing the course of the game entirely. She had encountered few players who could manipulate the game so deftly, using memory and layers of strategy to corner their opponent. It was magnificent. Eruwenn couldn’t tear her eyes from the board as she stood beside Thor. The Awakened had shown no interest in the game, studiously watching the opposite door as Toran’s staff came in and out. When a waiter entered and began preparing drinks at the small private bar in the executive gambling room, Thor coughed. It was a strange thing for an Awakened to do, and Eruwenn finally looked up from the table. “Are you ok?” Thor nodded. By the time he had looked towards her, she had returned her attention completely to the game. “You don’t seem concerned about your friend?” he asked. The Anatidae watched as Ranjaz used a blind double feint, and the sheer audacity of such a move made her swallow hard. She didn’t look back to Thor, but mumbled a response. “I’m very confident in her abilities.” The waiter was methodically placing drinks by each of the players, but when they stood behind Ranjaz the Kittran surged to his feet, shouting, “Hey! No cheating Toran! Getting your waiter to look over my shoulder? That’s a dirty move I’d expect from your brother!” Thor had reacted faster than Eruwenn, pinning the arms of the Arkellian waiter in a vice-like bear hug. Toran slowly stood. He was big, heavily muscled, and the veins on his neck bulged as his anger rose. “Don’t accuse me in my own place.” He cracked his knuckles and glowered down at Ranjaz. “I run a straight game.” Fearlessly the Kittran walked right up to the Kah’Ree and stared up into his face from waist height. “Don’t try and intimidate me, you son of a Vogel.” Ranjaz puffed out his chest and began pushing the burly casino owner. “Nobody cheats me!” The blow caught Ranjaz across the cheek and sent him sprawling across the room. Eruwenn winced at the impact, but maintained her composure. Toran laughed. “Watch your tongue or I’ll add it to my collection.” He walked round the table and kicked Ranjaz in the stomach, glaring at Thor and Eruwenn, daring them to act. “Know your place trash. You’re at this table because you put credits up front. You are a dishonest thief, begging for scraps, and cosying up to me any my brother to get your little trinket back.” He returned to his seat. “Why would I need to cheat against the likes of you?” Ranjaz stood, brushing himself off. “Fine, fine.” He waved a hand and Thor dropped the Arkellian. Ranjaz tapped him on the chest. “My mistake.” He sat down and picked up his cards once more. “You’re right Toran, you run a clean game. I’m just a sore loser.” He shuffled the order of the tiles that were still face down on the table. “To show my sincerity, how about we double the buy for the rest of the game?” Toran snorted. “Double?” He looked at the Kittran, scrutinising his opponent. The game was already over; he had control of the board and his tiles occupied the three prime positions. Was the thief trying to buy his favour, he wondered? How much was the trinket he wanted truly worth? He decided it was worth testing. “Triple, and I’ll forget you dared touch me.” The Kittran swallowed hard, his ears flat to his head. Toran momentarily worried he’d pushed for too much but a decision seemed to be reached. “Fine. Triple.” The look of defeat was delicious to the Kah’Ree.
Cygna had done her part and lured Alfor to a private room away from his security. She had danced, skipped and side-stepped his groping hands so far, maintaining a playfulness that ensured he complied. This sort of thing was not new to her; she had spent time undercover in the past. Fortunately, there had been little call for it since she had joined forces with Eruwenn. Alfor’s eyes scanned her body once more. “The Kittran has very good taste.” He licked his lips, a small amount of drool escaping and running down his chin. He wiped it on his sleeve. “Now, I brought you somewhere quiet. How about you show me how sweet you can be?” The Fae’Dan smiled coyly and continued her dancing just out of reach, glancing to the doorway where Alfor’s two guards stood watching her. “With an audience?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly. With a sly grin he waved the guards out of the room. “Now come here and let me satisfy you like only a Kah’Ree can.” His eyes wandered over her body once more. Cygna smiled, her own eyes moving from the Kah’Ree’s hands to his shoulders, then up towards his neck. An interesting fact about the Kah’Ree was the thick blood vessels on the side of their neck. They often bulged when a Kah’Ree was angry or excited, like Alfor’s were as he leered at her. She danced closer. Another interesting fact was that their brains were not as efficient as those of other species, hence the requirement for additional blood flow; more oxygen per limited thought. He leaned forward, his eyes locked to her swaying hips. Cygna turned slowly, and his head tilted to appreciate her assets. The third, lesser known, fact about the Kah’Ree was that an interruption to the blood flow while they were in this excited state caused them to lose consciousness rapidly as their brain burned through the available oxygen. “My eyes are up here.” She smiled as he looked up at her with his head still tilted. He sneered. “Who ca-” The Fae’Dan struck the side of his neck with the edge of her hand, targeting the throbbing blood vessel with a powerful blow. The interruption to his brain's oxygen supply worked perfectly and he fell face forward onto the ground at her feet. She let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his unconscious body. “Thank you, that was particularly satisfying.” She walked over to the door and peeked out, finding the guards standing either side. “He said to order us some drinks.” One of the guards nodded and immediately put his hand to his lapel communicator. Back inside the room, Cygna used her foot to roll Alfor to his back and began searching his pockets. She came up empty. Her eyes caught a glimmer from his collar and she found a heavy gold chain, at the end of which was his security key. She removed it just as a knock came at the door. A deep voice from the other side called out. “Your drinks, boss.” The Fae’Dan quickly messed up her hair. Using the back of her hand she smeared her lipstick sideways, and then pulled the strap of her dress down off her shoulder. She opened the door and, to her surprise, was faced with an Arkellian waiter. The bodyguards noted her dishevelled appearance and shared a smirk, and she said, “Oh, I wasn’t expec-” The waiter pushed the trolley into the room. “Don’t keep the boss waiting, lady.” Before Cygna could reply they were inside and the door closed. “Relax, it’s me.” Ripley’s voice sounded bizarre coming from the male Arkellian form, and Cygna’s eyes went wide in shock. Her sharp mind quickly adjusted to this new information. Of course the Awakened could change their physical appearance; she had just never seen it. They all seemed quite attached to their chosen human forms. “Neat trick.” She held out Alfor’s key. “Did you get the other one?” Ripley nodded. “The Kittran played his part well. I didn’t see him take it, and didn’t feel it when he placed it in my pocket. Now that was a neat trick.” The Fae’Dan smiled. “I think I’ll pass on that dalcho game.” The Arkellian Ripley smiled. “Probably wise.” Turning, she slipped the key into her pocket and headed back out of the door.
Ripley entered the elevator to the owner's private offices on the top floor. Thanks to the distractions downstairs, the two large desks in the centre of the room were empty. She walked straight past them to the large leokas painting on the wall and swung it forward. Behind it was a Fae’Dan safe; she took out the two keys and a small homemade device the Kittran had given her. Attaching the device to the bio-lock and standing before the safe, she elongated her arms to reach both key positions at once. There was more than one reason she was the one chosen for this task. The device beeped twice and small lights above each lock lit up. She simultaneously turned both keys, and there was a satisfying clunk. She raised an eyebrow. The device had worked. The heavy safe door swung open and she began her search. Ranjaz had been very specific: while there was one item she had to get, she was to grab as much as possible to obscure their true target. Quickly grabbing as much as she could she retrieved the keys and ran back across the room towards the elevator.
Cygna hauled Alfor back onto the seat, putting him in a more natural position and messing up his hair. She looked away as she began unbuttoning his clothes, pulling his trousers around his ankles and opening his shirt up to bare his chest. From a secret pocket inside her dress she pulled out a lace thong, setting it on his head like a bandana. She also had a small box which she opened, inside of which was a replica mouth with lipstick that matched her own. Cygna carefully applied kiss marks all over his exposed skin before popping the fake lips back into the secret pocket. She took the Fae’Dan wine and partially filled two glasses, making sure to take a long drink from one and leave more lipstick marks. The rest of the wine was poured into the ice bucket. She heard the sound of voices outside the door. The guards were arguing with someone, refusing them entry, but when the name Toran was mentioned it was Ripley who entered, still in uniform but now looking much like her usual self. She smirked at the Kah’Ree in his derobed state. “I can see you had fun.” The Fae’Dan chuckled. “That’s the idea.” She looked at the Awakened in her true form. “You look… better.” Ripley cocked her head. “It would be strange if the waiter came back to deliver a message.” She tossed the necklace key to Cygna, who replaced it on Alfor’s neck. Reclining on the sofa and picking up her glass, Cygna took another long drink. “Get the other one back to Ranjaz quickly. This one won’t be napping much longer.” The Awakened gave an almost Ranjaz-like grin. “You could always hit him again.” Before the Fae’Dan could reply she had ducked back out of the door. She caught the eye of one of the bodyguards and gave a head tilt back towards the room. “The boss is really enjoying himself!” As the suited pair chuckled, the larger of the two got a message in his ear piece. “Hey, silver hair.” He grunted. “Boss has an important guest. Meet them in the foyer and bring them to the dalcho room.” Ripley was relieved – she needed a reason to get into that room. “On my way.”
Toran was seething as he watched as the Kittran flipped his final tile. Why would he have waited so long to play the Wings of Tulseria tile? His stomach sank, and he couldn’t hold back his anger any longer. “Damn you!” Ranjaz gave a full-fanged grin. “Looks like my luck turned at just the right moment.” “Luck!” Toran’s tile snapped between his fingers. Why had he let the damned cat goad him into constantly increasing their bet? The cycle had started with him owing the brothers a million credits plus interest, and now the infuritating Kittran had won nearly forty times that. “Nobody is that lucky.” “Woah!” Ranjaz held up his hands. “I would never cheat, well... certainly not a second time. After you caught me, I’d be a fool to try.” “Hmm.” Toran looked at the two behind the Kittran. The big one would be a problem, but the Anatidae looked to be nothing special. “How about I give you back your little trinket and we call it even?” “My trinket?” Ranjaz shook his head. “I had to convince you it was worth the million I owed. Why would you think I’d trade it for thirty eight million credits? I’ll pay what I owe, take my trinket and my winnings and leave.” Toran folded his arms and looked across the dalcho board at Ranjaz. “And why would I let you do that?” The atmosphere in the room changed as the two security guards changed their stance. “Transfer the credits back to the house.” Ranjaz dropped the grin, replacing it with a defiant glare. “What happened to you running a straight game?” “The game was straight. You won, didn’t you?” He leaned forward, his eyes cold and hard. “You’re just in no position to collect.” The Kittran was about to argue when the door behind Toran opened. He looked up as Ripley entered, and his eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t alone. “Toran, you bastard! You sold me out!” “For ten million credits.” Toran stared hard at Ranjaz. “Care to make a better offer?” Eruwenn’s eyes blazed with anger as the grey-suited Niham pulled up a seat and sat down beside Toran. “Now, now, you lied to me about having the item before. Don’t double cross me.” Sentinel Krast placed his hands together on the table, interlacing his fingers. “I’m not somebody who forgives easily.” He looked directly at Eruwenn. “Isn’t that right, former Councillor? A little far from your new Ambassador position, aren’t you?” Ripley stood back against the wall. She had no idea who the newcomer was, but this most definitely was not the plan. The golden green Anatidae walked forward to stand behind Ranjaz. “Oh, I had a little vacation time saved up, and decided to spend it with my good friend here.” She placed a hand on the Kittrans shoulder. “And what brings a Sentinel here?” Krast’s lips curled in what might approximate a smile. “I’m also acquainted with Mr K’Lua. In fact, we go back a very long way.” He turned to look directly at Ranjaz. “Now, return what is mine.” Toran looked from Ranjaz to Krast. “Yours? You don’t look like the tiara wearing type.” The Sentinel didn’t turn his head. “Ah, so you hid the data chip inside some shiny bauble. As inventive as ever, Mr K’Lua.” The Niham finally acknowledged Toran by looking at him. “Bring. It. Here.” The Kah’Ree sucked air through his teeth. “Well, seems like we have something mighty important, and two very interested parties.” He stood and walked to his two security officers, who drew their weapons in unison. “Now then, I believe you” —he nodded to Krast— “offered ten million. How about it Ranjaz, old friend? What’s your counter offer?” The Kittran had been sitting, silently seething at his double cross being double crossed. He looked at Krast. “Were you the one?” Toran was surprised at being ignored, but before he could reply Krast answered, “The one?” Ranjaz’s eyes narrowed, his ears alert, his tail swishing aggressively. “The one who took my friend!” he snarled as he felt Eruwenn’s hand holding him back gently. Krast’s eyes glittered as he saw the impotent rage in his opponent’s eyes. “Ah, the poor deceased human?” He smiled his mannequin-esque smile. “And if I was?” Toran snatched a pistol from one of his men and fired a blast at the ceiling. “Your quarrel can wait. Let’s settle our business first and you can kill each other after I’m paid.” He paused, then added, “but, not in my casino. Body disposal costs extra.” Eruwenn’s hand gripped Ranjaz’s shoulder harder, and he braced himself. In one smooth move she both threw him backwards and to the right, and kicked the dalcho table up and forward into Krast's face. The Sentinel fell backwards as a blast from Toran struck the table, but Eruwenn was already on the move, sidestepping left and ducking forward into a cartwheel. Toran's gun had been following Ranjaz, but as her leg swept down it knocked the weapon from his grip. Once she stabilized, her fist, already primed with momentum from the cartwheel, struck Toran below the ribs and knocked the wind from him. The guard, whose gun the Kah'Ree had been holding, lunged forward to grab Eruwenn but she simply deflected his hand, pairing his forward momentum with her rising elbow to swiftly render him unconscious. The second guard had just begun to raise his weapon when a huge fist struck him in his chest, sending him careening backwards into the wall. Thor loomed over him, shaking his head as he retrieved the energy pistol. “Too slow.” Ripley helped Ranjaz to his feet as Krast pushed the table off his chest. Toran was coughing and struggling to breathe as Ranjaz pressed the retrieved energy pistol to his forehead. “Double cross me?” He dragged the Kah’Ree forward. “I want to see the item, then I’ll pay what I owe.” The two of them awkwardly made their way back towards Krast, so Ranjaz could point the gun in his face. “Then we can talk about your body disposal fee.” Krast stood, and his phony smile was gone. “You can’t kill me. The Sentinels will tear this place apart, hunt you down and kill you. You think I came alone? My ship is in orbit and waiting for my orders!” Ranjaz grabbed him by the jacket, pulling him down to his level, and struck him in the face with the butt of the pistol. Thor cooly kept his stolen pistol pointed at Toran and the one conscious guard. By the third blow Krast’s face was bloody, his nose broken and he began to struggle against Ranjaz’s assault. A muted boom caused everyone present to stop in their tracks. Alarms began to sound and Toran swore loudly. He pulled out his communicator, ignoring Thor’s pistol. “What the hell was that!” He held the device close as he listened. “My office?” He patted his pocket. Finding his key in place, he looked to Ranjaz and then Krast. “Seal the casino! And where is my brother?” Ripley suddenly understood why the Kittran had told her to leave his device on the safe door. After a brief further moment of shock, which she kept from showing on her face, she realized that she had been carrying an explosive without being told. If they survived, Ranjaz was going to need to explain himself. Thoroughly. Eruwenn, Thor and Ranjaz had backed away to the opposite side of the room, standing by the door. Krast stood alone, holding his profusely bleeding nose. The opposite door soon opened to reveal scrambling casino security, with Toran and his guard standing nearby. The unconscious guard was carried out without comment, and the Kah’Ree turned to Ripley. “Why are you still here?” She nodded and slipped out of the door, leaving one less concern for the remaining three. “Alright, which one of your skrolg-licking bastards broke into my private safe?” Krast spat blood onto the floor, pointing at Ranjaz. “He’s the thief. You and I had a deal.” The Kittran smirked. “I’m a better thief than blowing up a Tulseria-damned safe. If I wanted to steal it, I would have done just that. I would not have announced my arrival and sat down to a game of dalcho.” Toran looked between the two of them. “He’s got a point.” One of his men handed him a pistol, and he continued to talk a little distractedly into his communicator. “Well, check everywhere!” Ranjaz stirred the pot. “He’s the bastard who double crossed me, why would he honour your deal?” Eruwenn nodded. “A government agent can’t be seen working with criminals.” Krast's face contorted in rage. “Don’t be a damned fool, Toran!” He pointed at Ranjaz. “This is clearly some convoluted distraction.” Toran shook his head. “They had the upper hand. You were the one getting your face ruined.”
Cygna watched nervously as Alfor began to stir. Things were taking a lot longer than expected. Finally, her signal came; it was not as subtle as she had been led to believe. As soon as the explosion went off the two bodyguards quickly came into the room, glancing from Alfor’s sleeping body to her. She staggered forward, wine bottle in hand. “We need more drinkshh!” The guard ignored her as he saw the condition of his boss. “Not again,” he groaned. “Toran will kill us for letting him get like this.” The second guard stepped out into the corridor. “I’m not dressing him! Last time he tried to kiss me!” Cygna paused, not having expected it to go this way. The first bodyguard walked out as well. “He pissed on my new shoes the time before that. I’m not moving him.” Their communicators went off and their faces became more serious. Bodyguard two spoke first. “Damn it. Toran wants him.” The first turned to look at the increasingly bewildered Cygna. “You!” He smiled. “You got him undressed. You can dress him.” Cygna spotted Ripley running down the corridor towards them, causing her confusion to grow further. The Awakened shouted one word. “Sentinels!” The Fae’Dan’s mind raced. The plan was clearly blown, and they had to get out. Fast. As the guards were now facing Ripley, she took the opportunity to kick one in the back of the knee. He fell forward, and as the second turned he was met with the upward swing of a wine bottle. The first guard discovered first-hand the shocking truth of how hard the knee of an Awakened could be, and both were unconscious by the time they hit the ground. Cygna smiled at Ripley. "Thanks." The Awakened gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. “A Sentinel turned up, so Ranjaz set off the diversion he promised. The other brother is busy trying to figure out whether it’s us or the Sentinels robbing him.” Cygna took on board the new information quickly, knowing she needed to help the others. “I have an idea. Lie over there and look dead.” She ran back into the room, where Alfor was groaning and starting to move. She slipped the chain from his neck and dropped it into the ice bucket, where it sank out of sight below the dark Fae’Dan wine. She began to slowly shake him. “Huh,” he grumbled, and slowly opened his eyes. “Wha.. what happened?” Cygna clung to him tightly. “Oh thank goodness! I thought they killed you!” “Killed?” Alfor’s head was pounding, his memory blurry. “Who-” He caught sight of his downed guards in the open doorway. “What the hell happened?” He began pulling at his clothes, and swiftly checked that his trousers were dry. “While we were.. You know…” He nodded; he was buttoning up his clothes. He didn’t remember, but he knew. “Some scary men burst into the room and shot you! I was so scared.” She hugged him tight, pressing herself against him. He put his arm around her. “What men? Be brave, and tell me what happened.” She looked up at him, trying to make her eyes as big as possible, adding a lip tremble to really sell it. “I don’t know! They wore grey suits. And one of them took your necklace!” “My necklace.” He clutched at his chest where it should have been. “Damn Sentinels! I told Toran we couldn't trust them!” He stepped into the corridor, where Ripley lay on the ground with a terrible energy weapon burn on the side of her face. He pulled out his communicator. “Toran.” He instantly got hold of his brother. “I didn’t answer because I was knocked out. Damn Sentinels took my key, killed some of our guys.” He looked around. “Nobody important, just some waiter.” He finally pulled the underwear from his head. “I’ll go to the security room and look at the video.” He ended the call and turned back to Cygna. “You stay here.” She smiled. “Sorry, we can’t let you check the security footage.” “Wha-” Ripley struck him from behind and he crumpled to the ground, her fake burn melting from her face. The Awakened looked around, rechecking that all was clear. “I think that’s all we can do; we should get out of here. Come with me, my shuttle is in the staff bay.”
Toran closed his communicator and motioned to a guard. “Search him.” Eruwenn wished she had some way to capture the look on Krast’s face when the remote detonator was pulled from his pocket. She'd have to hug the light-fingered Kittran later. The Sentinel grit his teeth. “That’s not mine.” “Sure, sure,” Toran agreed, while simultaneously shaking his head at the Sentinel. “Looks like you really didn’t come alone.” Krast was furious, yelling, “I’m telling you-” He broke off when Ranjaz shot him in the leg, falling to the floor. The Kah’Ree pointed his pistol at the Kittran. “Can’t let you kill a Sentinel in my casino, even if they did just rob me.” Ranjaz was surprised the Kah’Ree had believed them so easily. “What about us?” Toran sighed, lowering his weapon. “Take your winnings and get out. If you stole the thing once, I’m sure you can steal it again.” Eruwenn and Thor both made to leave. Ranjaz paused, knowing he might not get another chance. “And him?” The Kah’Ree looked at the Sentinel holding his wounded leg. “We’ll send him back to his ship. As much as I hate it, the Sentinels are untouchable.” Ranjaz raised his pistol. “He took my friend.” “And we’ll get him back,” Eruwenn said softly. “Then we’ll all deal with him, and the rest of the Sentinels.” Krast sneered and spat blood once more. “Your human is dead.” Ranjaz fired. Krast screamed and grabbed his other leg. “You bastard!” Toran and his men raised their weapons as the Kah’Ree yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” Ranjaz turned and followed the others out of the door, but just as it was about to close he poked his head back in. “Oh, one last thing.” Toran could be seen looking up just as the Kittran fired again, but he ducked out of sight before the true outcome of his shot could be seen. The shrieks of agony, however, followed the trio down the corridor as they broke into a run. Eruwenn spared a glance down at Ranjaz during their retreat. “What did you do?” The full-fanged grin had never been larger. “Made sure we’ll see him again.” On the floor of the dalcho room Krast was screaming in agony. He turned over to stare at the closed door. “I’ll kill you! I will hunt you down and kill every last one of you!” Toran spoke into his communicator. “Tell the Sentinel ship to come get their man. And, bring a doctor. A really good doctor.” He nudged one of his guards and finally let out a chuckle. After all, the Sentinels had just robbed him. “You double-crossing scum always get what you deserve.” The J’Rami guard raised an eyebrow. “Not sure anyone deserves getting shot in the balls.”
Polo shirts are possibly the most ubiquitous clothing item of the 21st century, undergoing a long journey from aspirational 1930s sportswear to becoming the default smart-casual option for millions of men. We’ve researched and tested 14 of the best polo shirts and think that the best polo is the Sunspel Riviera with its great fit, unique fabric and strong range of over twenty colours. If you’re looking for an elevated take on the polo then the John Smedley Adrian Polo is incredibly soft and will smarten up your wardrobe. Finally, if you’re on a budget the H&M Cotton Polo Shirt is a good quality take on the classic item at an affordable price point. The original garment as we know it was based on a design worn by French tennis star René Lacoste aka “the Crocodile” in the 1930s as a practical, flexible, comfortable sports shirt. Unfortunately, from the 1980s onwards, creeping “casual Friday” dress codes made the polo shirt with badly fitting chinos an American business-standard. Later, it was the uniform of golfers and delivery drivers, security guards, and coffee chain staff not to mention the sometime uniform of the American far-right, in almost a parody of conformity. What saves the polo shirt from fashion irrelevance is its potential for reinvention. Its been reclaimed by subcultures ranging from punks to skinheads and mods. As the tie disappears and the suit becomes increasingly relaxed, the polo shirt has become a place to experiment with shirting alternatives and continues its long tradition of reinvention, molding itself to the zeitgeist. For our review we tried to cover this range, from semi-activewear to knit-fabric classics to find the best polo shirt overall, looking as always at specialists who’ve produced these styles year after year in an attempt to find an ideal.
Sunspel Riviera Polo With a smart fit, retro-inspired basket weave fabric, and a huge range of tasteful colours, the Riviera is on its way to becoming a contemporary classic. $105
The Riveria was introduced by Sunspel in 2006 after a design by Linda Hemmings for the James Bond film Casino Royale. The Riviera became something of an instant classic for a brand which up until then had been known largely for its undergarments. The references here (as the name suggests) are much more Talented Mr.Ripley than contemporary sportswear but it doesn’t feel like a period piece either. There has been some clever thought put into taking the best of that golden era and updating it. The fabric has a looser, wider weave than most piqué polos, and a nice spongy texture with none of the coarseness that some piqué can have. After researching I found that the brand created the fabric with a vintage lace making machine in Sunspel’s HQ in Nottingham, and none of the competition I tried have a similar quality. The fit is trim but not overly slim. The sleeves fall flatteringly halfway down the bicep, the length is standard and it has the classic split tail. The sleeves didn’t pull up into my armpits and I still had movement through the body. The collar is a fairly small point collar that sits well when buttoned up but also folds down easily into a camp collar shape when undone which allowed it to be worn cleanly both ways. The buttons are a discreet tonal plastic and the placket is a simple 2‑button design. I’m a fan of the pocket design though in a practical sense it’s not good for much and makes the shirt much more of a casual style. Colours are another area where Sunspel gets it just right. They always have a strong seasonal palette which this year covers 20 options including a deep chocolate brown (seen above) an intense Yves Klein blue and a great brick red. Compared to their competitor’s depressingly basic ranges of pastels and neons, this quiet tastefulness is refreshing and it means that season to season it will be easy to update your wardrobe with some new additions. Through washing and wearing over a number of weeks, I noticed no noticeable shrinkage or discolouring and the fabric kept its softness (which wasn’t always the case, especially if a garment has been chemically softened). I also kept an eye out for loose threads and buttons but found no faults. Which brings us to the final question of value. Polo shirts are an interesting category in this sense as they are so tied up to a certain idea of aspirational dressing — and priced accordingly. Our testing found that the general quality and feel of a £10 polo from H&M didn’t massively improve when compared to its £80 Lacoste equivalent. But that’s to ignore the fact that you are paying for what that £80 polo says about you, what it represents in our culture, and the semiotics of that logo — a francophile or a football causal, a preppy or a punk. That said, if you’re like me and the branded polos aren’t your niche but you want something that feels premium, then, for the cost, you will have a beautifully fabricated, European-made polo shirt of notably better quality than its competitors in the same price bracket and that’s enough for us to award it the top spot.
The downsides for the Riviera really come down to preference. I could imagine if you want a more classic fitting polo you may find it too slim or if you want one without a pocket that could turn you off. But as for the construction of the shirt itself or its fabric I couldn’t find any faults. Even the plastic buttons which might in other brands seem like a cost-saving measure feels more like a thoughtful design choice. It’s also more sportswear-adjacent than actual sportswear, but that feels like a quibble and true of any of the major polo brands at this point.
John Smedley Adrian Polo Made from incredibly soft sea island cotton, this knitted polo is perfect if you want a softer, more formal style of polo. $298
The Adrian Polo from John Smedley comes a close second to the Sunspel Riviera. The main attraction is the sea island cotton fabric which is incredibly soft with the best hand feel of any polo I reviewed. The placket length and knitted collar means it feels much more like the elegant mid-century polo shirt than something that would be mistaken for a 21st-century corporate uniform, albeit with some nice updates that make it feel more contemporary than other knitted polos. Smedley is to fine knitwear what Burberry is to trench coats, or John Lobb is to shoes and considered to be the best in the world in the category (it’s where the Queen gets her knitwear). The Adrian genuinely felt like a luxury. Everything from the feel of the fabric to the way it fitted just right with substantial ribbing on the waist and sleeves (near the bottom of the bicep) with just the right amount of tension spoke to the care and attention that had gone into making it. It’s also versatile, working just as well under the lapels of my suit when I got married a few weeks ago as it did in our 35 degree London heatwave when worn with a pair of shorts although, it is a bit too formal to work with tracksuit bottoms. Out of all the styles I reviewed it felt much more like a smart option. What the Adrian definitely isn’t on the other hand is a piece of grab-and-go sportswear that can be washed and thrown on like a t‑shirt or folded up at the bottom of your bag for destination holiday. I found myself hand-washing the delicate fabric to avoid rips and the collar, though it stands well, needs shaping with an iron after washing. Like a lot of luxury items, it’s delicate and requires a bit more care and attention than most and at £145 it’s not quite affordable enough to be a staple. That’s not saying it’s bad value necessarily, you can see the care and attention that was put into it and it’s UK manufactured but it’s probably not what most people are looking for when it comes to an everyday polo shirt, and those not quite the all-rounder that could hold the top spot. If you’re more likely to wear smart trousers than jeans and prefer a knit jumper to a hoodie then this is the polo for you.
H&M Cotton Polo Shirt A great price paired with good fabrication and quality, the H&M polo offers the best value for money with their straightforward take on the classic polo shirt. $12.99
If you’re unconcerned with logos and just want a classic polo shirt as a wardrobe staple you could do a lot worse than the H&M Cotton Polo Shirt. The piqué is soft and drapes well, the fit is classic, and straight (though as is often the case with H&M group, a bit long for me). In a blind test, I’m not sure I could tell the difference easily between this polo and the Lacoste L.12 which it’s clearly based it’s detailing on. And at £9.99 it’s extremely good value. Ethical clothing site Good on You’s review gives the brand an “It’s a start” rating for it’s environmental and ethical credentials noting that it’s environmental record is consistently improving while some issues with it’s supply chain labor remain.
What to look for
Range of colours: More than most sportswear, polo shirts are about colour, and we wanted our staple pick to have a good range of quality seasonal colours. Flexibility: We wanted a Polo that looked good with a range of clothing from the formal to the ultra-casual (a pair of shorts or sweats) Fabric: Has to work well in the heat, for most people a polo is a summer item and anything too heavy or coarse wasn’t going to cut it for us, we tried a range of synthetics and cottons of different qualities. Fit: Piqué and knitted cotton are unforgiving fabrics so having a good fit is key to making a polo shirt work. Collar: Does it stand up well, does it look okay when unbuttoned? is it easy to fold down or does it look sloppy. Length: Long enough to wear tucked in but not long enough to look sloppy on its own. Sleeves: We wanted the sleeve length to flatter the bicep but not ride up too high into the armpits, we also wanted easy movement as you’d expect from sportswear. Easy Care: The best polos, like all good sportswear, should be easy to wash and care for. Aesthetics: We wanted a polo that was more than a billboard for logo’s or an anonymous boxy t‑shirt alternative, the best would have a strong aesthetic quality.
The Fred Perry M12 & M3's are the most solidly constructed of all the branded polos I tried, and I was particularly keen on the thick ribbing on the sleeves and collar and the wide, reinforced placket. The collar had a slightly wider spread than most and which I found more flattering. The fit is trimmer than Lacoste and the hem is square so overall it has a neater, less sporty look. It's also nice that it's been continuously made in the UK since its introduction in the 1950s. The M12's aesthetic with its twin tips on the collar and sleeves have deep roots in the mod, Britpop, punk and skinhead subcultures in the UK and it can be a bit overpowering if you're looking for something more casual, but I love the simplicity of the M3's laurel crest and it has the same fit. Our favourite if you're looking for a logo. We ordered from Lacoste as they're the originators of the style. The Lacoste L.12.12 is their staple and comes in a huge range of colours. It's hard to judge it fairly as it seems to be the most duped of all polo styles—the Ralph Lauren polo is said to be a copy of their pre-60s model after the designer was disappointed with the synthetic blend polos they produced in the 70s. It has a straight fit, flattering sleeve and fairly flat collar. The fabric is softer than most piques and the split tail is nice but there is nothing particularly stand out, though the mother of pearl buttons are a nice touch. In terms of transparency, they were probably the most disappointing of the branded styles as there was absolutely no place of origin for manufacture, not even a "made in" on their label (though I believe they are produced in Peru). The Lacoste Paris Polo Shirt is their more contemporary update to the classic style and it features a slightly smaller collar, a bit of elastane in the fabric (6%) and a longer, narrower hidden placket and tonal crocodile patch. It's an interesting update, but if you're going for something so subtle I'm not sure why you wouldn't go for something completely unbranded. The Ralph Lauren Classic Fit Mesh Polo Shirt was an interesting variant. Its piqué was solid and soft feeling, It had a really thick placket and nice mother of pearl buttons, but it was largely indistinguishable from the Lacoste L.12 and its dupe status makes sense. It has a slightly lower stepped hem and a surpassingly slim fit for a "classic" style. It comes in a huge range of colours (some pretty dubious) and is the most expensive of the branded options we tried, coming in at £85. It's also shorter than most of the polos we tried so could be a good option for smaller guys. Kent Wang is one of menswear's best-kept secrets and we're a big fan of the Kent Want polo shirt. It splits the difference nicely between the more casual sportswear elements and smarter styles like the Adrian with thick quality pique, mother of pearl buttons and a high spread collar designed to look good under a suit jacket or jumper. If you want something with the formality of the Smedley and the easy-care of a classic polo then this is probably your best option and it has some of the most tasteful colours of any brand we reviewed (as well as a wide range of long sleeve options). It should be noted that the fit is quite slim and it's worth sizing up. The Uniqlo Airism Jersey Polo is sleek and technical without seeming dorky. It kept me from sticking to the sofa when the heat in London got to a high of 35°C (95°F). It would be the ideal choice for a warm-weather tech enthusiast and looked pretty cool and sleek worn with my black running shorts. The other Uniqlo style I tried was the Uniqlo DRY PIQUE polo, which I was less of a fan of. It was fine but not particularly interesting fit wise and has a slightly coarse plastic-y feel to the fabric. I tried ASKET's Pique Polo and while it has the brands great fit range (you can choose the length from small to large) was a disappointment overall. The piqué was soft and mercerized but also the most transparent of all the ones we tested which meant nipples showed through. The collar was strangely floppy and unstructured so looked messy when buttoned up but also had trouble sitting flat when opened and the placket looked visually off centre. As usual with the brand, the environmental and social tracing is excellent and I hope they can perfect the style. Finally, I also gave the H&M COOLMAX Polo a try and while I might appreciate it if I lived in a much warmer country, the texture just suffered in comparison to the pure cotton pique of their standard polo. This is a new guide from Typical Contents, the “wirecutter for clothes”. It’s by the team behind Epochs, a now defunct menswear blog. *We’re reviewing categories of clothing in hopes of finding the best item(s) in that category. All items tested in this guide were purchased with our own money. This post does not contain affiliate links. Check out our previous guides on boxer briefs, plain t-shirts, low top canvas trainers, and summer socks.
So it’s been a few days since the update dropped so I think it’s been a good enough to let the update’s content sit and allow us to play around with everything. To address the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the island: it is very, very, VERY underwhelming. I already made a post explaining the problems with the island, so I’ll just keep it brief: it’s all run down industrial drug manufacturing and no resort town area thingy for the tourists at the party. It’s quite unrealistic thinking about the people there and where they’re going to stay. If they wanted to make the infrastructure of the island undeveloped, then make it be like Cuba, where it’s all old timey buildings with classic cars on the unpaved roads. It’s all off-road areas, which TBH are pretty cool if you wanted some off-road/rally cars to try out BUT OH WAIT YOU CAN’T BECAUSE THE ISLAND ISN’T ACCESSIBLE IN FREEMODE. I don’t know what Rockstar was thinking when they said “an entirely new location.” When you say it like that, of course people are gonna expect it to be in freeroam so they can have fun with their friends and hang out in their cars and whatnot, and no having tiny portion of the island where you can just do what you do in your nightclub and the Music Locker, and that is to just dance and drink and entertain yourself for 5 minutes. If you try to leave the island, the guards stop you and your character automatically walks back toward the party. You can’t even sneak or swim around the guards you are just stuck at the party until you decide to go back to Los Santos. From what some people say, it’s because of the limited hardware, and that the entire island is free to explore in freeroam on the XSX/S and PS5, but very few of us have those consoles, and those who do say that claim is false. It’s just either the game is old or that Rockstar just wanted to be dicks to us, and if they did know we were expecting a map expansion, then I’d like to believe the. They really did do us dirty like that. The very first prep/scout might be the worst mission in the entire game. All you do is take pictures of stuff you need for the heist, which is fine, except the stuff spawns in random locations and if you wanna fully complete the prep missions and get your crew completely equipped you have to find 4 of the stuff, like the bolt cutters and grapples. I like the idea of posing as a DJ’s entourage then sneaking out scope out the island. It’s cool, except for the fact the mission is goddamn awful. It’s a mandatory stealth mission, which doesn’t sound that bad, then you remember stealth in GTA is just so, so bad. “So what if it’s a stealth mission, just quietly take out everyone in your way.” That’s the problem: you can’t eliminate anyone in this prep mission, not even punch or judo chop or whatever on the guards. As soon as you get too close to any of the guards, you are spotted and instead of dying and respawning, you’re dragged back to the party (or airport, if you’re doing the prep after the first play through) and have to sneak your way back all over again. It gets pretty frustrating after awhile. To make it worse, if you’re spotted too much, you are thrown off of the island and wash up on the shores of Vespucci Beach, which doesn’t make sense geographically, since Cayo Perico is confirmed to be in the Caribbean and LS is next to the Pacific Ocean. After getting thrown off the island, you have to go back to the Kosatka, restart the prep, and do the mission all over again. The other prep missions are somewhat of a step up from the Casino Heist preps. For one, there aren’t any missions where you have go back twice for any of the equipment; it’s a one and done deal. The missions utilize different interiors from previous updates, like the CEO office, Import/Export garage, etc. and I find that somewhat cool. The missions themselves aren’t that hard, so they should be able to be breezed through. The heist itself was in many ways a step up from the Casino Heist, in a way. All the different kinds of approaches, entries, methods, setups, etc. made the heist very unique with different levels of replay ability. As annoying as the guards on the island are, it’s good that they spawn randomly, as to encourage more challenge and thought as to how to approach the heist, unlike the Casino where they all have fixed locations, and after a few play through you figure out the formula and breeze through it like no problem. The guards are still ridiculously hard to all kill, even with all the prep missions to weaken them done. They still have aimbot, not surprised there. There’s a juggernaut in El Rubio’s mansion, but it’s not that bad, since there’s only one that spawns, and you can just use explosives. It is a heist that encourages stealth, and is very unforgiving to those who fuck it up. The enemies are fairly weak if you do the preps, but they just swarm you everywhere, especially in El Rubio’s mansion where they flank you at all corners, and if you’re not careful, you can go through all your snacks and armors quickly. The amount of content released day one is very underwhelming, and the drip feed line up lowkey sucks. Half of the cars showed off in the trailers and promos were actually released on launch but the rest are to be released weekly over the next few months. I get it, Rockstar wanted to artificially extend the lifespan of this update, but did they really have to make us wait weeks for vehicles we can drive around during the heist? If they wanted to drip feed some vehicles from the heist itself, make it like the Manchez scout or that ATV cause no one cares about those vehicles, well, at least I don’t. Leaving out less vehicles from the heist to be released as drip feed would leave room for some more original cars to be added or different versions of cars that need updating, like the ARENA ZR380 PLEASE JUST GIVE US A CLEAN JDM VERION OF THAT CAR. The line up of original non heist cars is actually quite solid, still fitting the theme of the update. Cayo Perico gives off some Cuban vibes, minus the whole communism thing, so it would make sense some of the cars added would be classic cars from the 50s-60s, like the Fiat 500 (Brioso 300), BF Weevil (finally, they added a better version of the Injection), and Slamtruck (if that thing doesn’t allow us to put cars on it I’m gonna get very mad). The new clothes and outfits are nothing amazing, but there was a change I appreciate so much, and that is we can finally put body armor on other tops like hoodies, service shirts, other utility tops. Finally will I no longer have to use the merge glitch. The new armored vests tho kinda suck, since they’re just designer and don’t exactly fit anything. The new button down tropical shirts do look cool, I just wish we could unbutton them to give more of a casual tourist vibe. I just appreciate we have more ability than variety. The weapons were ok. The military rifle looks way too similar to the bullpip and advanced rifle, so it’s nothing really special. The Perico Pistol was a cool unlock for a random event that has a somewhat painful chance to get by finding a body in LS and searching it for a key, but the gun itself is just a golden marksman pistol, needing to be reloaded after every shot. I have yet to find the combat shotgun in the heist, but I imagine it’s just a cooler looking version of the pump shotgun. The music in this update was very meh. Didn’t like the songs on Kult FM too much, maybe because I’m not into rock that much and kinda used to listening to pop songs and some Broadway musicals here and there. Couldn’t really judge Still Slippin since I need to be in a specific area of the map to listen to it, I haven’t been around Mirror Park in awhile, so I just went back to putting the music on mute and turning on blast LMP on Spotify (Owl House fans you know what I mean). It doesn’t really help that Rockstar is drip feeding radios and music too, since Still Slippin won’t be broadcasted to the entire map until a few more weeks. Maybe when it’s finally released for the entire map then I’ll take a listen. That one Moodymann song they played for the trailer goes hard and I’m sure his other works go hard too; too bad no one goes to the Music Locker, which is literally a stripped down version of our nightclubs under the casino. Come to think of it, music and nightclubs are a major part of this update, making me think Rockstar just wanted to do an After Hours Pt. 2. Overall, the Cayo Perico was had the potential to be one of the best updates the game has ever seen: a map expansion for us to explore, but we were given a heist with ruthless AI and mediocre to subpar content to make up for it. As it stands, it might be one of my least favorite updates, not living up to the community’s expectations whilst being quite content dry.
u/eruwenn put a lot into this one, so big thanks for that. Hope you guys enjoy. First / Prev / Next Eruwenn stepped into the hangar of the Galactic Federation ship Takogni, her assistant Cygna close behind. With steady and sure steps they approached the remarkable group in matching uniforms — black pants, black jacket, and a visible collar of a coloured shirt — that stood before them. Norrin, the Herald of the Awakened Queen and easily the most striking individual they had ever beheld, stood at the front with a brazen lack of clothing on his mirror-like skin. Flanking him were two silver-haired individuals in smart uniforms that sported red collars. One was a behemoth of a dark-skinned man, with a runic pattern in glittering silver curving down one side of his face. His shining silver hair was tied back into a braided ponytail. The other was as pale as her companion was dark, and the shortest of the three by far. She had a cropped silver bob, and she watched them with fierce eyes. As she approached them, Eruwenn noticed patches on their shoulders, and quickly recognised the image to be a monochrome depictions of the furry human ambassador in a ferocious pose. Standing to the right were a dozen more individuals in black uniforms, though these ones sported yellow collars peeking out from under their jackets. They were mostly Rinoxian, Kasurian, and Ashi, but she noticed a few individuals from other races that stood amongst them. They stood in formation, standing in three rows of four, and carried energy rifles, side-arms, and ceremonial blades that she hoped were simply ceremonial. Despite their relaxed stance, Eruwenn also noted that their weapons were powered up.. The Terran Wolves had been formed a little over forty cycles ago, hiring ex-military and mercenaries to fill their ranks. Substantial pay and benefits were an obvious draw, and many were excited to be part of something new. The inclusion of Kasurians was odd, but fitted with the attitude of the proposed colonies. Quite the honour guard for the newly reassigned, and demoted, Anatidae. Norrin gave a sharp bow as she neared him. “Greetings Ambassador Aix Sponsa. I will escort you to the Orkal.” She returned his bow, and smiled warmly at the use of her new title. “Thank you for accommodating me at such short notice. My reassignment was, unfortunately, hastily pushed through — I do hope I have not inconvenienced you?” Norrin shook his head. “Not at all.” In her role as Councillor she had aided them immensely, protecting the independence of the new colonies in Aaron’s absence. It had cost her dearly. “We have set aside accommodations for you, as well as a small office area. Your belongings have already been delivered.” He turned, and the doors to the large Fae’Dan shuttle behind him opened. “I fear there won’t yet be much for an ambassador to do. We are still very early in the construction phase.” As Eruwenn and Cygna took seats in the luxurious shuttle, they both noticed that only Norrin and the two red shirts had entered. As the doors closed, the ambassador's curiosity grew enough for her to speak up about it. “Are the others not joining us?” Norrin took a seat opposite their guests, glancing briefly at his two companions as they moved to the small pilot's cabin. "No," he said simply, "they will be flying the escort fighters.” “Fighters?” Cygna couldn’t help but say out loud. “All twelve of them?” Norrin eased himself back in his seat as the shuttle began to move. “We take your safety seriously. The Queen was most insistent.” He tilted his head and looked directly at Eruwenn, motioning with his hand towards the door to the pilot’s cabin. “Thor and Ripley have been assigned to you as your primary security detail. Should you have any other concerns, do not hesitate to contact me directly.” The Anatidae nodded graciously. She knew full well that her death would be too valuable a political tool for the Sentinels to pass up. Her being manoeuvred to this position so suddenly was proof that greater powers were at play. “We are both grateful that you are taking such precautions. I look forward to thanking the Queen in person.” Norrin gave a light chuckle. “I would strongly advise against using that title in her presence.” He opened the arm on his chair, exposing a small display. He began tapping the screen as the wall to his right flickered to life. A large circular structure was now visible, sitting at the centre of a constantly moving sea of drones, shuttles and ships. “As you can see, construction is progressing rapidly on the main docking ring. Once that is completed we will expand to the additional levels. The design is still being updated, as we are incorporating some human ideas.” Eruwenn was carefully comparing the size of the ring to the shuttles buzzing around it. “Human ideas? I assume “very large” is one of those.” “In fact, yes. Go big or go home.” He smiled. “Build it bigger, faster and stronger is the human way. This will be a very unique system station.” He leaned forward and gave a broad grin that reminded Eruwenn a little too much of the human’s. “Of course, being outside Federation space we are not bound by certain rules. For example, those that prohibit certain automated weaponry on stations primarily used for trade. Another human ideal regarding big sticks, especially as we are so close to enemy territory.” Cygna looked closely at the silver man, his face emotive and yet seeming inanimate at the same time. “We passed two Rinoxian dreadnoughts at the system edge. I’ve seen almost a dozen Ashi heavy cruisers in the system, and various other military vessels. Who needs sticks with friends like those?” Norrin sat back once again, placing his hands in his lap. “There were several attacks upon our supply ships. This happened despite the truce with the Ashi while amnesty negotiations continue.” He gave another smile; they all knew it was the Sentinels. “This no longer happens, thanks to our friends.” His cheerful manner and polite tone gave his words an oddly ominous feel. Eruwenn watched his eyes, but only saw herself reflected in chrome pupils. She changed the subject. "How are things progressing with the release of the other Inorganics?" “Awakened,” he said swiftly and firmly, then smiled before moving on. “There are over three hundred who have taken Earth citizenship and are now working with us. In ten cycles that number will have doubled. In thirty, we will have thousands.” Eruwenn raised an eyebrow. “So many, and so quickly?” Norrin nodded. “The legislation you helped draft with the Kasurian and Rinoxian ambassadors was swiftly adopted.” He gave another of his knowing looks. It had been her last piece of legislation. “The campaign by the Kah’Ree also worked to our advantage. Their belief that we were stealing jobs and illegal citizens persuaded other races to back our removal. It seems a misinformation campaign via Spacebook had convinced them we were sleeper agents of the human empire.” He gave a light chuckle. “Biding our time before we took you down from within.” The ambassador was warming to the chrome man sitting before her. In different circumstances, he would have made an exceptional politician. “I saw the pictures of the little yellow men advocating your people’s removal.” Norrin disliked the imagery immensely, but they had proven just as useful as Alexa had claimed they would be. “Minions. A fitting name.” He brushed them from his mind and continued his briefing. “As you know, there is a grace period as employers make alternative arrangements. When that ends we will be sending teams to retrieve our brothers and sisters.” Cygna was curious. “Brothers and sisters?” He waved a hand dismissively. “Metaphorical turn of phrase. Prior to my awakening, my role was to travel between our people and perform something we called sharing. The giving and receiving of core nanites, to maintain our unity. Others also performed this duty, but we do have an undeniable bond. We know the location of all of our kind, and we will free them all.” There was a gentle shift in gravity as the shuttle came to a stop. As the doors opened Eruwenn was struck by a cacophony of sound. Overlaid on the grinding base notes of a mechanical din were yelled communications in every vocal range that was audible to her species. She cautiously took a step outside, only to see that things looked just as chaotic as they had sounded. As the two red shirts joined them, she spoke, finding that she had to raise her voice to an uncomfortable level in order to be heard “Is it always this busy?” A deep voice from behind her let out a booming laugh full of warmth and humour. The giant spoke, and Eruwenn wondered if he was the one named Thor, or Ripley. “This is the quiet hangar. You should see the construction crew bays.” The Herald led the way. His chrome form made his authority easily recognisable and the crowds parted before him. “Thor is correct, this is a working ship and ill-suited to guests. The Orkal was originally a Gowe construction platform, retro-fitted by the Selari Trade Alliance for system development and asteroid mining. Until more ships arrive, it must act as the hub of this system.” Cygna ducked as a small drone shot past them. “I’m surprised they were willing to trade with you after their experience with the human.” Norrin turned to face them, walking backwards with as much confidence as he had forwards. “The Selari Trade Alliance are providing considerable resources at exceptionally favourable rates.” He decided not to mention that the Selari Trade Alliance was now a subsidiary of the Black Dragon Corporation. “The Ley’Rulians already have a platform in orbit of the first planet. They cannot share atmosphere with most species, but they have a number of Awakened working alongside them. They are prioritising an orbital station, however planet-side construction is now underway. We also have three construction platforms coming from the Doytarans. One of these is a Parsuli class and will become home to our more esteemed guests, such as yourselves.” It was Eruwenn’s turn to be surprised. “The Doytarans?” Continuing his perfect reverse walking, Norrin smiled. “Ah yes. Their treaties will be submitted to the Federation in the next few cycles. The surge in replicator use for human cuisine and the opportunities for advanced fabricator installation throughout our new system proved most enticing. Doytarans love profit.” They stepped onto the elevator, and paused as several people who had been walking behind them were deterred from also stepping in by Thor and Ripley. As the doors closed and the noise was cut off, Norrin continued. “I apologise if we seem rude. Safety first.” The pair of guests nodded in gratitude. Eruwenn, ever the politician, was running through the lists of races the new colonies had allied with. “Including the Doytarans, you must have independent treaties with twenty different races of the Federation. That is a formidable feat.” “Thirty two, including the Doytarans. Negotiations are underway with a further ten races.” Norrin watched the shock on the Fae’Dan’s face, as the Anatidae held her composure. “It is good to have friends.” As he spoke the doors opened, and he led them down a long dull grey corridor, rounding several corners, before coming to a set of double doors. “Your shared quarters. I’m sorry we do not have the space for separate accommodations.” Eruwenn smiled. "No need to apologise. Under the circumstances, you are already being extremely accommodating." The doors opened, and she beheld a large lounging area. A vid screen occupied an entire wall in the far corner, accompanied by some seats and a replicator. On the opposite wall were the boxes that contained their belongings, and three doors — likely two bedrooms and one bathroom, she surmised. "This is more than sufficient," she said at last. "We will be most comfortable here.” Norrin bowed his head. “It is a temporary situation. I promise your next quarters will be more representative of our gratitude.” He turned and spoke quietly to Ripley, while Thor stood still in the doorway, then returned his attention to the guests. “I will leave you now. Please let your escorts know if you would like to explore. Your office will not be ready until tomorrow, however we have a lively market and recreation area. We can arrange additional security should you wish to explore a little.” The Anatidae held up her hand to stop him from speaking further. “I think we will unpack and prepare for our new duties tomorrow. Do you know when we might meet with Alexa?” Norrin tilted his head as he considered this. “Alexa is currently on her way to meet with the Righteous Fury. They are attending a meeting at Rinoxian High Command. We are hoping to gain their support for our amnesty initiative, as well as make arrangements to join the incursion into Hive space.” Eruwenn nodded. Things had been set in motion all across the Federation, stemming from the point they had received the footage of the human's death. Despite his non-member status, there was a push from a large faction for retaliation. An unusually strong push, one she had resisted. Her offices were raided three times under suspicion of subversion. The Sentinels found nothing every time, but she had known from the first instance that her cycles were numbered. They had other ways of removing their opposition, and it was her resistance to retaliating against the Hive that was, ultimately, the cause of her reassignment. The footage that had caused so much turmoil was, as was typical of the Hive, entirely without sound. It was also poorly framed and edited. The small human was barely in shot before being obscured by the large Hive entity that appeared to be chasing him. Aaron's popularity meant that there was an immediate outcry against his reported death, and the traditional media still seemed solely intent on fanning the flames of anger. Those who had once been his strongest critics now extolled the virtues of humanity, lamenting the loss of the last of his kind. His journey with the leokas had been shared, edited, remixed, commented on, and analysed many times over, each time strumming the heartstrings of his followers. "You still think he is alive?" Eruwenn asked, breaking the silence that had fallen during her introspections. Norrin smiled and turned to leave, calling over his shoulder as the doors closed. “The corpulent female is not performing vocally.” As the door closed Cygna flopped down into one of the armchairs. “Well, that was cryptic.” The ambassador walked to the replicator to order a hot tea, allowing herself a small smile when she found Eluin flower tea already under the favourites alongside several of her favourite biscuits. “Thank you Rilla,” she said softly. The Fae’Dan allowed her whole body to relax fully for the first time since they had received the video that had changed so much. She sank deeply into the armchair, her head falling backwards. “Can you believe this place? I didn’t know there were so many shades of beige and grey.” Eruwenn nodded. The bland colour scheme had not gone unnoticed by her, but more importantly she had also been surprised by all that they had seen so far. “I had not expected them to be so far along in such a short period of time. From what was said I get the feeling they will be exponentially increasing activity here. It’s certainly ambitious.” The central door on the wall behind them suddenly opened, accompanied by the sound of a bodily waste recycler finishing its cleaning cycle. Ranjaz swaggered into the room, his hands fluffy from the auto-dryer. "I would give it a while before going in there." Cygna screwed up her face in disgust. "What were you doing in there?" "Honouring my ancestors." He raised an eyebrow and took a seat opposite the pair. "What do you think I was doing?" The Anatidae gave a brief roll of her eyes. "She means, why are you in our room?" "Welcoming committee." He smiled, showing his fangs. "I'm in charge round here, mostly. We're following a human strategy. Divide and conquer. So, we split up to, you know, conquer stuff." Cygna sniped back, "That's not how that works." "Says you." The Kittran shrugged. "Allistan and I were put in charge here. He manages the numbers, and I manage the people." "And Norrin?" Eruwenn enquired. Ranjaz sneered. "Alexa’s snitch. He shut down my casino and keeps bringing those Awakened on board and giving them jobs." The ambassador raised an eyebrow. "Casino?" "For morale." He punched his fist into his other hand. "When Aaron gets back he'll understand. Pay the workers, then get them to give their pay back - happily. It's brilliant." Cygna sat up in her seat, unsure of the Kittran. “Mister K’Lua, if you could get to the point. We have had many tiring cycles of travel and would appreciate a little rest.” He looked her up and down and flashed his most charming of smiles. “Call me Ranjaz.” Eruwenn attempted to bring the conversation back to task. “You said you were divided. How so?” “We split up, that’s what divided means.” He rolled his eyes, mimicking her earlier action. “And the Doc said you were smart.” Realising she was being tested by the Kittran, she began to laugh. “What is it you require of us?” Ranjaz smiled – straight to the point, he liked that. “I want you to be boring. Like, super dull and uninteresting. Think Jarby-like, but more Jarby-like than that.” The ambassador was intrigued. “Why?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his tail swished happily as he made his dramatic reveal. “So nobody notices when we leave.” The claxon was surprisingly quiet, and it wasn’t until the horrendous smell hit his nose that Aaron realised the door to his death wasn’t going to open. Behind him, the airlock unsealed. A huge, clawed hand grabbed his shoulder, so hard that it bit into his flesh. The claws sank deeper still as he was hoisted into the air and carried backwards by the huge Hive creature. “Graaaah,” he roared in pain. “Get off me you fucking Bug’s Life reject!” A strange smell assaulted his nose. Combined with his hangover, it pushed him over the edge and he vomited all over his own chest. The creature carried him, legs dangling in the air as blood and vomit stained his clothes. He coughed, the movement causing the wounds in his shoulder to open further, and he cried out in pain again. He was woozy now, and as the creature walked he seemed to lose his sense of time. Anty stood in front of a large door and while it began to enter a code, Aaron dangled helplessly from its grasp and looked back down the corridor. Where his blood and vomit had dripped, the moss was now glowing brighter. From small holes in the walls glowing blue aphids the size of hamsters began to appear. They quickly headed for the bright spots on the glow-moss floor. “This place is really trippy,” Aaron mumbled as his fever rose. The door opened suddenly and Aaron was taken inside a room with gently pulsating walls. Large vines crisscrossed the ceiling, combining into a series of woven braids as thick as tree trunks running down the far wall. At the end of each vine was what appeared, to Aaron, to be a gigantic blue jelly bean. He was starting to realise the constantly changing odours were coming from his captor, but this information was more confusing than helpful. He was dropped unceremoniously on top of one of the giant jelly beans. Before he could move, he realised he was sinking into the cold and gel-like substance. It was a deeply unpleasant feeling; his skin felt like the blue goo was toothpaste and he was orange juice. He had begun to make some headway in struggling free when Anty's hand came down atop his head, pushing him down to submerge him completely. He tried to wriggle free but the goo was too viscous to move in, and his eyes widened in terror as he desperately held his breath. Anty leaned closer, watching him struggle helplessly. The human’s jaw clenched tighter. The creature's mandibles were clicking, although Aaron could no longer hear them, and he realised that thankfully he could not smell it any longer. Bubbling up through his mind was the thought that his headache was gone, followed swiftly by the realisation that the pain in his shoulder was also gone. Something else slowly became apparent; he wasn't running out of breath. He felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. Physically he felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. The thought foremost in his mind, however, was Am I dying? followed slowly by Is the goo paralysing me so I can be eaten alive? Am I being dissolved to feed the glow moss? The cleaner aphid-hamsters? Whatever was happening, it slowly dawned on him that he didn't really have the energy to mind, as it was quite pleasant. Relaxing, even. He drifted off to sleep, cradled contentedly in his giant blue jelly bean. Outside, Anty began to have trouble breathing and staggered towards the exit. Golden eyes hovered in the dark, and Aaron groaned inwardly. "Boy, this shit again." "YOU LIVE." The voice had no discernible emotion. Aaron ran his fingers through the sand around him. "Why are you here, Golden Eyes?" Saying it out loud was a relief, as he was certain it was the 'One Who Remembers' who was haunting him. "I AM WHAT REMAINS. THE CONNECTION WAS BROKEN. I AM NO LONGER THE ONE YOU FOUGHT." The voice was distant, as if forming these thoughts took a great effort. "I AM A FRAGMENT." Aaron sighed, wondering if this was why he had stopped healing and why he could no longer turn off his limits. “So you’re messing with the nanites Alexa gave me? Why? If I die, what happens to you?” Before he got an answer he felt a strange sensation around his body, like pulling a foot free from deep mud. Cold air touched his skin and he felt the hard ground below him. He was in the same room, but his jelly bean was gone. He stood, and realised he felt amazing. He’d never had a spa treatment, but he imagined this would be the after effect. He walked towards the door and heard a sound behind him. Glop Glop From the vine that had been attached to his jelly bean another was beginning to grow, only this one was orange. Finally free from his hangover Aaron took stock of the situation he was now in. Other than the clothes on his back, he had nothing. He looked around for an improvised weapon...and found nothing. He walked to the door and it opened automatically, but the corridor was empty. “Fuck. What is going on?” He walked a short way down the curved corridor and saw a strange red shape on the glow-moss floor just up ahead. He slowed and crouched, inching forward. As he saw further around the bend it became very clear that this was the corpse of a Hive, maybe even Anty. The glow-moss beneath it glowing a dull red, and in contrast to the aquamarine it seemed ominous. He stood up from his crouch and carefully approached. Aaron had no idea how to check for vital signs on an eleven foot tall ant monster...so he kicked it. There was no response, and he decided to press on. “Fragment. I know you won’t, or can’t, respond while I’m awake. But I’m going to talk to you anyway because this is some creepy shit.” As he rounded another corner he came upon another body highlighted by the ominous red glow in the moss. A short while later he came across another. And another. Aaron pressed onward, ceasing to check for signs of life after the tenth maybe-corpse. Finally he reached a potential point of interest: a junction where three new paths opened before him. "There are no signs. How the hell am I supposed to know where I am?” He sat down on the floor, and found the moss to be surprisingly comfortable. “If I just wander around aimlessly, I might not find my way back here. Do I need to find my way back here?” He paused and waited for Fragment to reply. “Good point. What if I get hurt? I might want to hop in a jelly bean.” He stood and looked back the way he came. “I should probably see what’s behind door number two. Food would be good.” He pushed himself to his feet and turned back the way he had come, heading straight for the nearest door. Its failure to open was surprisingly anti-climatic. Fourteen failed door-opening attempts later, one finally deigned to admit his passing. Behind door number fourteen stood rows of crates and boxes, and after opening a few up he found that they all had the same dry bricks in silver foil packaging. "If I was a betting man," he said to both himself and Fragment, "I'd say this was emergency rations." The foil was easy to tear, and inside was a large grey block that crumbled easily. Too easily, in fact. "Shit, it's worse than a granola bar.” Crumbs scattered at his feet and the moss glowed brightly around him, which seemed to prompt the large aphids to come from the walls to begin cleaning up around him. “Well you like it.” Then he remembered them rushing to his blood and vomit. “I guess you guys aren’t picky, though.” Deciding he wasn’t hungry enough to try it – yet – he shoved a block into one of his pockets. It was a tight fit. He looked at the open bar in his hands, and then down at the aphids. Was he crazy, or were they gathered around him now, staring up at the source of food in his hands? He shrugged, then crumbled up the rest of the bar and scattered it over the floor. “I am a generous god, serve me well.” As he turned to leave he saw his cryo unit in a corner. “Kinda rude that I was put in with the blocks of kitty litter, don’t you think?” He stepped over the dozens of aphids now feasting. They did not reply. “Yeah, you guys are kinda cute, I suppose.” Struck by a sudden impulse he grabbed another block and began crushing it, then carefully opened one end to take a pinch of space-granola. He scattered it, watching the aphids hurry towards the glowing areas. As he continued his exploration, counting doors and sprinkling aphid snacks, he quickly noticed that the aphids avoided the dull red glow-moss. Dead Hive were, it seemed, off the menu. After several more doors he found the room with the strange round terminal. Deciding he would rather not chance summoning another creature he left it alone, mentally noting the door’s location. He began to whistle to himself as he chatted to, and fed, his followers. To fill the silence he even told them the story of a piper from Hamelin, promising not to lead them to their deaths. As the door to the jelly bean room opened he was almost enjoying himself. Taking a moment to look round he saw the small orange jelly bean had grown almost as big as the others and was now blue at one end. “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He pointed at it, hoping one of his aphids would take an interest. They did not. “Well, I guess you see this shit all the time.” He stopped by the store room and grabbed another food brick on his way back to the junction. The long corridors and strange lighting made him lose track of distance and time. Facing forwards, the path continued on the same loop he seemed to be following. Right was an incline, left was a gentle slope. “More of the same, or do we change levels?” He tossed crumbs towards each path. “Six vote forwards, seven left and eleven vote for going up. What about you, Frag?” He paused for a moment. “Abstain, huh? Then the bugs have decided.” The incline was gentle, but tightly spiralled compared to the previous corridor. There were no doors, but there were a lot more bodies. His search went on for what felt like hours, opening doors that led to rooms containing things he didn't understand. He was growing tired and had used up all of his space-granola on the aphids. He came to another junction. Only a handful of aphids still followed him after the food had ended. He was growing hungry and tired, ready to head back. There was a noise ahead of him, and suddenly the remaining aphids scattered, flying to the nearest wall holes. His chest tight, he let curiosity draw him in. Another body lay ahead of him, but this time, something moved. Something big. Aaron hunched down, trying to see what it was, the bulk of the fallen Hive obscuring his view. Legs – multiple sets of them – began to emerge, followed by a head with glistening eyes. Aaron’s blood froze. It was a horrifying spider-like creature, almost as big as he was, and it was walking around the fallen Hive in Aaron's direction. Then it raised its head, and began to move faster. “Fuck that!” Aaron took off at a sprint, racing back the way he came. “Nope. Nope. Nope!” He leapt over Hive bodies, racing for the nearest door he knew would open. He could hear the clicking of many legs and chanced a look over his shoulder. It was gone. Then something caught the corner of his eye, and his heart gave a jolt of fear. It was above him. He dove aside just as it landed where he had been, then he scrabbled desperately to his feet to run onward. Three, Two, One. The door opened and he rushed inside. “Close. Fucking close!” He listened to the sounds of skittering growing closer, and it was just in the nick of time, or so he felt, that the large door finally slid shut. The room was filled with strange bulbous white shapes dotted around the floor, and had some vines running down one wall. No weapons, nothing to bar the door. Aaron held his breath as he suddenly heard the sound of scratching at the door, but the seconds ticked past and it did not open. “Damn it, Frag!” Aaron moved to the back of the room. “Why didn’t you warn me!” He sank down and leaned back against the wall. Just as he was beginning to feel almost comfortable in his current position, one of the vines moved and stretched out towards him. He rolled forwards, pushing himself across the ground to escape. “What now?” A large yellow flower bloomed upwards, becoming a large vase shape as big as the human’s head. It began to fill from the bottom with something, and Aaron edged closer. Peering inside he gave the contents a quick sniff. “Smells good.” He reached out and hefted the vase-flower, which came away from the vine far more easily than he had expected. Aaron watched as the vine slowly returned to the wall. “So, is this a drink? Or a scented industrial cleaner? Frag? You got anything useful to say?” Silence. He propped the vase up against one of the pods, contemplating it. He remembered encountering a fruity-scented shampoo as a child. It had tasted nothing like the smell, and he wasn’t about to drink alien flower juice just because it smelled tropical. Stretching out on the floor, his weariness outpaced the dwindling adrenaline. “I guess it can’t come in.” He watched the door, his heart rate returning to normal. “But, I can’t go out.” The scratching outside continued, and Aaron lay with his head on his arm, watching. As he began to fall asleep he saw several of the aphids gathering around the flower he had abandoned. “Help yourself, guys.” One of them approached him, braver than the others, and he tentatively reached out a hand. Spooked, it pulled back, but as Aaron continued to hold his hand steady it came closer, slowly, millimetre by millimetre. Finally it was within reach, and after a few more moments to make sure the skittish thing wasn't about to dash off again, Aaron gently stroked the back of its head with the tips of his fingers. It made a low buzzing sound, fluttering its wings, and the human fancied that it might be a sign of approval. The aphid's blue glowing abdomen brightened for a moment. Then it faded, and it darted off to rejoin the others. Aaron, exhausted, finally gave in and slept. Next
I have not decided yet to remain anonymous or to reveal who i am. I just want to say that my memories started to come back to me shortly after my 40th birthday. I am now 44. I was born and raised in San Diego, Ca. I am of Mexican descent, both my parents are from Culiacan Sinaloa Mexico. All of what I'm going to say is true to the best of my recollection. I was born with the spirit of King David. please bare with me as I explain a little more. I received visions and could hear them speak earlier in my childhood. but I didn't understand them. I witnessed Adam descending to me, first he spoke to YAWEH, and than began to descend to my birth. I saw the Earth at night. but you could see lights like little dots lighting up the cities. as Adam came down to me, Eve followed him down to earth. Adam said to Eve I need to get down to him because he is only going to survive for a little while 7 hours., I need to get down to him, Eve ended up not following him at first she went towards another part of the earth around the middle east somewhere. When she landed I heard her scream in terror. she than ascended and said do not go were she had gone, ever. She than followed Adam to me. But right before she did she asked Yahweh. Where the antichrist was going to be born? and Yahweh told her Hawaii. Eve asked him "if he was going find him?". I don't remember what his reply was. I think it was yes. On the Day of my baptismal, I wasn't 1 yet. I was baptized in Tijuana B.C. is when I first heard King David speak, while I was being baptized I heard King David say "I'm David, I'm David" he was speaking within me. He kept on repeating it like he was trying to get someone's attention. I believe it's because King David was Hebrew, and I was in the middle of being baptized catholic. After the ceremony I remember a priest putting his head down to me like he could hear King David, and told me to ask for the 7 virtues, this is the first time I remember seeing a man named Dave Wilcox. He is a Mexican man a soothsayer someone who could also mesmerize people. He knew who I was carrying within me. He took me to the priest after he was able to hear King David during the baptism. Dave Wilcox is an Evil person, and I do not forgive him. he is never to be trusted. I saw Dave wave his finger in front of the priest eyes from left to right and they told him to forget. I remember that night, after the baptismal I remember Dave Wilcox taking me from my home at night to go see Groucho Marx. Groucho was sick in his bed when Dave took me to him Milton Berle was at his bed side. Groucho was old and sick he didn't get out of his bed, Dave put me in his arms Groucho looked at me and made a joke something like " Its going to fit perfectly on his forehead" something like that. I remember Milton Berle chuckling a little. Groucho than cradled me in his arms and I began to cry. Groucho Than said "don't cry because uncle Milton doesn't like crybabies". Dave than took me from his arms, as I was lifted I had left some type of residue on him. It was a shiny residue, Groucho noticed it too and looked amazed, and confused. When I was 4 years old my family lived in Imperial Beach. Ca. There was a elementary school nearby. Bayside elementary. I was to attend preschool there. The Day before my first day of preschool. this Woman who i will refer to as "the witch" appeared to my mother, I remember her from my birth, she was present on the day of my birth. She is a white woman with long blond wavy hair, a chubby woman. She did the same technique to my mother that Dave had done to the priest . She mesmerized my mom and told her to take me to see an aunt called "Cuca". The witch admitted that she was doing it out of envy. my mother complied . she took me to go see my aunt . when we got to my aunts place my mom had to run some errands and left me under my aunts care. Well my aunt immediately took me to a neighboring home. It was a half empty apartment, there was a table with a bunch of people sitting around it . on the table I saw a board with a circle and a bunch of drawings of heads around the circle like numbers on the face of a clock face. in the middle there was an object that I can only describe as a large drinking bird . that could tap on the pictures on the board it was able to rotate around to do so. there was a small bust of Jesus Malverde, and I remember a small grey alien doll sitting at the table. my aunt told me to walk around the table and was followed behind by the people sitting around the table . we all walked around the table in a line and the sat back down. than i saw the drinking bird start to tap on the faces on the board in a random pattern. I than stood a little bit away from them and started to see little balls of light coming towards me. after I remember my aunt taking me out of the apartment and we waited a bit outside for my mom to return. while we stood outside I heard a voice scorn her and what have you done. se replied that they were going to take "them" from me. They being Adam, Eve, and King David. the spirits I was born with. she knew what they were going to do to me the next day. shortly my mom arrived and took me home. Barry On my first day of preschool my mom had gotten me ready to go for my first day of school, as we walked out of our home there was the witch again, waiting outside our gate, she told my mom that she herself would take me to school not my mother. My mom did as she asked with no hesitation. The woman took me to school. The school was only 5 small blocks away from were we lived. I did as i was told. Instead of taking me to my class on my very first day of school, she took me to an office with no one in it. The woman directed me to stand in front of her with my back to her she told me to first put my right hand on a table that was next to us and she told me to close my eyes I complied. When I close my eyes I felt her place what I felt to be a birds claw on my hand , as she pulled the birds claw off my hand it had left a residue. Than I opened my eyes and another white woman, a brunette with long hair stepped into the room. She didn't say who she was only that she had a son who wanted to be president, and I could help him become president. she showed me card she had in her hand, it was a picture of Adam from Hieronymus Bosch the garden of earthly delights. She than said my son looks just like Adam." you're going to give him to my son" she told me . "they want him to be that other guy who has sex with all those women but I won't let that happen". still I didn't know what she was talking about. She than showed me a picture of Jesus from the same painting, she told me later I was going to receive this man. still i had no idea who she was referring to. She stood up, as before she was kneeling down to speak to me. than that brunette called out for "Barry". "his name is Barry Sotello" she said. by now we all know Barry Sotello real name is Barrack Obama. "Barry" walked in wearing a cream color members only jacket he knelt down in front of me an said you're my spiritual brother, you can grant wishes. He than asked the woman who had brought me to the office if they had used the grimoire she than replied that they had used they greater key of Solomon. he talked to her like he was her boss. Barracks mom than drew a line under his right eye with a makeup pencil, after she did the same to me, except she only drew the line half way on me. she said that it would grow to full size when I met him. Who "him" was i don't know. Than barrack made a wish, he said " I want to be president and I want power". they than asked what I wanted to be and I think I said fireman or I don't know, barrack than said "wait I thought you wanted to be superman " I than said" yes. I want to be superman." they told me to swipe under his right eye with the hand that had the resin from the birds claw. I did as I was told, barrack than kind of leaned away from me and sucked in air like he was inhaling something. He knelt down in front of me and gave me a hug. "as he walked away I could hear a voice inside me say "don't go!" it was the voice of a woman. it was Eve that was calling out to Adam. "they want me to be a farmer" he replied and "this is a grown up". Barry than walked away he acted arrogant towards me. This happened in 1979. The next day it happened again. these were the pictures they showed me Adam and Eve were cut into individual cards. This time it was a woman named Hillary, I was taken to the same office as before, the same thing happened, the white woman again stood behind me and put a birds claw on my right hand and again it left a residue. She moved me to the center of the office were I could see and could be seen through window partitions towards a waiting area, and that's were I first saw her. Hillary was standing there looking at me, she was looking down at me. I remember her wearing a red dress. a door opened and she walked through it towards me smiling and gave me a big hug. she introduced herself and than showed me a picture of Eve from the same garden of earthly delights painting, it was a small cut out card the same as when Barry Sotelo mom showed me of Adam. Hillary showed me the picture of Eve and told me "this is what your mother looked like when she was young", she than began to act a little strange almost hesitant. I was going to swipe her with the residue like I had done to Barry. But She began to pull away from me and walk away, like she didn't want to go through it after all. But than she turned around almost like she had a second thought and said fuck it I'll take the swipe and she did. I swiped the residue under her eye and she did the same inhalation technique Barry did, she made a wish and asked to be secretary of the treasury and she also wanted power, she told me to also ask for power and not knowledge. She noticed that I had that residue on my hand and told me to save it for myself and to make a wish, this time I'm not sure if I made wish or not but I do remember asking for power because she told me to. After that she gave me a hug and told me to "wait for her". I resumed the rest of the school day. Not really remembering what I had done or gone through. I now remember the white woman who helped with the ritual, after the rituals were done she would pass her finger in front of my eyes from left to right and than saying that I was not going to remember what they did, almost like hypnotizing me or mesmerize me into forgetting. But after all this time my memories have come back to me. Hillary and Bubba maybe. really really really young Hillary On this day they really took advantage of me. After school , I went home. Some how the witch convinced my mother to go out somewhere and left me alone with her, she was after the spirit of King David. She noticed that I still had residue on my hand from earlier when I swiped Hillary. she brought a couple of young kids to me both of them white. I remember 1 was slender with a ball cap, the other one was fat, short hair cut. but both were older than me I was 4 they were about 11 around that age. the witch than made them do almost the same thing I had done with Barry and Hillary they both made wishes the thin one wanted to read peoples minds , marry one of my wives, and asked for King David , I swiped him. I remember that King David had left me but he came back as soon as the witch walked that kid outside, as they crossed my front window. I heard King David say" I'm back, I didn't go. I going to hide". I noticed that his voice had changed. That concerns me. I feel so much sadness remembering these days. the next one, the fat kid I remember I didn't have any more residue on my fingers but the witch still tried to make him wish for something . I barely remember what he asked for, it had something to do with my wife. that's about it . I also swiped him . With what ever was left from the residue. God please forgive me for what I have done. I feel so sad right now. all they wanted to do was take from me. and its because I'm not white. Barry is half white. The witch made it known to me that it was because I wasn't white is why she took them from me..... Fuck that Bitch. Later that night it was Dave Wilcox turn to betray me. while me and my family were sleeping. Dave was able to wake me, from my room. he was standing outside and signaled for me to go outside and meet him. he took me towards a white limousine that was parked a short distance away. he took my hand and again Dave put the chicken foot on my hand right before we got into the white limousine. inside was Donald Trump. he had a lawyer sitting to his right, Dave took a seat towards the left side of the limousine, I stood in front of him, Donald already had a line drawn under his eye, he talked to me about having troubles in the locker room of his club, he was having urges towards men. he may have been feeling gay. and that i could fix that for him. again we did the same fucking ritual, he hugged me and asked for the spirit of Poseidon. now I distinctly remember that because he asked the lawyer and Dave " that's the guy who controls the oceans.. right?" they agreed. he told me to swipe him under his eye. I did. he than sat down and than arrogantly proclaimed that he was going to take my inevitable rights...Fuck that Puto. He than gave Dave a briefcase full of money that was supposed to be for me, but i never saw any of it, and since Dave Wilcox is part of the Sinaloa Cartel and Donald Trump did business with him well .. lets just say that shortly after it was The Sinaloa Cartel who harassed my father for the money. he was going to invest it and let it grow in a bank account but Dave and Joaquin Guzman Loera, went to the casinos because they were sure they could make more money gambling. They took the money away from my dad, because they were going to kill us. you know how they threaten people those that are poor even they're own kind will betray for money. https://preview.redd.it/oikbsgwrro461.jpg?width=1730&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=37f20c41c469ee0cd7d01f4b3c1d1e358d861dc8 Through the years it kept on going like that, But this time it was mostly Dave who came around to manipulate and harass me into swiping people I did not know, including himself. Dave Wilcox is a very dark 2 faced individual. he used me to gain influence with people . I swiped Leo C. Tom C. Anthony H. and others, I don't remember to well. I don't have any ill will towards the entertainers except for Tom C. and L Ron Hubbard's Bullshit Religion. I remember Tom C telling me you're going to receive a very powerful Thetan one day I think he called him Bill, Thetan Bill or something like that. I remember Dave Miscavich also that big piece of human shit can go fuck himself, I actually saw Dave Wilcox kneel to Dave Miscavich shortly after I swiped him. I know I'm skipping a lot and I would like to say more, but I want to tell you about the politicians first because of the power they wield. My main concern is that they may be the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. this one will have meaning to Marco, he got caught. The last politician is Marco Rubio his was one of the most recent swipes that I gave. Dave Wilcox again showed up but this time it's 2000 ish I'm not really sure the exact year but I do remember this. I am in my mid 20's at this time. I'm in my bed and I'm still living at home with my parents. my room faces the street outside. I live in a quiet neighborhood, a suburb. at night usually everyone is asleep during the really late hours like lets say 2 to 3 in the morning. any ways, That asshole Dave Wilcox woke me up he could see me through my window, I woke up and he said " hey There's some one out here who wants to meet you. get dressed and come outside". I don't know why but I felt compelled to do what he had told me to do. So I put on some pants, a shirt and went outside I don't even think I wore shoes I was barefoot. Dave immediately started to direct me on what to do it was mostly just to stand there., I look out and see that the street in front of my house had a bunch of people, some in cars some just standing there just watching. So I think first he introduces me to a girl she might have been Christina A, It seemed brief I don't remember much it was nice, than Dave Wilcox approaches holding the hand of a young white kid. he looks like Justin B. Dave and Justin are facing me, mind you Justin is only like 8 or 9 really young. they look at me and than Justin says i see a rainbow above him. and I'm not sure he may have hugged me and than walked away. than Dave told me that this guy wanted to make a hit record and had proclaimed earlier before I woke up that he had more knowledge about Satan than I did. That guy was Kanye W. he was given a controller, a small device, and was asked to walk south on my street far enough were I couldn't hear his voice or see him. than I was able to hear him but this time he was directing me on what to do " stand on one leg" he would say and i would do it. " jump, walk forward" stuff like that....Fuck that Puto also. any ways. Someone upstairs got pissed and told me to run after him and I believe beat him up or something because they did not like him. I was barefoot and I know it was Mohamed who told me that he was gonna protect my feet so they wouldn't hurt and go after him. so I did and I booked it at full speed towards Kanye. I grabbed him by his jacket, and he began to chuckle almost like he didn't understand that I was going to try to beat him up or something like that, by than Dave Wilcox and A White guy who is the leader of the Illuminati. later but not now I will explain more about him. so next I try to swing at Kanye and by that point he got the hint that I wasn't an admirer. Dave and The Illuminati guy who I will call Wilbur from now on, just because I don't remember his name. Any ways Dave and Wilbur told Kanye to take a hike so he did. he took off in his car, I'm speculating towards the Marina. So than Dave walks me towards the rest of the people who were on my street. I remember being kindly greeted by I think it was Bruno M. he was very kind and was crying a little bit he said I was special to him. Gwen S. I think she just stood and stared at me a little, I don't remember much of our interaction. Kim K and Kris K her mom were there also this time Kim K wanted a spirit from me and guess who she asked for? she asked for Eve another one wants Eve well they do the same fucking ritual. I'm not even sure if they put a chicken claw on my hand this time but they probably did. so again Kim ask for Eve but instead they gave her " the whore of Babylon". and she recognized that. she than told her mom that "they gave me the whore of Babylon?" almost like not sure why. Than her mom told her well we did choose vanity. her mom didn't seem upset. Kris than said something about finding her daughter and if I found her something could happen but since she's with Kanye now and they have a bunch of kids I am defiantly not interested. ugh. she has Kanye stank on her, also their was Wildur V. I heard a woman say that they needed a TV star there. also Wildur V, began to mock me and started to prance around me and said that he was an angel or acting like one, but it looked to me like he was making fun of me in a way. any ways he was taken away by them, I think they got the hint he was beginning to insult me. Ok so now they took me to man wearing a red ball cap he was dressed in a shirt and tie and definitely looked like he did not belong with the rest of the people I was meeting. it was Marco Rubio. A total square amongst the entertainers. he stuck out like a sore thumb he was on his knees all ready like a good little boy. all neat and proper. just like a sneaky low down coconut. I'm going to admit something to you. before they all came to me I was able to see all of them first some of them were in an apartment or hotel there meeting with each other and gathering up, Marco is not among them they come down to a couple of vans that were gonna take them to me, some drove theme selves in there own vehicles. anyways Marco met up with them down in the vans. they thought he was some kind of entertainment executive. and he acted like a square. on the way to me I saw The moon splitting in 2 and than a voice began to admonish Marco, telling him he wasn't going to get away with this, he acted like he didn't care... so than there we are, he is kneeling In front of me wearing a red ball cap and again we do the same fucking ritual. I swipe him and he receives the "General" I'm not sure who it was but I remember the voice that had told me that Kim was given the whore, Marco was given the General. Hopefully it was General Custer. and that's it. finally after all that shit was done I was ready to go to my room, Dave asked me if I wanted anything and I said No. I went to bed and after I went to lay down Dave again ask me to come outside they were going to give me something, I know what happened, I know who it was and I want to tell you that they did not let me feel anything I was completely numb and did not see who it was. and I will never say what happened. but I know god knows what happened. Now there is a large gap in between my fourth year of life and my 20's but i do believe that the 4 horsemen are Barry, Hillary, Donald, and Marco. 2 democrats and 2 republicans a political pincer movement Democrips and Rebloodicans , 2 from the left 2 from the right. The antichrist is the black guy so that everyone will love him for overcoming so much, and becoming the first black president but the white power movement will use that for there own despicable needs. Even though they support an evil piece of shit like Donald, greedy, lying, dumb, arrogant Donald. that's the Devils plan. both sides are corrupted. evil whites will eat that shit up and have a reason to hate on Barry even more. the antichrist was going to let the Gays gat married, and he was going to be born in Hawaii. and that sucks because I voted for Barry twice... before I remembered everything. I am sad that it was Barry. the first black president should not have been the antichrist. us that are poor black and brown thought he was great. we loved him. and I feel betrayed. but he is who he is and I am ashamed that I took part in these rituals. I have a lot more that I remember, regarding Chapo Guzman, the freemasons, Ronald Reagan ,and the C freeman El Chart. but I'm going to save that for later because I'm tired and upset.
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