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Kelly Criterion Bet Calculator: Optimizing Bet Sizes
Former investment bank FX trader: some thoughts
Hi guys, I have been using reddit for years in my personal life (not trading!) and wanted to give something back in an area where i am an expert. I worked at an investment bank for seven years and joined them as a graduate FX trader so have lots of professional experience, by which i mean I was trained and paid by a big institution to trade on their behalf. This is very different to being a full-time home trader, although that is not to discredit those guys, who can accumulate a good amount of experience/wisdom through self learning. When I get time I'm going to write a mid-length posts on each topic for you guys along the lines of how i was trained. I guess there would be 15-20 topics in total so about 50-60 posts. Feel free to comment or ask questions. The first topic is Risk Management and we'll cover it in three parts Part I
Why it matters
Using stops sensibly
Picking a clear level
Why it matters
The first rule of making money through trading is to ensure you do not lose money. Look at any serious hedge fund’s website and they’ll talk about their first priority being “preservation of investor capital.” You have to keep it before you grow it. Strangely, if you look at retail trading websites, for every one article on risk management there are probably fifty on trade selection. This is completely the wrong way around. The great news is that this stuff is pretty simple and process-driven. Anyone can learn and follow best practices. Seriously, avoiding mistakes is one of the most important things: there's not some holy grail system for finding winning trades, rather a routine and fairly boring set of processes that ensure that you are profitable, despite having plenty of losing trades alongside the winners.
Capital and position sizing
The first thing you have to know is how much capital you are working with. Let’s say you have $100,000 deposited. This is your maximum trading capital. Your trading capital is not the leveraged amount. It is the amount of money you have deposited and can withdraw or lose. Position sizing is what ensures that a losing streak does not take you out of the market. A rule of thumb is that one should risk no more than 2% of one’s account balance on an individual trade and no more than 8% of one’s account balance on a specific theme. We’ll look at why that’s a rule of thumb later. For now let’s just accept those numbers and look at examples. So we have $100,000 in our account. And we wish to buy EURUSD. We should therefore not be risking more than 2% which $2,000. We look at a technical chart and decide to leave a stop below the monthly low, which is 55 pips below market. We’ll come back to this in a bit. So what should our position size be? We go to the calculator page, select Position Size and enter our details. There are many such calculators online - just google "Pip calculator". https://preview.redd.it/y38zb666e5h51.jpg?width=1200&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=26e4fe569dc5c1f43ce4c746230c49b138691d14 So the appropriate size is a buy position of 363,636 EURUSD. If it reaches our stop level we know we’ll lose precisely $2,000 or 2% of our capital. You should be using this calculator (or something similar) on every single trade so that you know your risk. Now imagine that we have similar bets on EURJPY and EURGBP, which have also broken above moving averages. Clearly this EUR-momentum is a theme. If it works all three bets are likely to pay off. But if it goes wrong we are likely to lose on all three at once. We are going to look at this concept of correlation in more detail later. The total amount of risk in our portfolio - if all of the trades on this EUR-momentum theme were to hit their stops - should not exceed $8,000 or 8% of total capital. This allows us to go big on themes we like without going bust when the theme does not work. As we’ll see later, many traders only win on 40-60% of trades. So you have to accept losing trades will be common and ensure you size trades so they cannot ruin you. Similarly, like poker players, we should risk more on trades we feel confident about and less on trades that seem less compelling. However, this should always be subject to overall position sizing constraints. For example before you put on each trade you might rate the strength of your conviction in the trade and allocate a position size accordingly: https://preview.redd.it/q2ea6rgae5h51.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=4332cb8d0bbbc3d8db972c1f28e8189105393e5b To keep yourself disciplined you should try to ensure that no more than one in twenty trades are graded exceptional and allocated 5% of account balance risk. It really should be a rare moment when all the stars align for you. Notice that the nice thing about dealing in percentages is that it scales. Say you start out with $100,000 but end the year up 50% at $150,000. Now a 1% bet will risk $1,500 rather than $1,000. That makes sense as your capital has grown. It is extremely common for retail accounts to blow-up by making only 4-5 losing trades because they are leveraged at 50:1 and have taken on far too large a position, relative to their account balance. Consider that GBPUSD tends to move 1% each day. If you have an account balance of $10k then it would be crazy to take a position of $500k (50:1 leveraged). A 1% move on $500k is $5k. Two perfectly regular down days in a row — or a single day’s move of 2% — and you will receive a margin call from the broker, have the account closed out, and have lost all your money. Do not let this happen to you. Use position sizing discipline to protect yourself.
If you’re wondering - why “about 2%” per trade? - that’s a fair question. Why not 0.5% or 10% or any other number? The Kelly Criterion is a formula that was adapted for use in casinos. If you know the odds of winning and the expected pay-off, it tells you how much you should bet in each round. This is harder than it sounds. Let’s say you could bet on a weighted coin flip, where it lands on heads 60% of the time and tails 40% of the time. The payout is $2 per $1 bet. Well, absolutely you should bet. The odds are in your favour. But if you have, say, $100 it is less obvious how much you should bet to avoid ruin. Say you bet $50, the odds that it could land on tails twice in a row are 16%. You could easily be out after the first two flips. Equally, betting $1 is not going to maximise your advantage. The odds are 60/40 in your favour so only betting $1 is likely too conservative. The Kelly Criterion is a formula that produces the long-run optimal bet size, given the odds. Applying the formula to forex trading looks like this: Position size % = Winning trade % - ( (1- Winning trade %) / Risk-reward ratio If you have recorded hundreds of trades in your journal - see next chapter - you can calculate what this outputs for you specifically. If you don't have hundreds of trades then let’s assume some realistic defaults of Winning trade % being 30% and Risk-reward ratio being 3. The 3 implies your TP is 3x the distance of your stop from entry e.g. 300 pips take profit and 100 pips stop loss. So that’s 0.3 - (1 - 0.3) / 3 = 6.6%. Hold on a second. 6.6% of your account probably feels like a LOT to risk per trade.This is the main observation people have on Kelly: whilst it may optimise the long-run results it doesn’t take into account the pain of drawdowns. It is better thought of as the rational maximum limit. You needn’t go right up to the limit! With a 30% winning trade ratio, the odds of you losing on four trades in a row is nearly one in four. That would result in a drawdown of nearly a quarter of your starting account balance. Could you really stomach that and put on the fifth trade, cool as ice? Most of us could not. Accordingly people tend to reduce the bet size. For example, let’s say you know you would feel emotionally affected by losing 25% of your account. Well, the simplest way is to divide the Kelly output by four. You have effectively hidden 75% of your account balance from Kelly and it is now optimised to avoid a total wipeout of just the 25% it can see. This gives 6.6% / 4 = 1.65%. Of course different trading approaches and different risk appetites will provide different optimal bet sizes but as a rule of thumb something between 1-2% is appropriate for the style and risk appetite of most retail traders. Incidentally be very wary of systems or traders who claim high winning trade % like 80%. Invariably these don’t pass a basic sense-check:
How many live trades have you done? Often they’ll have done only a handful of real trades and the rest are simulated backtests, which are overfitted. The model will soon die.
What is your risk-reward ratio on each trade? If you have a take profit $3 away and a stop loss $100 away, of course most trades will be winners. You will not be making money, however! In general most traders should trade smaller position sizes and less frequently than they do. If you are going to bias one way or the other, far better to start off too small.
How to use stop losses sensibly
Stop losses have a bad reputation amongst the retail community but are absolutely essential to risk management. No serious discretionary trader can operate without them. A stop loss is a resting order, left with the broker, to automatically close your position if it reaches a certain price. For a recap on the various order types visit this chapter. The valid concern with stop losses is that disreputable brokers look for a concentration of stops and then, when the market is close, whipsaw the price through the stop levels so that the clients ‘stop out’ and sell to the broker at a low rate before the market naturally comes back higher. This is referred to as ‘stop hunting’. This would be extremely immoral behaviour and the way to guard against it is to use a highly reputable top-tier broker in a well regulated region such as the UK. Why are stop losses so important? Well, there is no other way to manage risk with certainty. You should always have a pre-determined stop loss before you put on a trade. Not having one is a recipe for disaster: you will find yourself emotionally attached to the trade as it goes against you and it will be extremely hard to cut the loss. This is a well known behavioural bias that we’ll explore in a later chapter. Learning to take a loss and move on rationally is a key lesson for new traders. A common mistake is to think of the market as a personal nemesis. The market, of course, is totally impersonal; it doesn’t care whether you make money or not. Bruce Kovner, founder of the hedge fund Caxton Associates There is an old saying amongst bank traders which is “losers average losers”. It is tempting, having bought EURUSD and seeing it go lower, to buy more. Your average price will improve if you keep buying as it goes lower. If it was cheap before it must be a bargain now, right? Wrong. Where does that end? Always have a pre-determined cut-off point which limits your risk. A level where you know the reason for the trade was proved ‘wrong’ ... and stick to it strictly. If you trade using discretion, use stops.
Picking a clear level
Where you leave your stop loss is key. Typically traders will leave them at big technical levels such as recent highs or lows. For example if EURUSD is trading at 1.1250 and the recent month’s low is 1.1205 then leaving it just below at 1.1200 seems sensible. If you were going long, just below the double bottom support zone seems like a sensible area to leave a stop You want to give it a bit of breathing room as we know support zones often get challenged before the price rallies. This is because lots of traders identify the same zones. You won’t be the only one selling around 1.1200. The “weak hands” who leave their sell stop order at exactly the level are likely to get taken out as the market tests the support. Those who leave it ten or fifteen pips below the level have more breathing room and will survive a quick test of the level before a resumed run-up. Your timeframe and trading style clearly play a part. Here’s a candlestick chart (one candle is one day) for GBPUSD. https://preview.redd.it/moyngdy4f5h51.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=91af88da00dd3a09e202880d8029b0ddf04fb802 If you are putting on a trend-following trade you expect to hold for weeks then you need to have a stop loss that can withstand the daily noise. Look at the downtrend on the chart. There were plenty of days in which the price rallied 60 pips or more during the wider downtrend. So having a really tight stop of, say, 25 pips that gets chopped up in noisy short-term moves is not going to work for this kind of trade. You need to use a wider stop and take a smaller position size, determined by the stop level. There are several tools you can use to help you estimate what is a safe distance and we’ll look at those in the next section. There are of course exceptions. For example, if you are doing range-break style trading you might have a really tight stop, set just below the previous range high. https://preview.redd.it/ygy0tko7f5h51.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=34af49da61c911befdc0db26af66f6c313556c81 Clearly then where you set stops will depend on your trading style as well as your holding horizons and the volatility of each instrument. Here are some guidelines that can help:
Use technical analysis to pick important levels (support, resistance, previous high/lows, moving averages etc.) as these provide clear exit and entry points on a trade.
Ensure that the stop gives your trade enough room to breathe and reflects your timeframe and typical volatility of each pair. See next section.
Always pick your stop level first. Then use a calculator to determine the appropriate lot size for the position, based on the % of your account balance you wish to risk on the trade.
So far we have talked about price-based stops. There is another sort which is more of a fundamental stop, used alongside - not instead of - price stops. If either breaks you’re out. For example if you stop understanding why a product is going up or down and your fundamental thesis has been confirmed wrong, get out. For example, if you are long because you think the central bank is turning hawkish and AUDUSD is going to play catch up with rates … then you hear dovish noises from the central bank and the bond yields retrace lower and back in line with the currency - close your AUDUSD position. You already know your thesis was wrong. No need to give away more money to the market.
Coming up in part II
EDIT: part II here Letting stops breathe When to change a stop Entering and exiting winning positions Risk:reward ratios Risk-adjusted returns
Coming up in part III
Squeezes and other risks Market positioning Bet correlation Crap trades, timeouts and monthly limits *** Disclaimer:This content is not investment advice and you should not place any reliance on it. The views expressed are the author's own and should not be attributed to any other person, including their employer.
What technologies and systems does Spacex need to work on over the next 4 years besides Starship to achieve its mars goals?
I wrote a post a few months ago (What will it take for Spacex to send humans to mars in 2024?) which did rather well. However I focused only on Starship itself, not on any of the other pieces that are just as important to achieve Spacex’s mars-sized ambitions, so let’s take a look at everything but the big shiny rocket. To be clear (like before), this is less me predicting the future and more me looking to start a discussion based on the data we have and a whole bunch of assumptions, speculations and wishes. Let's start off by making the mother of all Big Falcon assumptions: Starship works as intended This is a MASSIVE leap of faith to take. While SN5’s (and now SN6’s) flight(s) did alleviate some concerns regarding Starship’s ascent, and Superheavy doesn’t really worry me with all the falcon 9 first stages Spacex has to draw experience from, there’s no guarantee that Spacex’s re-entry, descent and landing systems will work as well as they want and expect them to, since those all fall somewhere between unusual and revolutionary. Nor is the rapid and reliable reuse guaranteed to work as well as we all want it to. Although I will say people need to cool it with claiming Starship is years and years away from orbit; the raptor works and the tanks, plumbing and command & control system are up to standards, as SN5&6 showed. If Spacex wanted to (and had enough engines) they could bolt together a Superheavy booster, stick a Starship on it and fly both expendable to put 100-200 tons in orbit right now if they had a launch pad and a humongous crane. Big waste of money and engines but they could do it. Once Superheavy hops (successfully) you can seriously argue that Starship is closer to reaching orbit than SLS, despite the latter’s development being started a decade earlier. It’s just that reaching orbit isn’t Starships main goal; getting to orbit and back down cheaply and reliably is, which is another thing entirely. To me, SN8’s 20 km flight will be the big thing to watch: if that works, Starship is ready for orbit. If not, Spacex has a nasty problem or two to solve. For the record, I will say that I think the launch, ascent and descent of SN8 will go fine, but that the flip-down has a high chance of going very, very wrong the first few times. Just to reiterate: this is not me saying what will happen, this is me speculating what Elon plans/wants to make happen in order to put humans on the red planet basically 4 years from now, to give people something to ponder on and give their own take. Personally I doubt that humans will really depart for mars in 2024, but given Elon’s repeated statements that 2024 is still the goal, and the fact that at least at tesla his timelines are getting a little more accurate recently, I have crammed the insane amount of progress needed into the next 3-4 years to make it fit. My timeline should not be taken as a prediction but as my best guess to somehow get all the needed pieces into place given the insane objectives. So, if we make the admittedly stomach-churning assumption that Starship works and is flying reliably and reusable sometime (early) next year, what else should SpaceX be working on? To me, it seems they need four other pieces to realize their mars ambitions: getting Starship to mars -> orbital refueling getting Starship back from mars -> fuel production on mars getting the humans inside Starship to mars -> life support in space keeping the humans inside Starship alive on the surface of mars -> life support on mars I will go through them in order from what I consider to be least to most difficult (no part is “easy” if you ask me): Orbital refueling: This one I’ve made a U-turn on. I used to think it was a major obstacle but recently have concluded that it won’t slow down Spacex at all. Why? Because in their Artemis bid, Spacex announced that they plan to use not just tankers, but fuel depots. This simplifies the whole operation massively. Spacex can launch a few custom Starships that consist of nothing but a giant empty fuel tank, something which they can probably build today. No heat shield, no fins, no payload bay, no life support, to maximize the fuel capacity. Only some batteries, a solar panel, rcs and a way to dock. Heck with the recent raptor improvements they might be able to stretch this type of Starship to have even more internal volume for fuel. Now these most likely will have to be painted pitch black to prevent an angry mob of astronomers marching on boca chica with pitchforks, but that’s probably not a bad idea regardless. The fuel boil off in LEO will be a lot less than Starship will have to deal with on its way to mars due to a noticeable lack of shade during the transfer, so subjecting the LEO fuelers to as high a temperature as possible seems like a useful safety margin when designing for that. The current Starship can hold 1200 tons of propellant with a large amount of its volume turned over for cargo. Given that a Superheavy can hold 3300 tons of propellant, let’s say that a fuel depot Starship can hold between 2000 and 3000 tons depending on how much it’s stretched, with the lower estimate being more likely. Edit: elon recently stated that they are pushing for Starship being able to hold up to 2000 tons of fuel, supporting my hunch that Starship’s length will increase. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show that a 250 ton Starship (100 ton dry mass, 150 ton payload) with 750 tons of fuel and an isp of 380 will have just over 5 km/s of delta V. Going from earth to mars using a hohmann transfer takes just over 4 km/s, while a much faster 3-month transfer takes around 4.8 km/s. This fits well with Elon’s step-by-step strategy. For the first flights having an extra 1000 m/s will most likely be invaluable, allowing on-route course corrections, meaningful maneuvers in martian orbit, as well as an easier landing, both due to being able to start the landing burn higher up and the fact that more fuel means more mass at the bottom of the Starship making it more stable during the flip and upon touching down. Later flights, after Spacex has a high enough confidence in their navigation, aerodynamic controls and landing system, can then start to burn more fuel to incrementally shorten that transfer time until they reach Elon’s goal of a three month transfer for humans. Now what would this mean? If Spacex launches say three of these fuel depot Starships early next year (and they totally will have the means to build and launch these by then, all they need is a working Superheavy), they now have something to use their insane launch cadence for that is both useful and dirt-cheap. Each one of these fully fueled will provide the propellant for three mars-bound or two lunar-surface-bound Starships to reach their destinations. Since the tankers will be able to carry between 100 and 150 tons to LEO depending on how far along the vacuum raptor engine is, this is 60 to 90 flights right here for Starship. If I’m Elon/SpaceX, all I’m doing in 2021 is flying Starship tankers DOZENS of times to bring fuel up to these depots for use in 2022. Now I know people are excited about a Starship launch putting 400 Starlink satellites into orbit in one go, but let’s remember that those still cost $300.000 a piece to make, and that’s after achieving an impressive economy of scale (120 a month). One failure on ascent and there goes over a hundred million dollars. At least for the first dozen launches, Spacex would be wise to start with fuel only imho, and move to include Starlink launches after a few months of successful fuel flights. It will give Starship a simple cheap payload to fly over and over again with minimal impact if it suffers a catastrophic failure on ascent. Simply learn and move on; nothing of significant value was lost. While the engineers focus on decreasing the turn-around time and fixing whatever unexpected problems arise due to Starships re-entering multiple times (which there definitely will be, don’t tell yourself otherwise), the designers can spend 2021 seriously working on life support and ISRU systems, with both available to support the other should they need to. As an additional bonus, all these launches will greatly boost the confidence in Starship from both nasa and the commercial sector, paving the way for Starship’s utter domination of the commercial launch market from 2022 onward. Finally, maybe the realization that voting for Artemis meant voting for orbital fuel depots will give Shelby a well-earned heart attack (one can dream). /s If Spacex can get 10 to 20 Starship tankers to orbit in 2021 (they can all be the same ship, they can be 3 different ships or they can be 10 different ships depending on how successful they are in their re-use objectives by then), it will give them a much easier time in 2022; “simply” fly the mars-bound or moon-bound Starship to LEO, dock with the depot and perform a single large fuel transfer. This way Spacex won’t have to worry about keeping a dozen Starship tankers in orbit at a time. As for orbital refueling itself (wow, went a little bit of topic there), I don't see any major hurdles: if Starship’s fuel lines can handle the pressures of being fueled on the pad through the Superheavy booster as is currently the plan, than all Spacex needs to do is not exceed those pressures during on-orbit fuel transfers, which really should not be hard so long as they take their time with them. Life support on mars This might surprise some, but I actually think keeping humans alive on the martian surface will be much easier than keeping them alive in space due to the zero-g and radiation concerns that the latter will have to deal with. Consequently, if I were to suggest only one thing to Spacex from my very comfortable armchair, it would be to split the two: one type of Starship designed to act as a permanently inhabitable martian base that is basically an office tower with a big empty drained fuel tank and some engines at the bottom, and one designed for crewed use in zero-g as well as ascent and descent on both mars and earth. Trying to make a Starship do both is asking for trouble if you ask me, as well as greatly complicating the design (“the best part is no part”). Yes this would mean that these “base” Starships will not return to earth, but that is not that big a loss given the production rates Spacex is already achieving, plus having a few extra raptors on mars that can be cannibalised for parts or simply swapped with a malfunctioning raptor of another Starship sounds to me like good redundancy. Furthermore this split would have three enormous upsides: 1: The base ones are easier to design and build due to only being operated and inhabited under gravity after landing. Let’s remind ourselves that if Spacex wants to send people to mars in 2024, it will be much easier to find support from nasa and the like if there already is a habitable structure waiting on the martian surface for them, which will have to be sent there in 2022. The easier base ones can be the focus of design in 2021 before being built and launched in 2022. Meanwhile the manned zero-g Starship will be granted another year to prove itself as now it won’t be needed until 2023, which is probably a good thing anyway. Even if Spacex can build these next year there is no guarantee that any agency would have enough confidence in Starship by then to provide them with astronauts. Taking another year to really prove Starship’s reliability as a launch and landing system might be enough (remember this means dozens of launches since we’re assuming Starship works) for a Starship to take on crew in LEO at the end of 2022/early 2023, probably at first using a dragon capsule to go to and from orbit as Tim Dodd and others have suggested. 2: It’s simply much safer. Living and working in a separate Starship from the one that you land and launch in will probably be a whole lot more comfortable for the crew on mars. Sleeping well might be a bit harder if every morning the giant fuel tank a few dozen meters below you is a little bit fuller with highly combustible propellant than the day before. Compared to if the tank beneath you is completely drained while the Starship you will return in sits a few miles away being steadily refueled with you only returning to it a few hours/days before launch. Good back-up in terms of life support systems too; if something is really vitally needed you can take it with you from the landelauncher upon arrival or from the base/habitat upon leaving, as only one at a time will be housing crew. I’m sure nasa would be much more comfortable with this system too. 3: This base/habitat Starship would be perfect for nasa’s Artemis program: While I don’t agree with Zubrin on a lot of things (seriously, he needs to stop with the whole mini-starship idea, it’s not gonna happen), he is right when he says that starship as a lunar ascent vehicle makes very little sense imo. It would be a huge investment of fuel and time for no real gain besides funding and nasa support, the latter of which is all but assured if Starship works. If instead Spacex offered Starship as a lunar base and suggested that nasa use the landers from the other two companies to go to and from the lunar surface, there’s no way nasa would say no. Imagine the offer: “So here’s the deal: we will build a Starship interior to your specifications and wishes. Once built we will launch it, refuel it in orbit and fly it out to whatever lunar crater you want us to. Once landed, we fill drain every drop of fuel out of the tanks, lower the staircase/elevator and wait for your crew to arrive on one of those landers. It will have a thousand cubic meters of interior volume, aka more than the ISS, and you can have it on the moon in 2023 since we want to send one or two to mars in 2022 anyway. We’d like you to give us a billion dollars and a promise for martian astronauts in 2024 once we’ve landed it in exchange. Deal?”. Obviously Spacex won’t be that blunt, but I don’t believe that nasa wouldn’t fall over themselves to take an offer like that. So what would this designed-for-gravity Starship need? Honestly, nothing fancy, which is why I suggested splitting them. Starship will have the unique luxury to simply, as musk has stated, throw mass at a problem until it is solved. As an example, let us say that a mars crew would number an impressive 12 people (one mission commandetest pilot, 4 scientists, 3 engineers, 2 botanists and 2 doctors). We know that they will be staying on mars for at least two years, but for safety let’s design it for 4 years. If they all eat like the most wasteful people on earth (cough, americans, cough...) they will consume 10 tons of food per year, with half of that being the recommended healthy amount. So.... let’s just put 40 tons of food on board. Done. 4 to 8 years of food just like that. This is what using mass as a solution looks like. All Spacex needs is a way to store and preserve that food by either drying or freezing it for up to 5+ years, at which point that problem is solved. I’m no food expert but surely that technology exists? Same story with water. 12 people will drink less than 10 tons of water a year, but here recycling is a well-understood and “easy” thing to implement. We’re able to reach 90+% efficiency on the ISS I think (if I’m wrong feel free to correct me), so if Spacex gets anywhere close to that (anything over 50% will do) they can put 20 or 30 tons of water on board Starship and for all intents and purposes have an unlimited supply. Recycling CO2 back into O2 is a solved problem that basically only requires power which Starship will have plenty of. Also keep in mind that the above figures don’t assume food production or recycling, higher efficiency or using martian resources like water ice, any one of which would make surviving on mars for a few years a non-issue. So… is that it? Well... yeah, pretty much. Spacex will need to design some ways to control temperature, humidity and (human) waste disposal as well as provide communication and spacesuits for the astronauts, but these are by no means show stoppers, especially with help from nasa and all the lessons learned from dragon. As for spare parts they can either take a 3D-printer or simply a literal ton worth of the more important components, or both if they want to. None of the above is easy, but none of it is something that Spacex cannot obtain or build in a year (that year being 2021). I have a design in my head for how this thing would look like on the inside but I’m a pretty bad programmemodeller. If someone who is good at that wants to model and render it and read my far too detailed description feel free to ask. Just be prepared for a very long response comment. Life support in space This is where things start to get “actually” difficult even if Starship works. Keeping astronauts alive during the 6+ month trip to mars will be easy. Keeping them healthy and in good condition will be very hard. Like I said with the mars base Starship, food, water and air won’t be a problem. Even basic water recycling and CO2 scrubbers will keep the crew alive just fine. Put 10 tons of food and 10 tons of water on board and there’s your problem solved. Even if they have to abort the martian landing on-route for some reason and slingshot back to earth they will be fine as they will have 1 to 2 years or more of food, water and air. No, the two big problems will be radiation and weightlessness. On mars neither of these factors are a show stopper: The gravity most likely will be fine and mars and its atmosphere will shield you from some/much of the cosmic rays, while putting the radiation shelter right below your 40 tons of food with your 20-30 tons of water surrounding it will protect you reasonably well from solar storms. None of these “easy fixes” is available in interplanetary space, as there is no planet to create gravity or block radiation (shocking I know), nor will these ones be as full of food and water to use as shielding since they will be carrying much more cargo and scientific instruments. No reason not to if there is already a base Starship full of food and water waiting on mars. The simplest way to solve the radiation problem is some sort of physical shielding material in the walls (maybe hydrogen-rich foam?) and a solar storm shelter which is surrounded by all of the food and water on board. Whatever Spacex comes up with, this is something that I hope they work very closely with nasa on. The main problem is that they will not have much time to test this theoretical solution with humans on board until probably 2023. At the earliest Starship will be flying with crew on board in 2022, and even that’s jaw-droppingly aggressive. It would probably require Starship to reach falcon 9’s current amount of launches (a 100 basically) in less than two years (aka, one orbital launch every week on average) with little to no failures before nasa would trust Starship to launch and land safely, since I don’t see any sign of Spacex adding a launch abort system or changing the landing sequence. For the first few flights they can use a dragon to shuttle between a Starship in LEO and earth’s surface, but they can only do that a few times before the costs in both money and disposed falcon 9 second stages start adding up. No humans have ever gone beyond the earth-moon system, and no human has gone beyond earth’s magnetic shield since 1972, so this part very much has a possibility of providing some unwelcome unknown unknowns. There is another big thing though that I think too many people ignore: weightlessness. The first flights to mars will take at least 6 months. Even with exercise, I think it’s fair to say that astronauts currently do not have the muscle and bone strength to stand up and walk by themselves after returning from a 6 month mission on the ISS without help. Mars’ lower gravity might help them recuperate faster, but this too is a complete unknown that neither nasa nor Spacex will or should count on imho. So far I’ve seen only two solutions suggested: lots of exercise on-route combined with simply letting the crew recover slowly once they land on mars, or tethering two starships together and spinning them. I don’t think either one will be an option. The first one is probably not enough, and the second one is too risky. Nasa would almost certainly go pale with that amount of inhabited mass under constant loads and stresses from circular acceleration, even if Spacex can make it work mechanically. The only alternative I can come up with is this (and since I don’t believe for a second that I’m smarter than the teams at Spacex I’d very much appreciate someone more knowledgeable to explain to me where my thinking is flawed): You place a ring inside the pressurised part of Starship 8 meters in diameter and 3 meters in height, connected to a central pole that is bolted to the floors above and below but is free to spin. You put the sleeping accommodations on the inside of this ring with your head facing towards the centre. At the start of the sleeping shift, you spin the ring up to a lateral speed where you feel your back being pushed into the wall at a force of one g. Since your entire body is experiencing the same acceleration at every part, as the radius between your head and the pole and your feet and the pole is constant, it shouldn’t be nauseating. If there are walls on all sides of you (and one door) so that you don’t see the rotation, and your “bed” is slanted slightly to account for the coriolis effect, would it not feel just like regular gravity? Big bonus: you can start at one g and slowly move to 0.38 g over the course of several months to acclimate to mars. Small bonus: if you’re willing to pay the power cost, putting some big scoops or buckets on the outside of this ring might help with circulating the air around the ship since it will be spinning quite fast. Finally you could also spin it faster to do exercises like push-ups (basically any effort where your body remains more or less fixed to the floor could work), meaning you could compensate for being in zero g most of the day by sleeping under gravity and performing some exercises while under higher gravity [insert goku joke here]. I’m sure I have overlooked something, but it seems to me like this would work and be a reasonably effective and practical solution. Feel free to explain to me why I’m wrong. In short, Spacex needs to find a solution to the zero-g and radiation problems by the end of 2022 at the latest. Firstly because dearmoon is scheduled for 2023 and I can’t see nasa (much less the US congress) stomach letting private civilians being the first humans to return to the moon’s vicinity since Apollo instead of nasa astronauts. If a Starship capable of sustaining humans is flying successfully in 2022 and dearmoon is set for mid-to-late 2023, I’d bet on there being effectively an order from congress for Spacex and nasa to fly american astronauts on Starship around the moon before dearmoon takes place, regardless of the state of either SLS or Artemis. And before you say that that would be massive hypocrisy, remember that these are US politicians we’re talking about. Secondly because they really need to perform a 6 month trial run at the L2 earth-moon lagrange point to confirm that their life support, radiation protection and zero-g mitigation solutions work as intended. (This is why my money is still on humans to mars in 2026 because I can’t make myself believe that everything will work right the first time they try it). If they want to send people to mars in 2024 they will need to have this test done to satisfy nasa (or whomever is providing them with astronauts) by the end of 2023. So my reasoning/guess is that Spacex will want the design of this version of Starship finished in early 2022, build and launch one that summer, and maybe bring some crew on board with a dragon to prove out its life support systems by the end of the year. The big year for this piece of the puzzle will be 2023, as this is the Starship type that they will most likely use for dearmoon as well as perform any major test runs in the earth-moon system, before the big launch of the first crew to mars in 2024. Refueling starships on mars So why do I think this is the biggest hurdle? Isn’t the sabatier process a well-understood and quite simple chemical reaction? Yes it is, and the problem as I see it isn’t with the chemistry, but with the scale, the schedule and the industrial processes that are needed. Spacex will have to design, test and build a full-on fuel production system… and have it ready for launch roughly 18 months from now. Why so soon? Because there is no way, repeat NO WAY that Spacex will be allowed to send astronauts to mars, on a rocket that cannot get back to earth without being refueled, if there is no fuel production on mars at the time of launch. I know Elon has often said that there is a real chance that the first crew sent to mars will die, but I can’t imagine he actually believes that he can get professional astronauts and nasa support if he doesn’t take every precaution possible to ensure that they can get back home safely. Just to be clear: I don’t mean that there needs to be a fully fuelled Starship sitting on mars when the first crew lands, but there absolutely, 100% needs to be a Starship on mars producing fuel by the time the first crew leaves earth. And this is not as easy to pull off as it might seem. Getting the CO2 is a non-issue: mars’ atmosphere is so rich with it that you might not even need to filter the incoming air. Also as long as the crane/elevator on Starship works, setting up a large solar field won’t be that difficult provided Spacex has made the panels reasonably easy to unload and deploy (safe assumption if you ask me), and if the surrounding surface is flat. Given that Spacex has chosen a landing/base site in the northern plains (IIRC) this should also not give any major problems. The main difficulty will be getting enough water to produce enough fuel. If Elon is serious with his recent comment about “~2 tons/day” of fuel, which I have to assume he is, that means many tons of water ice have to be excavated, moved, filtered of other materials, melted and separated into H2 and O2, per day, for over two years, with no one around to fix something if it breaks. This is orders of magnitude more intense than what we’ve done on mars before. To be blunt, we are talking nothing less than autonomous bulldozers, that weigh several tons and make Perseverance look like a toy. Scooping up and gathering a truckload of ice and rocks daily and dumping them into whatever device Spacex comes up with to separate out the ice, melt it and split it into hydrogen and oxygen (of which the former probably must be combined with CO2 and turned into methane immediately given its habit of not liking being stored and subsequently floating away), and not break down thanks to the martian dust getting anywhere crucial. Even setting aside the fact that this operation will make the planetary protection crowd pull their hair out, the chances of it working as designed the first time are not high if you ask me. There is every chance that something wears out faster than expected, stops working due to some unknown unknown, or gets wrecked by a malfunctioning autonomous vehicle glitching out and driving into/over it. Once there are actual humans on mars, keeping these machines operational won’t be all that hard, but basic safety standards (and nasa) are going to require that the fuel farm works reliably on its own, for as long as it takes to make enough propellant for the first crew to return home safely in case of an emergency, before the go-ahead is given for that first crewed mars mission to leave earth. I would not be shocked if Spacex manages to design, test and build a system that they think will work in 2021 and launch, refuel, transfer to and land it on mars in 2022, only to find out that some crucial part doesn’t work as designed under the martian conditions, leaving a fully habitable base Starship and an empty propellant plant Starship sitting on mars with all the accompanying parts needed to start a base (pressurised cybertruck rover, unpressurised cybertruck rover, water ice gatherebulldozer, fuel transporter, solar farm and guidance & landing beacon) present, but no way to make fuel. It will be the most infuriating and cathartic thing ever at the same time. Such a situation will almost certainly set the Spacex timetable back the full two years, as I just can’t see nasa allowing astronauts to get in a Starship and blasting off to mars if there is no way for them to get back yet. I don’t think the argument “Well once they are there they can fix the fuel farm instantly!” will hold much weight, since if something important has broken, what’s to say that something else will not go wrong unexpectedly that the crew can’t fix, leaving them stranded? My basic reasoning is this: the other three parts can be tested in LEO or on earth with the results being representative of their supposed tasks, but this one cannot. The environment on mars is simply too different from the one on earth (especially the atmosphere), and the scale and ambition of Spacex’s plan means that the rovers currently on mars are not much of a reference either. There is no way for us to know outside computer models what a five-ton vehicle driving around on mars for years hauling several tons of regolith and ice around daily would go through in terms of wear and tear, creating a massive potential for unknown unknowns to appear where we don’t expect them. To put Spacex’s project in perspective: the first fully loaded Starship upon touchdown will probably consist of 99% of all the mass humanity has ever landed on the surface of mars. Let that sink in... So that’s my take on Spacex’s mars ambitions. If Starship works (big if, but it seems to be getting more believable by the day), I am reasonably confident about orbital refueling and a martian habitat being ready on time, but have reservations about the human-rated Starships and am outright concerned regarding the autonomous propellant plant working as designed. As I’ve mentioned, my money if SN8’s 20 km flight goes well is on Spacex getting a Starship to mars in 2022, but not sending humans until 2026, either due to the 2022 starships not performing as well as intended (or not performing at all if they crash) or due to Starship not yet being declared safe for human flight in 2024. Now before I go ahead and request the longest-reddit-thread-of-the-year award (I genuinely think this post is twice as long as my previous one), I’m curious as to your response to the three questions that in my opinion sum up the whole thing: 1, Did I miss something important besides the four areas I covered? 2, If you agree that these are the major roadblocks for Spacex and Starship, do you agree with my take on them? Did I badly underestimate something that is much harder than I gave it credit for? Or are certain things that I considered difficult much easier than I made them out to be? 3, Regardless of whether or not you agree with my list, ranking and reasoning, what do you think Spacex’s biggest obstacle will be to sending humans to mars in 2024, assuming Starship itself works? Looking forward to your responses, opinions and rebuttals.
On Spells and Society, or how 5e spells completely change everyone's lives.
Today i have a confession to make: i'm a little bit of a minmaxer. And honestly, i think that's a pretty desirable trait in a DM. The minmaxer knows the rules, and exploits them to maximum efficiency. "But wait, what does that have to do with spell use in society?" - someone, probably. Well, the thing is that humans are absolutely all about minmaxing. There's a rule in the universe that reads "gas expands when hot", and suddenly we have steam engines (or something like that, i'm a political scientist not an engineer). A rule says 1+1 = 2, and suddenly we have calculus, computers and all kinds of digital stuff that runs on math. Sound is energy? Let's convert that shit into electricity, run it through a wire and turn it back into sound on the other side. Bruh. Science is just minmaxing the laws of nature. Humanity in real life is just a big bunch of munchkins, and it should be no different in your setting. And that is why minmaxing magic usage is something societies as a whole would do, specially with some notable spells. Today i will go in depth on how and why each of these notable mentions has a huge impact on a fantasy society. We'll go from lowest level to highest, keeping in mind that the lower level a spell the more common it should be to find someone who has it, so often a level 2-3 spell will have more impact than a level 9 spell. Mending (cantrip). Repair anything in one minute. Your axe lost its edge? Tore your shirt? Just have someone Mend it. Someone out there is crying "but wait! Not every village has a wizard!" and while that is true, keep in mind any High Elf knows a cantrip, as can any Variant Human. A single "mender" could replace a lot of the work a smith, woodworker or seamstress does, freeing their time to only work on making new things rather than repair old ones. Prestidigitation (cantrip). Clean anything in six seconds. Committed axe murders until the axe got blunt, and now there's blood everywhere? Dog shit on your pillow out of spite? Someone walked all over the living room with muddy boots? Just Prestidigitate it away. This may look like a small thing, but its actually huge when you apply it to laundry. Before washing machines were a thing housewives had to spend several hours a week washing them manually, and with Prestidigitation you can just hire someone to get it done in a few minutes. A single "magic cleaner" can attend to several dozen homes, if not hundreds, thus freeing several hours of the time of dozens of women. Fun fact: there's an interesting theory that says feminism only existed because of laundry machines and similar devices. Women found themselves having more free time, which they used to read and socialize. Educated women with more contacts made for easy organization of political movements, and the fact men were now able to do "the women's work" by pushing a button meant men were less opposed to losing their housewives' labor. Having specialized menders and magic cleaners could cause a comparable revolution in a fantasy setting, and help explain why women have a similar standing to men even in combat occupations such as adventuring. Healing in general (1st-2nd level). This one is fairly obvious. A commoner has 4 hit points, that means just about any spell is a full heal to the average person. That means most cuts, stab wounds, etc. can be solved by the resident cleric. Even broken bones that would leave you in bed for months can be solved in a matter of seconds as soon as the holy man arrives. But that's nothing compared to the ability to cure diseases. While the only spell that can cure diseases is Lesser Restoration, which is second level, a paladin can do it much more easily with just a Lay on Hands. This means if one or two people catch a disease it can just be eradicated with a touch. However doing that comes with a cost. If everyone is instantly expunged of illness, the populace does not build up their immune systems. Regular disease becomes less common, sure, but whenever it is reintroduced (by, say, immigrants or contact with less civilized humanoids) it can spread like wildfire, afflicting people so fast that no amount of healers will have the magic juice to deal with it. Diseases become rare, plagues become common. Continual Flame (2nd). Ok, this one is a topic i love and could easily be its own post. There's an article called "Why the Falling Cost of Light Matters", which goes in detail about how man went from chopping wood for fire, to using animal fat for candles, then other oils, whale oil, kerosene, then finally incandescent light bulbs, and more recently LED lights. Each of these leaps is orders of grandeur more efficient than the previous one, to the point that the cost of light today is about 500,000 times cheaper than it was for for a caveman. And until the early 1900s the only way mankind knew of making light was to set things on fire. Continual Flame on the other hand allows you to turn 50gp worth of rubies and a 2nd level spell slot into a torch that burns forever. In a society that spends 60 hours of labor to be able to generate 140 minutes of light, this is a huge game changer. This single spell, which i am 99% sure was just created as an excuse for why the dungeon is lit despite going for centuries without maintenance, allows you to have things like public lighting. Even if you only add a new "torchpost" every other week or month sooner or later you'll be left with a neatly lit city, specially if the city has had thousands of years in which to gather the rubies and light them up. And because the demand of rubies becomes so important, consider how governments would react. Lighting the streets is a public service, if its strategically relevant to make the city safer at night, would that not warrant some restrictions on ruby sales? Perhaps even banning the use of rubies in jewelry? Trivia: John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in history, gained his wealth selling kerosene. Kerosene at the time was used to light lamps. Gasoline was invented much later, when Rockefeller tasked a bunch of scientists to come up with a use for some byproducts of the kerosene production. This illustrates how much money is to be had in the lighting industry, and you could even have your own Rockefeller ruby baron in your game. I shall call him... Dohn J. Stonebreaker. Perfect name for a mining entrepreneur. Whether the ruby trade ends up a monopoly under the direct supervision of the king or a free market, do keep in mind that Continual Flame is by far the most efficient way of creating light. Gentle Repose (2nd). Cast it on a corpse, and it stays preserved for 10 days. This has many potential uses, from preserving foodstuffs (hey, some rare meats are expensive enough to warrant it) to keeping the bodies of old rulers preserved. Even if a ruler died of old age and cannot be resurrected, the body could be kept "fresh" out of respect/ceremony. Besides, it keeps the corpse from becoming undead. Skywrite (2nd). Ok, this one is mostly a gag. While the spell can be used by officials to make official announcements to the populace, such as new laws or important news, i like to just use it for spam. I mean, its a ritual spell that writes a message on the sky; what else would people use it for? Imagine you show up in a city, and there's half a dozen clouds reading "buy at X, we have what you need", "get your farming supplies over at Joe's store" or "vote Y for the city council". The possibilities are endless, and there's no way the players can expect it. Just keep in mind that by RAW the spell can only do words, meaning no images. No Patrick, "8===D" is not a word. Zone of Truth (2nd). This one is too obvious. Put all suspects of a crime into a ZoT, wait a couple minutes to make sure they fail the save, then ask each one if he did it. Sure its not a perfect system, things like the Ring of Mind Shielding still exist, but it's got a better chance of getting the right guy than most medieval justice systems. And probably more than a few contemporary ones. All while taking only a fraction of the time. More importantly, with all the average crimes being handled instantly, the guards and investigators have more time to properly investigate the more unusual crimes that might actually involve a Thought Shield, Ring of Mind Shielding or a level 17 Mastermind. There is a human rights argument against messing with people's minds in any way, which is why this may not be practiced in every kingdom. But there are definitely some more lawful societies that would use ZoT on just about every crime. Why swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth when you can just stand in a zone of truth? Another interesting use for ZoT is oaths. When someone is appointed into an office, gets to a high rank in the military or a guild, just put them in a ZoT while they make their oath to stand for the organization's values and yadda yadda. Of course they can be corrupted later on, but at least you make sure they're honest when they are sworn in. Sending (3rd). Sending is busted in so many ways. The more "vanilla" use of it is to just communicate over long distances. We all know that information is important, and that sometimes getting information a whole day ahead can lead to a 40% return on a massive two-year investment. Being able to know of invasions, monsters, disasters, etc. without waiting days or weeks for a courier can be vital for the survival of a nation. Another notable example is that one dude who ran super fast for a while to be the first to tell his side of a recent event. But the real broken thing here is... Sending can Send to any creature, on any plane; the only restriction being "with which you are familiar". In D&D dead people just get sent to one of the afterlife planes, meaning that talking to your dead grandfather would be as simple as Sending to him. Settling inheritance disputes was never easier! Before moving on to the next point let me ask you something: Is a cleric familiar with his god? Is a warlock familiar with his patron? Speak With Dead (3rd). Much like Sending, this lets you easily settle disputes. Is the senate/council arguing over a controversial topic? Just ask the beloved hero or ruler from 200 years ago what he thinks on the subject. As long his skeleton still has a jaw (or if he has been kept in Gentle Repose), he can answer. This can also be used to ask people who killed them, except murderers also know this. Plan on killing someone? Accidentally killed someone? Make sure to inutilize the jaw. Its either that, being so stealthy the victim can't identify you, or being caught. Note on spell availability. Oh boy. No world-altering 4th level spells for some reason, and suddenly we're playing with the big boys now. Spells up to 3rd level are what I'd consider "somewhat accessible", and can be arranged for a fee even for regular citizens. For instance the vanilla Priest statblock (MM348) is a 5th level cleric, and the standard vanilla Druid (MM346) a 4th level druid. Spells of 5th level onward will be considered something only the top 1% is able to afford, or large organizations such as guilds, temples or government. Dream (5th). I was originally going to put Dream along with Sending and Telepathy as "long range communication", but decided against it due to each of them having unique uses. And when it comes to Dream, it has the unique ability of allowing you to put your 8 hours of sleep to good use. A tutor could hire someone to cast Dream on him, thus allowing him to teach his student for 8 hours at any distance. This is a way you could even access hermits that live in the middle of nowhere or in secluded monasteries. Very wealthy families or rulers would be willing to pay a good amount of money to make sure their heirs get that extra bit of education. Its like online classes, but while you sleep! Another interesting use is for cheating. Know a princess or queen you like? She likes you back? Her dad put 400 trained soldiers between you? No problemo! Just find a 9th level Bard, Warlock or Wizard, but who am i kidding, of course it'll be a bard. And that bard is probably you. Now you have 8 hours to do whatever you want, and no physical evidence will be left. Raise Dead (5th). Few things matter more in life than death. And the ability to resurrect people has a huge impact on society. The impact is so huge that this topic needs topics of its own. First, diamond monopoly. Remember what i said about how Continual Flame would lead to controlled ruby sales due to its strategic value? This is the same principle, but a hundred times stronger. Resurrection is a huge strategic resource. It makes assassinations harder, can be used to bring back your officials or highest level soldiers over and over during a war, etc. This means more authoritarian regimes would do everything within their power to control the supply and stock of diamonds. Which in turn means if anyone wants to have someone resurrected, even in times of peace, they'll need to call in a favor, do a quest, grease some hands... Second, resurrection insurance. People hate risks. That's why insurance is such a huge industry, taking up about 15% of the US GDP. People insure their cars, houses... even their lives. Resurrection just means "life insurance" is taken more literally. This makes even more sense when you consider how expensive resurrection is: nobody can afford it in one go, but if you pay a little every month or year you can save up enough to have it done when the need arises. This is generally incompatible with the idea of a State-run monopoly over diamonds, but that just means different countries within a setting can take different approaches. To make things easier, i even used some microeconomics to make a sheet in my personal random generators to calculate the price of such a service. Just head to the "Insurance" tab and fill in the information relative to your setting. With actual life insurance resurrection can cost as little as 5gp a year for humans or 8sp a year for elves, making resurrection way more affordable than it looks. Also, do you know why pirates wore a single gold earring? It was so that if your body washes up on the shore whoever finds it can use the money to arrange a proper burial. Sure there's a risk of the finder taking it and walking away, but the pirates did it anyway. With resurrection in play, might as well just wear a diamond earring instead and hope the finder is nice enough to bring you back. I got so carried away with the whole insurance thing i almost forgot: the possibility of resurrection also changes how murders are committed. If you want someone dead but resurrection exists, you have to remove the vital organs. Decapitation would be far more common. Sure resurrection is still possible, but it requires higher level spells or Reincarnate, which has... quirks. As a result it should be very obvious when someone was killed by accident or an overreaction, and when someone was specifically out to kill the victim. Scrying (5th). This one is somewhat obvious, in that everyone and their mother knows it helps finding people. But who needs finding? Well, that would be those who are hiding. The main use i see for this spell, by far, is locating escaped criminals. Just collect a sample of hair or blood when arresting someone (or shipping them to hard labor which is way smarter), and if they escape you'll be almost guaranteed to successfully scry on them. A similar concept to this is seen in the Dragon Age series. If you're a mage the paladins keep a sample of your blood in something called a phylactery, and that can be used to track you down. There's even a quest or two about mages trying to destroy their phylacteries before escaping. Similarly, if you plan a jailbreak it would be highly beneficial to destroy the blood/hair sample first. As a matter of fact i can even see a thieves guild hiring a low level party to take out the sample while the professional infiltrators get the prisoner out. Keep in mind both events must be done at the same time, otherwise the guards will just collect a new sample or would have already taken it to the wizard. But guards aren't the only ones with resources. A loan shark could keep blood samples of his debtors, a mobster can keep one of those who owe him favors, etc. And the blood is ceremoniously returned only when the debt is fully paid. Teleportation Circle (5th), Transport Via Plants (6th). In other words, long range teleportation. This is such a huge thing that it is hard to properly explain how important it is. Teleportation Circle creates a 10ft. circle, and everyone has one round to get in and appear on the target location. Assuming 30ft. movement that means you can get 192 people through, which is a lot of potential merchants going across any distance. Or 672 people dashing. Math note: A 30ft radius square around a 10ft. diameter square, minus the 4 original squares. Or [(6*2+2)^2]-4 squares of 5ft. each. Hence 192 people. Getting hundreds of merchants, workers, soldiers, etc. across any distance is nothing to scoff at. In fact, it could help explain why PHB item prices are so standardized: Arbitrage is so easy and cheap that price differences across multiple markets become negligible. Unless of course countries start setting up tax collectors outside of the permanent teleportation circles in order to charge tariffs. Transport Via Plants does something very similar but it requires 5ft of movement to go through, which means less people can be teleported. On the other hand it doesn't burn 50gp and can take you to any tree the druid is familiar with, making it nearly impossible for tax collectors to be waiting on the other side. Unfortunately druids tend to be a lot less willing to aid smugglers, so your best bet might be a bard using spells that don't belong to his list. With these methods of long range teleportation not only does trade get easier, but it also becomes possible to colonize or inhabit far away places. For instance if someone finds a gold mine in the antarctic you could set up a mine and bring food and other supplies via teleportation. Major Image (6th level slot). Major Image is a 3rd level spell that creates an illusion over a 20ft cube, complete with image, sound, smell and temperature. When cast with a 6th level slot or higher, it lasts indefinitely. That my friends, is a huge spell. Why get the world's best painter to decorate the ceiling of your cathedral when you can just get an illusion made in six seconds? The uses for decorating large buildings is already good, but remember: we're not restricted to sight. Cast this on a room and it'll always be cool and smell nice. Inns would love that, as would anyone who always sleeps or works in the same room. Desert cities have never been so chill. You can even use an illusion to make the front of your shop seem flashier, while hollering on loop to bring customers in. The only limit to this spell is your imagination, though I'm pretty sure it was originally made just to hide secret passages. Trivia: the ki-rin (VGM163) can cast Major Image as a 6th level spell, at will. It's probably meant to give them fabulous lairs yet all it takes is someone doing the holy horsey a big favor, and it could enchant the whole city in a few hours. Shiniest city on the planet, always at a nice temperature and with a fragrance of lilac, gooseberries or whatever you want. Simulacrum (7th). Spend 12 hours and 1500gp worth of ruby dust, and get a clone of yourself. Notably, each caster can only have one simulacrum, regardless of who the person he cloned is. How this changes the world? By allowing the rich and powerful to be in two places at once. Kings now have a perfect impersonator who thinks just like them. A wealthy banker can run two branches of his company. Etc. This makes life much easier, but also competes with Continual Flame over resources. It also gives "go fuck yourself" a whole new meaning, making the sentence a valid Suggestion. Clone (8th). If there's one spell i despise, its Clone. Wizard-only preemptive resurrection. Touch spell, costs 1.000gp worth of diamonds each time, takes 120 days to come into effect, and creates a copy of the creature that the soul occupies if the original dies. Oh, and the copy can be made younger. Why is it so despicable? Because it makes people effectively immortal. Accidents and assassinations just get you sent to the clone, and old age can be forever delayed because you keep going back to younger versions of yourself. Being a touch spell means the wizard can cast it on anyone he wants. In other words: high level wizards, and only wizards, get to make anyone immortal. That means wizards will inevitably rule any world in which this spell exists. Think about it. Rulers want to live forever. Wizards can make you live forever. Wizards want other stuff, which you must give them if you want to continue being Cloned. Rulers who refuse this deal eventually die, rulers who accept stick around forever. Natural selection makes it so that eventually the only rulers left are those who sold their soul to wizards. Figuratively, i hope. The fact that there are only a handful of wizards out there who are high enough level to cast the spell means its easier for them organize and/or form a cartel or union (cartels/unions are easier to maintain the fewer suppliers are involved). This leads to a dystopian scenario where mages rule, kings are authoritarian pawns and nobody else has a say in anything. Honestly it would make for a fun campaign in and of itself, but unless that's specifically what you're going for it'll just derail everything else. Oh, and Clone also means any and all liches are absolute idiots. Liches are people who turned themselves into undead abominations in order to gain eternal life at the cost of having to feed on souls. They're all able to cast 9th level wizard spells, so why not just cast an 8th level one and keep undeath away? Saves you the trouble of going after souls, and you keep the ability to enjoy food or a day in the sun. Demiplane (8th). Your own 30ft. room of nothingness. Perfect place for storage and a DM's nightmare given how once players have access to it they'll just start looting furniture and such. Oh the horror. But alas, infinite storage is not the reason this is a broken spell. No sir. Remember: you can access someone else's demiplane. That means a caster in city 1 can put things into a demiplane, and a caster in city 2 can pull them out of any surface. But wait, there's more! There's nothing anywhere saying you can't have two doors to the same demiplane open at once. Now you're effectively opening a portal between two places, which stays open for a whole hour. But wait, there's even more! Anyone from any plane can open a door to your neat little demiplane. Now we can get multiple casters from multiple planes connecting all of those places, for one hour. Sure this is a very expensive thing to do since you're having to coordinate multiple high level individuals in different planes, but the payoff is just as high. We're talking about potential integration between the most varied markets imaginable, few things in the multiverse are more valuable or profitable. Its a do-it-yourself Sigil. One little plot hook i like about demiplanes is abandoned/inactive ones. Old wizard/warlock died, and nobody knows how to access his demiplanes. Because he's at least level 15 you just know there's some good stuff in there, but nobody can get to it. Now the players have to find a journal, diary, stored memory or any other way of knowing enough about the demiplane to access it. True Polymorph (9th). True Polymorph. The spell that can turn any race into any other race, or object. And vice-versa. You can go full fairy godmother and turn mice into horses. For a spell that can change anything about one's body it would not be an unusual ruling to say it can change one's sex. At the very least it can turn a man into a chair, and the chair into a woman (or vice-versa of course). But honestly, that's just the tip of the True Polymorph iceberg. Just read this more carefully: > You transform the creature into a different creature, the creature into a nonmagical object, or the object into a creature This means you can turn a rock or twig into a human. A fully functional human with, as far as the rules go, a soul. You can create life. But wait, there's more! Nothing there says you have to turn the target into a known creature on an existing creature. The narcissist bard wants to create a whole race of people who look like him? True Polymorph. A player wants to play a weird ass homebrew race and you have no idea how it would fit into the setting? True Polymorph. Wizard needs a way to quickly populate a kingdom and doesn't want to wait decades for the subjects to grow up? True Polymorph. Warlock must provide his patron 100 souls in order to free his own? True Polymorph. The sorcerer wants to do something cool? Fuck that guy, sorcerers don't get any of the fun high level spells; True Poly is available to literally every arcane caster but the sorcerer. Note: what good is Twinned Spell if all the high level twinnable spells have been specifically made unavailable to sorcerers? Do keep in mind however that this brings a whole new discussion on human rights. Does a table have rights? Does it have rights after being turned into a living thing? If it had an owner, is it now a slave? Your country will need so many new laws, just to deal with this one spell. People often say that high level wizards are deities for all intents and purposes. This is the utmost proof of that. Clerics don't get to create life out of thin air, wizards do. The cleric worships a deity, the wizard is the deity. Conclusion. Intelligent creatures not only can game the system, but it is entirely in character for them to do so. I'll even argue that if humanoids don't use magic to improve their lives when it's available, you're pushing the suspension of disbelief. With this post i hope to have helped you make more complex and realistic societies, as well as provide a few interesting and unusual plot hooks Lastly, as much as i hate comment begging i must admit i am eager to see what spells other players think can completely change the world. Because at the end of the day we all know that extra d6 damage is not what causes empires to rise and fall, its the utility spells that make the best stories. Edit: Added spell level to all spells, and would like to thank u/kaul_field for helping with finishing touches and being overall a great mod.
How Ray Kurzweil's 2020 (2019) Predictions are Faring
Every couple of years from here on out I think it'd be a good idea to keep track with exactly how on point (and how trailing or non-existent) Kurzweil's predictions are to give us a sense of whether his predictions even further along are likely to happen on time. To that end, below is the first part of an assessment of his predictions as conveniently found on the Kurzweil's Predictions wikipedia page. If people are interested I'll keep going with more. Some notes before we begin. First, I stayed away from predictions that had an indefinite or wide range of time (for example, there's one section on the predictions page labelled "2020 - 2050" and another labelled "the early 2000's"). Obviously it's meaningless to rate the latter because it's not precise, and meaningless to rate the former because we're only part way through 2020 at the time of this writing. Next, we're going to count any prediction as accurate if it happens within two or three years of the prediction year. I think this is fair given the difficulty of predicting future tech trends and given the fact that many of his critics said at the time of his predictions that these technologies would not be available until decades after his prediction dates, if at all. Also, I stuck mostly to predictions made about the early 2020's (for which I include 2019 as this is within a couple years). For each prediction I include an explanation and verdict, but for some I also include an explanation (esp. if the verdict was inconclusive). And I also skipped predictions that were extremely similar or derivative of previous predictions (to save space). Lastly, each section is labelled by the book to which it belongs next to which I put the year the book was written. Without further ado we'll start with The Age of Spiritual Machines:
The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) (Part I):
Prediction: The computational capacity of a $4,000 computing device (in 1999 dollars) is approximately equal to the computational capability of the human brain (20 quadrillion calculations per second). Verdict: Inconclusive. Explanation: The problem with this is that it can have many different interpretations. With the advent of tensor cores and ML it's difficult to say whether we've reached a point where a computer has the essential computational capacity of the human brain. In order to prove definitively that a machine has the hardware to run human brain level software, we'd need human brain software (AGI). So no matter what we do we will only really know in retrospect once we have achieved that. On top of this, I could not find a straight answer to this question no matter where I looked or what numbers I crunched. It was difficult even to establish precisely how much computational power you can buy for 6,300 usd ($4000 usd circa 1999). In reality this deserves its own post. I may do so at another time if no one else is interested. Prediction: The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race. Verdict: Inconclusive. Difficult to determine this, esp if things like phones, game systems, and smart televisions count as "computers". See above. Prediction: Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.). Verdict: True. Smart rings, watches, picture frames, smart furniture , smart clothing are all in existence and have been for some time. Prediction: People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet. Verdict: Yes. VR is obviously here with the Second generation being announced just recently (Oculus Quest 2). As for contact lenses read this. They're probably another year or two off, essentially correct by the standards laid out above. Prediction: People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized assistants with different personalities that the user can select or customize. Dealing with computers thus becomes more and more like dealing with a human being. Verdict: True. Every time you swipe on a touch screen, whether you're unlocking your phone with a gesture code or scrolling up with your thumb, that's gestures. As for the second part, well, I'd say Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa have fairly different (and customizable) personalities. Prediction: Most business transactions or information inquiries involve dealing with a simulated person. Verdict: Sort of. It depends on what you mean by "simulated person." We know he doesn't mean an advanced, human-like A.I. because his prediction for that is a decade hence. So a series of pages with which you select things you want to buy might count as a "simulated cashier" for example, as the interaction you have with it is much the same. Definitely debatable, but I think this one's grey. Prediction: Most people own more than one PC, though the concept of what a "computer" is has changed considerably: Computers are no longer limited in design to laptops or CPUs contained in a large box connected to a monitor. Instead, devices with computer capabilities come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes. Verdict: Yes. Smart phones, laptops, tablets, Nintendo Switches... I don't think we'll have many arguments here. Prediction: Cables connecting computers and peripherals have almost completely disappeared. Verdict: Yes, mostly. There are wireless mice, keyboards, speakers, etc. Technically you could have an entirely wireless setup. Moreover, if you look at it from a percentage perspective, this is the case for most devices and most people (more laptop owners and phone owners than dedicated graphics PC owners). Prediction: Rotating computer hard drives are no longer used. Verdict: Wrong. Ray put himself in a corner, here. If he had said: "rotating computer hard drives are almost entirely gone" then he would have been right. Again, this has to be seen from a percentage vantage point when taking all "computers" into account. Edit (10/6/2020): changed to 'mostly right'. Rotating hard drives are almost entirely out of use. It makes more sense, therefore, to subtract points from a 'perfect' grade than to say it is totally wrong. Prediction: Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate. Verdict: Wrong. They just became possible, but it likely won't be until mid to late decade until they become dominant, if ever: https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/processors/modern-microprocessor-built-using-carbon-nanotubes. Prediction: Massively parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms are in wide use. Verdict: Essentially right. Remember, Ray was talking in 1999 terms. Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and other forms of A.I. weren't in the public consciousness. But they are the children of parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms. Prediction: Destructive scans of the brain and noninvasive brain scans have allowed scientists to understand the brain much better. The algorithms that allow the relatively small genetic code of the brain to construct a much more complex organ are being transferred into computer neural nets. Verdict: Difficult to tell. Outside of companies like Open AI their studies and methods of development have been mostly secret. That's why Open AI was made in the first place. I'd bet there's a lot of this going on behind closed doors, however. Prediction: Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere. Verdict: Yes. The camera in most phones and laptops is close to being pinhead sized (especially if you don't count the casing of the camera). Compared to 1999 they could be considered to be "everywhere". Prediction: Nanotechnology is more capable and is in use for specialized applications, yet it has not yet made it into the mainstream. "Nanoengineered machines" begin to be used in manufacturing. Verdict: Correct. It does exist, but isn't in mainstream use. There are some medical applications being researched as well. https://phys.org/news/2020-08-nanoengineered-biosensors-early-disease.html This is the end for part one of my review of Ray Kurzweil's predictions for 2020 as they stand. If it's well received I'll do the next part soon, perhaps tomorrow depending on the response. PART TWO PART THREE
Despite a busy schedule u/eruwenn kindly helped me be twice as productive this week, teamwork pays off. Bonus chapter! First / Prev / Next Aaron sat in the open air-lock on the Porkchop Express, looking out over the treetops of Eden from his perch high above the park wall. He picked up the datapad and flicked to a screen with a map and six red dots, one of which had the name Tony floating next to it. Jolie, another red dot, was nearby - she was the third leokas that had grown healthy enough to be released into Eden. After Tony had shared his kill with her, she had stuck close to him. Aaron was glad his friend had bought his date dinner first. He was so engrossed he didn’t notice Alexa approaching until she kicked him. “We’re leaving soon.” “Ow!” He exaggerated. “And, I know. I was just trying to spot him. Ya’know, one last time. In case he needed some biscuits or something.” Alexa slid her back down the wall to sit beside her human, wrapping her arm around his. As her head rested comfortingly against his shoulder, she reached out with her other arm to enlarge the map. The dots of Tony and Jolie were now side by side. "You saved his life. You found him a home, and gave him his freedom. He even has a mate. You've done enough, Aaron. He is the richest leokas in the world, his merch selling on practically every planet in the Federation, and he even has a breakfast cereal with his likeness on it” “It’s grrrrreat.” Aaron laughed half-heartedly at his own joke. “It has entirely too much sugar in it,“ she scolded him gently. “But, the toys were a nice touch.” She snuggled into him, enjoying a rare moment when he wasn’t being chased by a member of the crew with business issues. She savoured their privacy, remembering the first few cycles with just the three of them in the animal pens onboard the Azrimad. “One day, you, Sassie, Aiov and I should come back and visit Tony. Just the four of us.” Aaron choked up a little, realising that Aiov would eventually be another goodbye. “She has a spot reserved in Eden, once she’s grown up.” The door to the Overlook opened and Daynd came stomping towards them. “Will you two get back in the Tulseria damned ship! I need to re-check all of these seals, since you keep using the airlock as your personal viewing platform.” He waited for them to stand, tapping the metal tool in his hand against his leg. “Hurry up, Pilot, pre-flight checks are your job as well.” Managing to make her salute as sarcastic as possible, she led Aaron by the hand back into the ship. “He’s grumpier than usual. It's been a few celes since he was on a planet for such a long stretch... I think he likes it here.” The human sympathised; the ship would feel pretty small after Kasur, and a little emptier without the guest in the cargo hold. As he thought about it, another member of the crew had seemed rather absent lately. “How’s Norrin?” Alexa shrugged. "In his barrel." Her herald had been struggling to maintain his solid form, so Aaron had put a barrel in his room. It had seemed like a dumb idea at the outset, but allowing Norrin to spend time as a semi-liquid had indeed helped to slow his deterioration. “And you?” Aaron wasn't sure whether he feared asking the question or receiving the answer more. She released his hand and poked his undefended stomach. “I can still kick your ass if you keep looking at me with those sad eyes. Don't worry," she added, reaching up to mess with Aaron's hair, "we can get what we need on the world we were found on. There are Inorganics there who can help.” Aaron huffed, reaching up to try to re-tame his hair by flattening it down. Kasur didn't have barbers, as fur needed no cutting, and after a long period of wearing him down Chae'Sol had finally managed to convince him to sit for a haircut. Upon seeing the results of the Niham’'s efforts, Alexa had then made an attempt to fix Chae'Sol's fix. After that, it had been up to Aaron to fix the fixed fix, using a pair of scissors as well as an animal clipper to try to sort out the back and sides. In the end, it was a haircut, but not a good one. Without careful styling, it looked like he was a cast member in Dumb and Dumber. "Good," he replied after a last press-down on his unruly locks. "Having one crew member in a barrel is quite enough.” Upon entering the Bridge, they found Embar and Chae'Sol waiting, already running their tests. Sassie was present as well, asleep on her back in the captains chair. Aiov was also sleeping in a legs-in-the-air pose, nestled in her small, open-topped box under the seat. Aaron tried to reclaim the captain's chair for himself, but though he tried to squeeze himself onto the seat beside his dog, the German Shepherd didn't budge. The Niham navigator passed a datapad to Alexa. “Your checks are done.” As she nodded her thanks, he turned back to watch the power struggle unfold. “Just let her have the seat. She spends more time in it than you.” The human frowned. “There’s space for both of us if she just moved over.” After another shove, Sassie grunted and finally allowed the human to slide her rump around. Tail swishing, she licked his face as he leaned over her, and he scratched her tummy as he sat down beside her. He wiped his face on his sleeve and tapped the screens in front of him. Danyd’s checks, he noted, were also complete. “Set a course for…” He paused, looking to Alexa. “What is your world called again?” Alexa shook her head. “It isn’t our world, it’s just where we were found, and it has a twenty seven digit alpha-numeric designation given by the research team.” “Eurgh. Screw that.” He raised a hand stopping her from reeling off the forgettable digits and paused to consider his options. “Set a course for planet Alpha-Numeric Designation!” Alexa turned her seat away from him. “We have to take off first, idiot.” “Fine! Just get on with it.” He stood up. Being the captain was a lot less fun than he had hoped. “Sassie, you have the bridge. I’ve got a call to make.” After Aaron made his defeated exit, Alexa opened comms to the Kasurian flight controllers. At the same time, Chae’Sol brought his Navigation console to life and checked over his calculations. “Are you nervous?” he asked the Inorganic. “Nervous?” She looked at the controls. “No. I am an excellent pilot.” The Niham and Rinoxian laughed together. Embar’s deep voice replied, “Not the flying. Are you nervous about taking your human home to meet mom and dad?” “Not at all,” she lied swiftly. “And, we don’t have parents. Anyway, it’s a barren world with only a select group of my people manning a small facility. What could he possibly do?” “True, true.” Chae’Sol rubbed his chin. “But what about your people? Before you made Norrin your herald, didn’t he want to kill you?” Embar tapped the pistol on his hip. “We’re prepared for that eventuality.” She couldn’t help but smile at the protectiveness of the large Rinoxian general. “Thank you, Embar. And Norrin didn’t want to kill me. He wanted to remove the parts of me that make me me; my individuality. Hopefully, we can discuss things calmly with the others of my kind.” The navigator folded his arms across his chest. “Hopefully. However, Ranjaz is taking bets on how many we kill, and whether or not we start a war.” The silver-haired girl scrunched up her nose, focusing on her piloting so she could appear to be ignoring the Niham as he continued, “I put credits on three, and no war.” Down the corridor and through the Overlook, Aaron closed the door to his workspace and took a seat. He propped his datapad up against some prototype cereal boxes and sent a notification to the councillor that he was available when she was. The response was almost immediate and he tapped the datapad screen to see the councillor at her desk as always, the fish tank behind her an ever-present distraction for him. The Anatidae bowed her head in greeting. “Ambassador Cooper, thank you for making time to speak with me.” Aaron was slightly thrown by the more formal than usual greeting, but bowed his head as he responded in kind. “I always have time for a Councillor of the Galactic Federation.” She smiled; he had followed her cue perfectly. “Thank you, I will make this brief as I’m sure you have other matters to attend to. I understand you are preparing a selection of Earth’s media for release? I look forward to learning more about your home world.” The human nodded. He knew that the Councillor had access to Earth’s media already. In fact, she had been the one to provide him with the data. Something wasn’t right, but he replied carefully, hoping to connect the dots as they spoke. “We have chosen a varied selection, and hopefully there will be something to your taste. I would be most interested in hearing feedback from you, should you look through the options. It would help us immensely as we prepare the next selection.” Eruwenn continued smiling and nodding; another show for the Sentinels. “My work keeps me quite busy, but I will send you what feedback I can. Now then, down to the business at hand. We are finalising the renaming process before we update the records across the Galactic Federation. As you know, we can not stop you calling your worlds whatever you please, but for us to update the central databases it would be beneficial to have some more information, especially regarding some of the naming conventions used. For instance, you wish to rename the star Optimus Prime?” Aaron tried not to smile. “A great hero from Earth’s mythology, he died for us and rose again. He was a great leader who believed that freedom was the right of all sentient beings.” “Very noble.” She took a note, it seemed the human was playing along nicely. “And the first world and the accompanying moon?” The human leaned back in his seat, putting his hands behind his head. “A childhood friend who would always come first. I named the planet Konrahd after him, and the moon is Talon X which was his online name in Gran Turismo.” Tapping away, the Anatidae didn’t look up from her datapad. “Ah, of course. The human obsession with coming first. Please continue.” “Sure.” Aaron leaned forward, reaching under the table to where Danyd had installed a small fridge. He took out a can and opened it loudly. “The second planet has been defaced by a meteor impact, all smashed up with an exposed and dead core. We’re calling it Alderaan, after a destroyed world in our pop culture. The two moons took quite a lot of damage as well. The lumpy one is Freak and the one with the big slash across the surface is Scar. No special meaning, one’s a bit freaky and the other has a scar, makes it easy to remember.” “And the third planet?” “New Terra.” He drank deeply and then stifled a burp, the development team had definitely put too much gas in this mix. “Nothing clever in the name, but it has potential. The moon is Elune, named after a lunar goddess. You’ll know more about it once we release the vanilla game.” She looked up, narrowing her eyes. “It’s a marketing stunt for a game release?” “An homage,” he corrected, although he already had a team working on merch and a possible theme park, with a whole line of cosplay accessories being planned. The councillor didn't believe him for a second, and on some level was shocked he had not yet named a world Buy A Cupcake. “And that brings us to” -how she loathed this name- “Earth Two Electric Boogaloo, and I really must ask again. Why?” He laughed, poker face slipping at her obvious discomfort. “Human joke, we add the suffix Electric Boogaloo to unwanted sequels. Plus, it really irritates Alexa.” Eruwenn realised now why the former inspector clicked his pen so often. She would have appreciated a tactile release right now. “Perhaps she should have had more influence over the names. And the moon, El-ahrairah? Am I pronouncing that correctly?” “Good enough. It’s named for the Prince with a thousand enemies.” His jovial tone vanished; Aaron knew what would happen to the rabbits if they began to colonise E.T.E.B. “Read the book, or watch the movie. Next.” With that avenue of questioning closed down she moved on, marking her notes Royalty for the record. She was now quite curious as to which book he was referring to. Clearly it was an emotionally charged subject. “Next is Gaia? And the moons Lakshmi, Kratos and Milda.” Aaron relaxed a little. “Some of humanity's old gods, I’m hoping to bring them out of retirement.” The councillor paused. Were he intending to start a religion, it would certainly prove to be popular. She decided not to ask, in case it gave him any ideas. “And the large gas giant with seven moons?” Now his smile returned in full. “Snow White and the seven dwarves. I can’t name them from memory unless you want some reindeer names mixed in. A folk tale; the gas giant is a perpetual blizzard.” Eruwenn made another note, folk tale. The council would have questions and the more vague her answers were the better. “Next is Tortuga, which has a flag already, how delightful. Is that a human skull and bones?” Aaron nodded emphatically. “We won’t actually be encouraging piracy.” He noticed the alarm in her eyes and hastily added, “Yeah, Jarby didn’t like that one either, even after my Captain Sparrow impression.” He saw the incomprehension on her face and explained further. “I did the impression for the asteroid belt as well, but nobody appreciated that either, and I wasn’t about to draw that stupid tattoo on my face.” She looked at her reference map. “Ah yes, between Snow White and the planet Gallifrey, you have Tyson’s Belt. With asteroid mining advances you should have a steady supply of materials once your initial construction phase is completed. And those names?” Aaron finished his can and crushed it, they may need to tweak the caffeine content down a notch as he could feel his heart racing. “Sports, and medical.” She smiled. Naming a planet after someone from a medical field was commendable. “And who was Doctor Gallifrey?” “Doctor who?” He recognised the wires that were crossed. “No, the Doctor was from Gallifrey.” “Oh, my apologies. And his name?” she politely enquired. “Who.” “The doctor.” “Doctor Who.” “The one from Gallifrey!” she snapped, if she had a pen it would have been clicking furiously. “He was on first base.” The plumage of the councillor's green crest was beginning to rise, so Aaron opened one of the cereal boxes, snacking to provide time to think. Eruwenn was still staring at the screen, confused and frustrated when finally he spoke with slow deliberation. “He was called Doctor Who. Can we move on, because the four moons around Gallifrey are Stark, Banner, Odinson and Rogers, and if you can’t follow Doctor Who I’m not getting into Marvel multiverse theories. Just put named after myths and legends or something.” “Fine.” She did as instructed, but was still a little confused over who the Doctor from Gallifrey was and why he was now a myth. “The largest planet by far is next, and you called it Pluto.” A mixture of triumph and anger came over the human. “Yeah, fuck you NASA, Pluto’s not too small now, bitches! You can chalk that one up to revenge, it’s named after a planet from my own solar system that got downgraded on a technicality.” The councillor had hoped to gain an insight into the human mind through the names he chose for these worlds. What his priorities and aspirations might be, and what he held dear and wanted written in the cosmos. It seemed that he was just as insane as Rilla had repeatedly warned her he was. “Fine.” She didn’t understand a word of what he said, but named after a planet from home was good enough for the bureaucrats. “And Pluto’s five moons?” “Michael, Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Jermaine.” Much better than Alexa’s choice, she had wanted to name them after the Spice Girls. With a resigned tone he added, “just put down musicians or something.” Between the insanity and marketing was another welcome addition, music was a beautiful thing that almost all races could share in. “Wonderful, I look forward to listening to them on Musicify.” She had listened to some of Earth’s music during her research, finding that it was as varied as everything else they produced. She had found the classical genre most pleasant, especially while drinking tea. “And finally, on the very edge of the system, the frozen world and the two ice moons.” The human was relieved to be on the final planets, as the energy drink was buzzing through his veins. “The world is Elsa, named after a princess, and the moons are Cube and Vanilla. You can put those under music, but maybe put an asterisk next to Vanilla.” The councillor was once again very confused, but did as she was instructed. So often when dealing with the human she felt like she was one step out of time with the conversation. “Well, that concludes my questions. I can get this sent over to our stellar cartographers and the updates will go live in a few cycles. Thank you for your patience.” “What?” Aaron was confused, he could have done this via a written message. What was the point in the video call? “Oh, ok. Well, thanks for the call, I guess.” After some minor pleasantries it was over, and he still had no idea what it had been for. Mildly disappointed and confused he picked up the prototype cereal box he had been eating from, looking at the cartoon leokas on the front. Turning it over in his hands there was a large drawing on the back for the kids to colour in, and he laughed at another of his prestigious contributions to the galaxy. Estrilla entered, quickly closing and sealing the door. “Here.” She tossed him a small datapad, that had clearly been modified judging by the bulky addition on the back. It began to vibrate. “It’s Eruwenn. For you.” She looked at his stupid face and snapped. “It’s a secure line, answer it!” The crew had been called together for an urgent briefing once they had jumped out of Kasur space, and as they gathered around the central table of the lounge they noted no snacks to be tested. This was a serious meeting. Sassie and Aiov were under the table, and the little leokit with eyes opened was stumbling about with her four-legged guardian watching over her. Despite this development, there was no joy in Aaron's expression. Next to him, in front of the screen, Estrilla paced back and forth, and the Captain gently reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. "She's your friend, you can start." The doctor wanted to argue that they were no longer friends, but she realised her feelings had changed of late. “Fine.” She cleared her throat, shooting Ranjaz a sharp look clearly indicating that none of his usual nonsense would be tolerated. “As you all know, I am a former shipmate of Councillor Eruwenn Aix Sponsa. Many of you have even met her. We were part of a crew led by a former Imperium soldier and we worked behind enemy lines. For Eruwenn that work never truly ended, she just realised her targets were closer to home. She entered politics to engage with them on their terms, while also using her experience as a covert operative to gain whatever advantages she could.” The yellow Kachna began to pace back and forth again. “There is a group of powerful people who want to see us return to war. They want to stir up the Hive and the Imperium and, as yet, we don’t know what their goals are. Power, profit, using one atrocity to hide another - we just don’t know, but we plan to stop them. Though this is Eruwenn's goal, if she can gain more power for her people and herself she'll likely take those opportunities as well." It was a harsh truth, but Estrilla no longer knew exactly where the Anatidae's loyalties truly lay. Aaron walked forward and took a seat at the table. “We can delve into the lore later; let’s just show them the message.” “Right.” The doctor picked up the modified datapad, noting some confused looks around the table. “This is a relay datapad, off the standard networks. It uses encrypted back channels or something - I’m a doctor not a spy, so don’t ask me how it works. Just know that this message is not to be talked about with anyone outside of this crew, and you are to keep no records on personal datapads. Am I clear?” There was a murmur of consent. Even Ranjaz seemed solemn, acknowledging the gravity of the situation. Either that, or he was simply missing Skeena. Hoping for the best, the doctor stepped aside as the screen blinked on. The view was obscured at first, and nothing could be heard except heavy breathing. Then glimpses of a corridor could be seen between someone's fingers - the camera was being carried at a run. The view cleared, sweeping along the corridor to reveal scorch marks from energy weapons and several bodies on the floor. A sibilant voice echoed down the hall from elsewhere, and the camera shifted. "Shit," said a different voice, and a Lacertan came into view, still on the move. "They'll find me soon, I have to be quick. I have a small drone hidden in the debris field and I'm uploading to it. Long after this is over it should head to a relay and send this message on your network. I pray this reaches you in time." The camera operator pushed through a door, still breathing heavily. "This is the lab," she said as the camera panned around slowly. More scorch marks adorned the walls, and the bodies this time were wearing high level bio-hazard suits. "They were working on a weapon, some sort of pathogen, to kill the Hive." Energy weapon fire could distantly be heard, and the Lacertan leapt behind one of the counters. As she huddled into a ball, she began crying. "Tell my mother I'm sorry. You'll do that, won't you?" Her terrified eyes were pleading with the camera. "I promised her I'd come home safe. I promised. Tell her I'm sorry for ever complaining about the pink packages and that I loved every single one. Tell her I love her, and that I'm so sorry.” The sobbing intensified, and the camera sagged in her grip. The security uniform with a badge reading Amel came into view - she was a lieutenant. There came a deep breath, and the camera swung back up to her face. "Sorry. I was prepared for this when I volunteered, don't blame yourself. Just... stop them." Her eyes were now ablaze with anger as she tried to share as much information as she could. "They have a plague from this cursed shithole we've been orbiting for cycles. Last time I stopped them when they got too close to the answer they were looking for... by releasing it. Killing some researchers. People I knew, and worked with. I'm sorry for that, but it worked to stop their progress and I thought they would give up.” She shuffled further around the counter, trying to get as much cover as she could. “Almost a full bost ago a Sentinel paid us a visit, bringing with him some new data. The diseases on this world are thousands of generations away from the original plague, but this data was the real deal. Their research surged ahead, and I didn’t have time to react. Tulseria curse them to eternity, some brainless Doctor Dix defrosted a patient on the edge of Tulseria-knows-where, and now these assholes are going to start a war and kill billions. You have to stop them.” Voices and footsteps could be heard in the corridor and her voice became hushed and frantic. “They have to be close to release it, and somewhere with a lot of traffic so it reaches deep into their territory before they realise. It isn't finished. It was supposed to target only the Hive, but I heard Doctor Glimnop talking with his assistant about that not yet being the case. It mutates fast, too. It it gets out it could devastate the galaxy. You have to stop them.” She leaned back against the counter, her breathing becoming ragged and her voice cracking. “They needed more time.” She was gasping. “I needed more time, I could have stopped them. The Sentinel said something about new colonies, and the need to tidy up. I knew, then.” Her gentle sobbing returned. “I ran.” The sound of the lab door opening caused the slits of her pupils to widen with fear, and it was a moment before she whispered again. “Don’t come to Darnis, we’re already dead.” The camera panned down to her stomach, where her uniform was burned away and the scaled skin beneath charred and split, bleeding profusely. “Stop them releasing it, promise me!” Angry yelling could be heard and the camera spun to show a Niham in a smart grey suit, his weapon raised. He fired twice. The camera fell to the floor for a moment before being picked up by the killer. “Damn it!” he cursed, “Find where this is transmitting to!” Then the video cut out. The silence hung for several tiks as everyone processed what they had just watched. Estrilla gave them the time they needed. “They didn’t find the drone, and other than Eruwenn and her assistant, we are the only ones to have seen this.” “You hope,” Embar said carefully. “They may have traced it, and then used the drone to follow the signal. Anyone who’s seen this is dead if the Sentinels find out.” The doctor nodded. “That would only lead to the councillor, not us. She won’t talk.” Embar was more dubious. “Torture can loosen lips. You think she can tough it out?” Estrilla looked the general in the eye. “She has before.” He gave a polite nod, veteran to veteran, and she moved on. “We don't have much to go on. Sentinels have their past erased, and are good at staying off of the grid. With only a picture and a voice sample, our chances are slim... and if we look too closely, we'll give ourselves away.” “His name is Krast.” Everyone turned to look at Ranjaz, who savoured the moment. “He’s the bastard who paid me to break into the military research centre. Asshole thought he was smart. He was going to steal something else, and use my job to cover it up.” All eyes were on him and he gave a mean grin at the memory of betrayal. “But, I beat him to it. Took the lot, and that’s when he set me up. I knew that fucker suspected me, so I kept my mouth shut. Played it innocent while he was watching from the shadows, did my time in Xeno-Biology Protection like a good boy.” Allistan’s pen was clicking furiously. “What in Tulseria’s name did you steal?” Everyone was looking intently at the Kittran, and he reveled in the attention for as long as he thought he could get away with before he shrugged. “No idea.” Next
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
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