In the early days of the year 420 ABY, the galaxy was in a state of relative peace - at least when compared to the four tumultuous centuries prior, which had culminated with the ending of the Outer Rim War two decades earlier. While the aftershocks of that war could still be felt by most of the galaxy’s beings, our tale begins on a world that had been nearly untouched by the larger conflicts of the galaxy. A lone starship would land on the planet of Dathomir and an unlikely meeting would commence between three very different individuals. Borcha of Clan Ferel, a maverick Mandalorian mercenary; Owyn 'Sibo' Sivokino, an Agent of the Principate Security with a skill for vibroblades overshadowed only by his inflated ego; and Ciaran, the mysterious, blind Shaman and de facto leader of a rogue group of Nightsisters. While the three of them kept their true motives hidden from one another, destiny ironically unified them in their shared suspicion of each other. Words were given and promises of assistance were made between Borcha, Sibo, and Ciaran, each of whom was just as likely to try to kill the other two as they were to cooperate. The first seeks an ancient and venerated treasure, the second seeks power through self-perceived subterfuge, and the third claims only to seek peace and unity among her people… Far from the dark and swampy world of Dathomir, a restless, well-off entrepreneur and former Captain of the New Galactic Republic Marine Corps by the name of Hellexix Ordo leaves behind the picturesque beaches of Spira, beckoned unexpectedly from his vacation by a lead for a multimillion-credit catering contract with the upper-echelons of the Principate government - an opportunity too good to pass up for the up-and-coming restaurant owner. No time was wasted, and within a matter of days, the high-end restaurant owner found himself on Taris standing face to face with none other than the First Citizen of the Severan Principate, Murith Severan himself. The leader of the boldly Imperial-styled nation had met with many potential businessmen and entrepreneurs from throughout the galaxy that vied for the chance to extend their business dealings into the borders of the Severan Principate, but for what he had planned, Murith would accept only the finest that the galaxy had to offer - including what would be on the menu. Perhaps it was the low-level celebrity status and potential political access that Hellexix Ordo had garnered on Coruscant thanks to his restaurant being in close proximity of the NGR Senate Rotunda, or maybe it was that Murith could sense something different about the recently-retired NGR Marine, but at the end of their brief meeting, a deal was struck, granting Hellexix and his restaurant the exclusive rights to cater the Principate's upcoming diplomatic event, upon which Murith promised the fate of the galaxy would turn... Elsewhere in the Outer Rim, the planet of Ubrikkia - once the center of a thriving trade empire before the fall of the Hutts during the Outer Rim War - received a seemingly unimportant and unremarkable visitor. Touching down on the planet on a hot, dry day, a seasoned Twi’lek merchant (and extremely well-connected criminal lord) by the name of Bril Rha sets up a small shop near one of the more well-off markets in the city surrounding Takwin Keep. Possessing an unassuming quality, Bril Rha goes unrecognized by all those that come to visit his shop, where he offers various goods from off-world, including fine clothes, exotic foods, and several models of droids and hardware. It was on this day that among the petty lords of Ubrikkia walked a man who, unbeknownst to either himself or Bril, was of particular interest to the galaxy. Formerly a member of the Jedi Order, Maskar Kython had returned to his homeworld of Ubrikkia some months prior, seeking to reclaim his rightful place and title as Prince of the once-great Trade Empire - and, perhaps one day, to revive its fallen throne. Bril Rha was offered to sell several high-end, modified KX-series droids to the Ubikkian noble for a significant sum of Credits. Both individuals walked away from the exchange oblivious to the other’s place in the galaxy, with Maskar unaware that he had just purchased droids from an ex-member of the notorious Black Lylek Cartel, and Bril ignorant to the fact he was assisting the Prince Maskar Kython himself in his machinations... On the planet Ord Trasi, Jedi Knight Xijun Zhen found herself chasing the Force, being led to different perceived disturbances; a dead forest on a distant planet, a continental drought on another. The Force was leading the Jedi on a path, but the destination was unclear. Xijun was granted a vision of all of the steps in her path thus far, and one more that she had not yet taken. The vision shown to her by the Force pointed to Dantooine, though she wasn't sure why. On a distant planet in the fringes of the Outer Rim, a young smuggler by the name of Sairah O’Rinn met with her Uncle and mentor Toni in a seedy tavern. Toni, a long-time friend of the notorious crime lord Haldar Varss, had managed to set up a meeting between the pirate and his niece, hoping to kick start Sairah into a successful smuggling career with good contacts and steady work with the Tarran Consortium. Haldar agreed to give Sairah a chance and offered her a job as a way to test her ability. The Consortium had long endured trouble smuggling cargo onto the planet of Dantooine due to the growing Reformation militia on the planet, let alone the presence of a small NGR Naval force. Sairah was to smuggle a new shipment past any NGR blockades or Reformation forces on the planet and deliver the shipment to Haldar’s pirate allies planetside. Tagging along to oversee her first major job, Toni joined Sairah, helping her load Haldar’s cargo aboard the Raven’s Nest before they set off for Dantooine. The Raven’s Nest would exit hyperspace above Dantooine only to find itself in the middle of a pitched battle between Reformation corvettes and a Republic Star Destroyer. Sairah deftly maneuvered the Raven between the battling ships, shaking off a squadron of Republic fighters as her Uncle Toni manned a turret aboard the smuggling craft. The pair managed to escape with their lives as, behind them, the NGR Star Destroyer beat an unexpected and hasty retreat from the star system. Once planetside, Sairah brought the Raven’s Nest down in a clearing before setting off to meet their contacts. After a couple of days of hard riding and dodging Reformation camps and patrols, the smugglers arrived at their rendezvous point only to find the pirates they were supposed to meet under siege from Reformation militiamen. Dantooine, it seemed, had become one of the Reformation’s major bases of operations - though the NGR Navy would surely return once word reached the Core worlds. With a job well done, Toni and Sairah head back home to Rishi. After flying the Raven’s Nest for one last time, Toni set it down on a landing pad in the planet’s preeminent spaceport. With a tear in his eyes and filled with pride, Toni turned the ship over to his niece. Sairah, the new captain of the Raven’s Nest, now looked to the distant stars, awaiting the next adventure. On the planet of Umbara, Lesh Deechi - a well-known native of the planet and lifelong political and military leader - considers his position in the cell-based nature of the Reformation. Having spent many years in the Umbaran militia, Lesh sees the current leaders of the Reformation movement as ineffectual, from his perspective. Holding a seat on the Reformation Action Council (the Reformation’s temporary equivalent to a ‘Senate’ for those worlds that supported the Reformation), Lesh was afforded a look into the inner workings of the movement's hierarchy and military leadership. Barring the recent actions taken on Dantooine, Lesh concludes to himself that his superiors are ineffectual military leaders, himself a proponent of much more decisive and assertive action - again, barring the Dantooine situation. As such, the Umbaran begins laying out an elaborate and sinister plan to assassinate his direct superior, none other than the legendary Outer Rim War hero and NGR defector and Grand Marshall of the Reformation military conglomerate, Jason Haig. On the planet Deneba, Jedi Master Frifth Nilim - while waiting to select a new Padawan - was having a holocall with his former Padawan, now a Jedi Knight, Ravee Chasel, about recent discoveries she’d made. While researching alternative Force traditions, Ravee discovered that many years back, a Jedi Master named Mimuahr Niadh had gone mysteriously missing while researching the Dathomirian Nightsisters. She decided to use the opportunity of joining the Jedi Ambassadors that would go to the Princep’s ball as a chance to go to Dathomir. Also inspired by Frifth’s search for a new Padawan, Ravee hoped to find a potential prospect to train for herself, and teach them the ways of the Jedi. Later Frifth met up with Mirialan Jedi Master Lail Staark. The two observed the Jedi initiate exercises. To get a better idea of each initiate’s skill, Frifth decided to personally spar with each initiate. By the end, he selected the energetic Jackson Melafinious and the reverent Se'Soom Ra'Bhamus. The following day, Jedi Master Frifth sent his two new Padawans down to the crystal caves beneath the Deneba Temple, where the two were faced with visions from the Force. After experiencing a harrowing vision, Se’Soom awoke with two Kyber crystals in his hand. Returning to the surface, Se’Soom was greeted by Master Frifth, who informed him that he had been down in the caves for a day and a half. After constructing his lightsaber, the two would leave Deneba for Ossus as Master and Padawan. While Se’Soom had passed his trial, Jackson, unfortunately, did not. Unable to overcome his own visions and stuck in a comatose state, Jackson never left the caves. Several weeks later, his body was located and the young Padawan was pronounced dead, his body cremated by the Deneba Temple Guard. Several days after their initial meeting, Bril returned to Ubrikkia with the KX-series droids after he performed a series of complicated, but minute modifications that Maskar Kython had specified. Maskar would end up sending the droids to the Randon Security Force; perfect for covert operations on the important financial world, which Maskar hoped to bring under Ubrikkian influence through clandestine means. After their trade-off was made, Bril earned even more credits from Maskar by selling him information about a rumored holocron, said to exist somewhere on the planet Lamaredd, a rumor that intrigued the Ubrikkian ex-Jedi greatly... With the nefarious preparations set, Lesh Deechi invited his rival Grand Marshal Jason Haig to Umbara to give the former NGR Marine a tour of the Umbaran weapons development facilities and showcase a prototype armored attack walker. During a demonstration of the new walker unit, Lesh’s plan was enacted, resulting in the sudden and “tragic” death of Jason Haig at the hands of an unseen sniper. Lesh’s plan proved successful in that there was no suspicion thrown on him by the Reformation Action Council. Additionally, Haig’s passing would go on to result in Lesh’s seemingly reluctant acceptance of the role that had been left unfilled in Haig’s sudden absence. The victory would likely prove to be double-edged, however, as while Haig’s death would allow Lesh to seize more direct control over the Reformation’s military agenda, the people of the New Galactic Republic would no doubt be only further turned away by the increasingly radical actions of the Reformation movement once word of the war hero’s death began to spread through NGR space. At last, the day had come. After generating significant buzz within certain social circles of the galactic elite, the Severan Principate would host a diplomatic ball. Taking place in the governmental palace on the nation's capital, Taris, no expense had been spared in preparation for the event. Galactic holovid celebrities, business moguls, NGR politicians, Outer Rim world representatives - even a few members of the Jedi Order, including Jedi Knight Kaseerah Holdan (a respected Jedi and owner of a clinic on Coruscant specializing in the rehabilitation of war veterans) and Jedi Knight Ravee Chasel - all gathered within the walls of the palace to attend, indulging in rich, robust cuisine of Ordo's Ristorante and partaking in ballroom dance by the sweeping tempo of a live orchestra. From the high-end dining experience and entertainment to the guest list, this was to be a grand and unforgettable night that would leave its mark on history, just as Murith Severan would have it. One particular high-profile guest that would not be in attendance at the Principate's historic event was billionaire Telvuga Acco, the CEO and Chairman of manufacturing conglomerate Accotech United, based out of the Corporate Sector. Hosting his own press conference, Telvuga offered biting words attacking the Severan Principate's leader while publicly declining his invitation. While Telvuga Acco's public display of opinion towards Murith Severan didn't garner much attention from the galaxy, it did give the holonet drama tabloids something to talk about for the next several weeks as they tried (and failed) to elicit a response from the heir of the Severan dynasty. Telvuga’s slight mattered not to Murith Severan, as the Ball (or "the Orb," as holonet messaging boards would later dub it) was simply Murith’s way of gathering together many of the Outer Rim's business and political representatives, and while the exclusion of one of the Corporate Sector’s leading moguls was unfortunate, Murith Severan would not be perturbed. Hidden beneath the veneer of the Ball was Murith’s true purpose for the extravagant event - a much smaller and less publicized meeting behind closed doors with said business and political representatives of nearby Outer Rim worlds, where Murith Severan made an offer for them to join the Severan Principate. Using the promise of protection and trade, he hoped to bring the worlds under his dominion. While the majority of the more well-established worlds refused the offer, citing political differences and or lack of need, a few key systems readily accepted the offer, thanks in no small part to the words of the Delegation sent from Presbalin. While not the grand, sweeping victory that Murith had hoped for, several smaller system would go on to follow Presbalin’s example and agree to integrate under the banner of the Severan Principate. Jedi Knight Ravee Chasel, having been in brief attendance of the Severan Principate’s diplomatic Ball, found herself romantically spurned while attempting to interact with the non-Jedi denizens of the gathering. Embarrassed and frustrated with herself, she left the extravagant event in a flurry of emotions, much to the concern of the Jedi Masters in attendance. Instead, Ravee slipped away from the high-society crowds in search of a smuggler that would be able to secret her from Taris, past the Principate’s fleets, and onto the neighboring planet of Dathomir. After all, it was there that Ravee’s findings back on Deneba pointed, regarding the disappearance of former Jedi Master Mimuahr Niadh. As the Force would have it, Knight Ravee traveled down to the Undercity of Taris, where she was able to find and hire someone willing to get her to Dathomir for the arguably exorbitant price of 10,000 Credits. Thus, Ravee set off aboard the light-freighter owned by freelance bounty hunter Gavray Kast. It took only a matter of a few hours for Knight Ravee Chasel to reach Dathomir with Gavray’s help, the latter agreeing to stow his ship out of sight and await Ravee’s word to retrieve her, per their deal. Upon stumbling her way to a Nightsister village, Ravee was devastated to find that the missing Master she was seeking was, in fact, the leader of the village, Ciaran. The shaman, in turn, was surprised that someone had finally bothered and managed to track her down, but was nevertheless welcoming to the nervous Jedi Knight. Ravee was taken into the village, where both Ciaran and other Nightsisters explained how they lived, trying to convince their guest that despite their alignment to the dark side of the force, they were still a thriving and tightly-knit community. Knight Chasel, tempted by the thoughts of having a family, ultimately managed to resist the temptations, and after being given a transmitter by the Nightsister Shaman, she left for Gavray’s ship, leaving Dathomir - and Mimuahr Niadh, now known as Ciaran - behind. During the journey away from Principate space, Ravee attempted to recruit Gavray to the Jedi Order, due to his latent Force-sensitivity. Already having been asked to join the Order in the past, Gavray refused. As the days progressed on, Ravee began to doubt her purpose in the galaxy, looking towards her failure to sway Ciaran or Gavray to the Jedi as a sign that she no longer knew the will of the Force. Thus, the Arkanian-offshoot Jedi Knight went on to take the Barash Vow. On the planet Eiradu, Sith Paladin of the Holy Order Tommentis Tiranis lay in the afterglow of a passionate moment with his lover, unaware that a strike team of Jedi Shadows were about to interrupt them. Jedi Master Lytrinn Halt - along with the Jedi Knights Kairus Ririkan and Jae Feistine - stormed Tommentis’s estate after sneaking through the Eriaduan’s defenses and fighting their way through a small detachment of battle droids. Having caught Tommentis by surprise, a brief duel ensued. The Jedi proved victorious, though the Sith and his woman were killed before the Jedi could extract any valuable information from them. One less evil man claiming to be a “Sith” had been purged by the Jedi Shadows, though at the unseen cost of the Jedi Order narrowly missing their opportunity to learn of the existence and whereabouts of the Sith Holy Order in the Unknown Regions. Unseen by the vast majority of the known galaxy, the Holy Order of the Sith were followers of an obscure and strict religious Order based around the eons-old teachings of the Pius Dea. Established four centuries earlier, the Holy Order had flourished in the Unknown Regions, far from the eyes of the Jedi or the New Galactic Republic. As such, they had conquered many of the former First Order remnants and peoples that inhabited the Unknown Regions, committing multiple genocides over the past several centuries in the name of fanatical, religious xenophobia. With nearly all but the Chiss subdued, the Holy Order had begun looking to expand its reach into the known galaxy. While some like Dumenaris Axios looked inward to delve deeper into the mysteries of the Sith’s past, the Holy Order’s newly proclaimed Lord had ambitions to look beyond the Unknown Regions. Styling himself as Darth Prodigal after seizing control of the Holy Order, Prodigal began dispatching something akin to diplomatic emissaries into the known galaxy, hoping to eventually turn some of its oblivious inhabitants into allies... In response to the consistent reports of trouble with the local tribals on Dathomir, the Severan Principate tasked one of their most elite and effective Security Agents, Lilith Amaria, with resolving the issues that were now beginning to spill beyond petty tribal disputes and proving an annoyance to the local Principate garrison. According to the reports Lilith looked over, the Dathomirians were caught in a tribal dispute of some kind that had turned violent, with some reports detaling attacks on Principate outposts on the planet. One of the Witches (none other than Ciaran herself) promised to ensure an end to any future hostilities towards local Principate forces in exchange for the Principate Military’s backing in her war with the current Nightmother. Additionally, Ciaran demanded that the Principate lift their military blockade of the planet once the conflict was resolved. As a Senior Operative of the Principate Security, Lilith had extensive authority that went as far as allowing her to operate above and beyond the Principate’s Military command, so she used this power to call in the assistance of Arthur Xadran, Captain of the Imperator V-Class Star Destroyer, Monarch. With the imposing vessel at her disposal, Agent Lilith Amaria planned to land on Dathomir to have a meeting of her own with this Ciaran to assess the details of the Witch's proposal, personally. Aboard the Ace of Staves,- a retrofitted, Imperial-era carrier now equipped to serve as a casino - former NGR intelligence agent, racketeer and co-owner of the casino vessel Marclay Coppola awakens from a spice-induced bender, coming to the realization that he has a potent addiction but pushing it from his thoughts, as there was business that needed attending. He met with his half-brother and co-owner of the Ace,Gavyn Coppola, himself also a former NGR Marine-turned criminal. In addition to discussing recent dealings as well as planning for their financial future, they met up with their newly-appointed Security Chief, an older Zabrak male by the name of Pexuu Vrasro. His shadowy past, contrasted by a bright reputation as a very capable veteran of the Outer Rim War with no known family or obligations to tie him down, Pexuu seemed like a great new addition to the Coppola’s Casino - provided that the old Zabrak didn’t have any old ghosts from his past still chasing him. After the departure of their new Security Chief, Gavyn - a notorious hothead - incites a brawl on the gaming floor. After dispatching several pirates and allowing security to handle the rest, Marclay dragged his half-brother, now blacked-out from drinking too much, back to his room. Whilst lugging Gavyn, an idea occurred to Marclay, a drunken thought to better secure their financial security and gain considerable capital to continue building their empire upon. The next day, head pounding from his hangover, the idea stayed with Marclay, and he began planning what would amount to an elaborate bank heist. The target? None other than the Seswenna Sector bank, headquartered on Eriadu. To accomplish something like this, the Coppolas knew they would need a team, so they began work on seeking out individuals of talent to hire for the job. They started by sending an invitation to a smuggler that had recently made some noise over Dantooine, earning a name for herself after slipping right through a pitched naval battle between the NGR and Reformation forces to get planetside. Seeing as Eriadu was within NGR jurisdiction, it made sense to bring in someone like Sairah O’Rinn, based on her recent experiences. In the bustling, lower city streets of Coruscant, a down-on-his-luck pilot named Corman Candar meets with a long-time friend, Aval Derevan. In a small cantina known as Frassi’s Corner, Corman greets with the older man and they discuss the possibilities of future job offers before they are interrupted by a Cathar assassin. After disarming the Cathar, Corman begins to question the would-be assassin but his line of questioning is cut short when, to Corman's suprise, Aval suddenly kills the attacker and stuns Corman, knocking him unconscious. Inexplicably, Aval flees the scene and, in turn, frames Corman for the murder of the Cathar. A day later, Corman awakens in Coruscant Security custody. He is questioned by Coruscant Security Forces before being set free, the officer piecing together that Corman had been framed. Back on the streets of Coruscant; Corman calls his co-pilot, a Rattataki named Shuriah Reynault, asking for the fuel to get off-planet. They met at an abandoned hangar, where Corman had been illegally parking his light freighter, The Sunset Eclipse. Bent on tracking Aval down (either for revenge or even just for answers), Corman reveals to Shuriah their destination - The Ace of Staves - a casino that Aval had mentioned to Corman previously. Knowing Aval, this would be his most likely destination. Before departing Coruscant, however, the Sunset Eclipse received an encoded, one-way transmission. In it, a man named Ulric Sigliano spoke of Twado Hyrotia, the Sunset Eclipse’s previous owner - now dead - and was hoping to catch a ride off-world. Unbeknownst to Ulric, Twado had left the Sunset Eclipse to Corman Candar, so it would be up to Corman whether or not to grant Ulric’s request for passage. Despite their hesitations, Corman and Shuriah agreed to follow the rendezvous coordinates, which lead them to a landing pad of the 500 Republica building. Awaiting them there was the man himself, Ulric Sigliano, son of the late Frank Sigliano, a local legend from Corellia. Along with him was none other than Hellexix Ordo, recently returned from Principate space and ready to spend some credits. When The Sunset Eclipse landed, Hellexix and Ulric were greeted by a hesitant Corman and Shuriah. While there was some initial, cautious tension between the two parties, the crew of the Sunset Eclipse agreed to allow Hellexix and Ulric passage. As the will of the Force would have it, Hellexix and Ulric were also bound for the Ace of Staves - Hellexix going to gamble away some of his recently-acquired Credits, while Ulric needed to meet with one of the Casino’s owners on business. After agreeing on a modest sum to cover the cost of Hellexix and Ulric’s passage, the four were off towards the Eriadu system, the last known location of the Casino. Meanwhile, back on Dathomir, Borcha and Sibo returned to the Nightsister village for their part of the deal: the Mandalorian in Exile revealed he was seeking the Darksaber, an ancient and unique black-bladed lightsaber created nearly one and a half millennia ago by the first Mandalorian Jedi. While it remained unclear as to the exact motives of Borcha’s longing for this ancient artifact, it was clear he was adamant on finding it, and his original plan when coming to Dathomir was to visit a long-abandoned First Order base, that supposedly held vital information within its still-working database. The Nightsister Shaman revealed, however, that a splinter group within the Nightsisters — the Spiderclan — had claimed the base as their new home after being driven from their previous one long ago. Knowing full-well that taking Borcha to them could spell trouble, Ciaran insisted on retrieving the data on her own and was soon on her way together with her partner, Aijjling. Once at the base, she chose to head in alone, weaponless, in an attempt to further signal her well-meant intentions: the Clan Mother had come here not only to retrieve the data for the Mandalorian, but also with hopes of reconciling with the Spiderclan, seeing them as a possible ally to take down her rival. This feeling was one-sided, however, as Ciaran was met with a clan that had centuries worth of nothing but contempt and hatred for the outside world. Appalled by the savagery and degeneracy of the Spiderclan, she was allowed to get the data she needed and was released back to the surface, where she would soon give Borcha his data, fulfilling her part of their deal. There was no time to rest, however, because Lilith Amaria had entered the Dathomir system, soon joined by Captain Xadran and his Star Destroyer the Monarch. With the fleet on oversight, the Principate’s elite security agent headed down to the surface to meet with the Nightsisters, under the guise of Commodore Rose Maral, a Star Destroyer commander. Despite the large difference between the two women, they seemed to be on equal footing, not only in their personality but also the lies they carried along with them at all times: Ciaran lied about who contacted the Principate, whereas Lilith lied about who she truly was. And while neither of these lies was found out by the other, it was clearly having an effect on the negotiations: neither party was particularly forthcoming to the other until the Principate officer made a peculiar offer: the Nightsister would get her requested airstrike, but she would have to give up her wife as collateral. Ciaran initially refused, but when Aijjling herself agreed, the Shaman could do nothing but concede. It turned out to be a ruse, however, because as soon as Lilith had left the planet, she and the supporting fleet left the Dathomir system, leaving the Nightsisters back to their own devices. Enraged, Ciaran called a meeting at her village, and in a speech fueled by hatred and disdain, she rallied her people to come together and take down her rival without the assistance of the Principate Navy, before leaving with a small group for a distant planet to receive an ancient artifact... After several days journey through hyperspace, the Sunset Eclipse arrives in the Eriadu system. A quick scan of nearby space locates the signal of the Ace of Staves, the Coppola’s retrofitted casino. After passing a security check under the watchful eye of the casino’s Security Chief, all of the Sunset Eclipse’s passengers would be granted admission into the casino proper. Unbeknownst to Hellexix Ordo, Pexuu recognizes him, though not for the man’s entrepreneurial accomplishments in the Core. Rather, the arrival of Hellexix Ordo brought a flood of memories from decades prior to Pexuu’s mind - memories of Corellia. The Zabrak Security Chief keeps these memories to himself, however, seeing as Hellexix had been too young to recognize him from their shared past. Ulric Sigliano, having come to the Ace specifically for the sake of meeting with the Coppola brothers, splits off, leaving Hellexix and Corman to head to the casino floor, where debts owed are paid in full for Corman allowing Hellexix and Ulric passage aboard his ship. Later that same day, Sairah O’Rinn, captain of the Raven’s Nest, also arrives at the Ace, invited to the Casino with the possibility of another lucrative job, though the details of the job had yet to be revealed... After receiving payment and saying his farewells to Hellexix Ordo, Corman Candar began his hunt for Aval Derevan, the man who framed him for murder. It wasn't long before Corman found who he was looking for. Sitting down opposite the older man, the two engaged in a game of Pazaak against each other. To throw Corman off of his game, Aval reveals that he was the one who murdered Corman’s foster father Twado. The stakes of the game are raised to a lifetime of savings, and Corman barely takes the victory in the final round. An enraged Aval leaves the Ace of Staves, but not before Corman can place a tracker on him. With Coordinates in hand, the crew of the Sunset Eclipse leaves the Casino to follow Aval’s footsteps. Back in the heart of the New Galactic Republic on Coruscant, a young man by the name of Calvin Tiberiusolis - in an attempt to spite his father - graduates from the Senate Guard’s Officer Training Facility and gets assigned to the Public Duties Company. While optimistic about his new lot in life, Calvin came into his new profession at an… interesting time. For years, Chancellor Snow’s political career had been suffering, mostly due to the ongoing talk of guerilla warfare and attacks employed by rogue Reformation sympathizers in the Outer Rim. While the Reformation had only recently begun mounting into a true threat to key NGR planets (Dantooine, most recently), many of the NGR’s citizens and representatives placed the blame for their continued existence at the Chancellor’s feet. Unhappiness with the Chancellor’s performance came to a head when, during one of Calvin’s first deployments with the Senate Guard, a few of the Senate Guards were ordered to fire live mortar rounds into a crowd of peaceful protestors. While the official report claimed that it was an accident, rumors began to fly that the Senate Guard had faulty received orders from somewhere above. The investigation, to this day, is still pending, though it is theorized that the call was made by someone wishing to further diminish Chancellor Snow’s reputation with the NGR’s populace - a strategy which proved effective, as popular support for the Chancellor reached an all-time low, and rumors began to swirl in the Senate of a vote of no confidence. Several days after leaving Deneba, Jedi Master Frifth brought Se’Soom to the Jedi Temple on Ossus. Frifth spent two weeks instructing Se’Soom with the goal of expanding upon his bases. During a meeting with the Academy of Archaeology, they were shown a message from the planet Spintir, sent to the Jedi Temple by the leader of the planet’s only city offering a recently-discovered Jedi holocron for study. Initially puzzled by the sudden request, Frifth and Se’Soom were offered the opportunity to travel to Spintir to retrieve the holocron, to which Frifth and his new Padawan accepted. While researching prior to the expedition, they learned that Spintir was an artistic and agricultural world that fell on hard times and had likely come into possession of the holocron centuries earlier. Suspecting that they might run into trouble of some kind, Frifth shifted Se’Soom’s training regiment to focus on defensive techniques as a precaution. An old friend of Master Frifth’s, the Jedi Knight Tal Margos, also requested to join Frifth and his Padawan on their expedition to act as a backup in case something went wrong. Wielding knowledge of the rumored holocron on the planet Lamaredd, Maskar Kython journeyed to the far-off world. Upon arriving, Maskar posed as a representative of the Outer Rim Oreworks Company, going by the false identity of Haken Tull. His ruse proved highly effective when dealing with Lamaredd’s local authorities (if one could call them that), which led “Haken” to meeting a Duros of peculiar interest by the name of Obadd Ulat. A former member of the loose organization of darkside practitioners often referred to off-handedly as the “Sith Union,” Obadd had, through means of his own, learned of the possible location of an old, Sith Temple hidden somewhere on the planet - though, much like Maskar, the Duros had lied to the Lamaredd officials in order to conceal his true reason for coming to the planet. Their lies landed them both in a speeder planetside, spurred onward by the enthusiastically oblivious Lamaredd officials that were just thrilled to have something happening on their backwater planet and under the impression that both Maskar and Obadd were there on official business. Though their speeder ride was a long and awkward one, it gave Maskar and the Duros the privacy they needed to eventually delve into their own suspicions of one another, eventually acknowledging that they were both not only liars but two individuals after the same thing. For better or worse, they agreed to cooperate in their efforts to track down the supposed location of the ancient Sith Temple that Obadd was sure existed, and where Maskar hoped to find the holocron that Bril Rha had spoken of... While the galaxy continued to inexorably expand, a small-scale war was waging on the planet of Sy Myrth in the Outer Rim. Falling under the jurisdiction of Mandalorian space, the planet and its surrounding systems were in dispute as thousands of rival Mandalorian New Crusaders fought for dominance in the wake of Mandalore the Reaper’s death, which was followed quickly by the patricide of one of the New Crusader’s greatest leaders and founder, Warlord Harkon Ordo. Assassinated by his own son, Harkon’s death kicked off one of many bids for power that were going on throughout Mandalorian space as the hierarchy of rulers and warriors of the Mandalorian culture was tested in light of the fact that the conquering nation now stood without a clear successor to the title of Mandalore. In the midst of all of this, the battle for Sy Myrth stood out, as Harkon’s forces were divided between those loyal to his son Glaz Ordo, and those loyal to another warrior of growing infamy, a Twi’lek Mandalorian and survivor of the Outer Rim War’s Battle of Ryloth by the name of Maelzagard. Two weeks of scorched-earth warfare would lead to Glaz’s forces eventually crumbling under the weight of Maelzagard’s loyalists, resulting in Glaz’s death and his Twi’lek rival claiming the title of Warlord over the Sy Myrth New Crusaders. Meanwhile, the mystery of Mandalore the Reaper’s death and who would claim leadership over the rest of the Mandalorians remained unknown…
I work at a crooked casino. You don't gamble with money here.
Hi, everybody. My name is Sid, and I’m an addict. It took me a long time to accept that. But when you take a job in a casino just so that you can be there all the time and try to gain an edge, you’re an addict. It’s obvious even to me. More so to my family and friends, who I barely see anymore. It’s not pills or coke, booze or heroin that I’m hooked on. I’m addicted to gambling. The casino that made me so obsessed is not an ordinary one, though. It’s far from ordinary. You don’t play for money at Fantasy Casino. You play for your dreams. I hear you laughing. But have you ever had a really, really great dream? One that got so good you snapped awake the second it started to get really excellent? Well, imagine that times a thousand. Times a million. A dream so real and so perfect that all of your fantasies become reality. Time stretches out. You feel like you are there forever. A lifetime passes before your return. Infinite wealth, the ability to fly like superman, you’re surrounded by sex and beautiful people all day as you relax in a palace built to your mind’s most exacting specifications of perfection. But then you wake up, and in an instant it is gone. The power, the wealth, the endless sex and supernatural powers. Everything is suddenly NORMAL again. And so you go back to the casino. I went back to the casino. But the problem with gambling is that you don’t always win. And when you lose, suddenly the winnings are gone as well, vanished without a trace. All I knew was that I had to have that feeling again. So I went inside the giant building and then followed the secret signs which led to a door that led to a staircase going downwards. I went down the stairs and knocked on the door marked “Private” and waited for an answer. “Password.” The voice on the other side of the black door waited for my response. “Seramth Gin.” I said the unnatural words carefully and deliberately, still not knowing their meaning. A friend had told me the password, a fellow gambler who I would later find dead in his apartment. His corpse white, bloated, and maggot-infested. His eyes were black and filled with blood which streamed from his eye sockets like tears. He had bit his tongue clean off and his fingernails were found lodged in various surfaces throughout his apartment. Like he had been trying to claw his way out of a steel box that only he could see. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was later. At this point I was still hopeful for another wonderful dream. Still thankful for his advice to seek out the place. The door opened and I walked inside. It was the same as it had been the day before, only less busy at this time – still early afternoon. I approached the table I had been sitting at the night before. Poker – Texas Hold ‘em: Ten dream limit – the sign read. The rules were simple. You got a stack of chips. If you doubled them, you received a dream. If you lost them, you lost a dream. I wasn’t concerned about losing dreams yet, I still didn’t understand exactly what that meant. When I lost my first stack of chips, I quickly bought in again. And again. And again. Pretty soon I realized I had lost eight dreams with no winnings whatsoever. I was in a slump. A losing streak. I decided to go home and count my losses. Literally, since I had no idea what that even meant. As I got up to leave the table, the dealer looked at me. His eyes were remorseless and cold. “See the cashier on your way out,” he said, handing me eight black chips. I gulped and walked over to the glass window where the cashier sat waiting. Handing him the eight chips, he raised his eyebrows and clicked his tongue. “That’s a shame. Hold out your hand please.” Two men in black suits came up behind me suddenly and stood on either side of me, intimidating in their stature and demeanour. I did as he asked and held out my hand with the palm facing up. The cashier pulled out a strange-looking device from beneath the counter. It had a vial of vermillion-coloured liquid at the top that was attached to the rest of it which resembled a gun with a hypodermic needle at the end. I screamed and tried to pull away, but the two men grabbed me and held my arm through the window. Thrashing and elbowing them, I tried to get away but it was useless. The cashier injected the stuff into my veins quickly and it felt cold and slimy going through my system. I could feel it suddenly in my heart, turning it cold and then up into my mind and my lungs and all extremities causing me to shake and violently seize. I writhed on the floor, blood pouring from my ears and my eyes. Finally the feeling settled down into a numbness that prickled the insides of my blood vessels. It wasn’t until later, once I realized what the casino really was, that I found out what they had done. I went home with the certainty that they had injected me with something. If winning had resulted in the greatest dream I had ever had – essentially an almost never-ending fantasy – what would happen after a loss? Nightmares. That was what it would be. I was sure of it. I settled into bed that night and closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep quickly after such an emotionally exhausting afternoon. As soon as my eyes closed, they opened again and it was morning. It felt as if I had not slept at all. My mind was fuzzy and it was difficult to focus. My eyes wanted to close again but my alarm was telling me that it was time to get up for work, so I hit the “dismiss” button and hopped in the shower. I threw on my clothes and went out the door. At work I noticed a few people looking at me strangely, but I didn’t realize until someone pointed it out to me that my shirt was on inside-out. At this point I was still working in an office doing commodities trading and such lapses were frowned upon. If you couldn’t focus enough to put your shirt on properly in the morning, how could you focus enough to get the work done in such a demanding environment? Millions of dollars changing hands with each transaction meant that such trivial things were put under a magnifying glass and coupled with other subsequent mistakes each following day after that, I found myself in the boss’s office by the end of the week being handed my walking papers. Desperate for rest after days of not feeling any benefit from sleep, I went back to the casino. They knew just by looking at me how to dig their claws in further. After a couple hours I had managed to win myself a dream. They handed me the complimentary cocktail as they had the time before. I hadn’t realized the significance of it and still didn’t, despite the unusual vermillion colour of the drink. I swallowed it in one gulp and went out the door practically dancing and clicking my heels, ready to go home and feel rested again. My dream that night was wonderful. Everything I had hoped for in many ways. But not as good as the first time. I wanted that feeling back again. Knowing that it was a dream the whole time and realizing that it was going to end seemed to shorten the fantasy, made it seem hollow and manufactured. If I could win again maybe it would be like that first time, I thought. The casino drew me in again and again. I found myself a zombie most days, exhausted, at my wit’s end. Ready to call it quits for good and say goodbye. But then I would win again and it would all seem to be alright for a while. My debt kept growing and growing with nearly every trip. The hypodermic needle would be plunged into my skin and every time they had to hold me down. Every time I would feel a little more empty. A little more hollow. Waking up every day began to feel the same. Nothing had definition or purpose. “You’re here all the time,” one of the goons whispered to me as they shot the needle into my vein the time after that. “Haven’t you figured it out yet? You should just get a job here and then at least you’ll be in on the secret.” I applied the next day and got an interview with the boss. I would find out later that if you got someone to apply there you got a one dream bonus. In his office, the well-dressed man was sitting behind a massive polished ebony desk. The room was adorned with paintings, sculptures, and other high-priced artwork. He had photos everywhere of himself shaking hands with world leaders, new and old, for hundreds of years. His face never changed. Never aged. “So, you want to work with us? Tired of dreamless nights without end? You want to have some relief, is that it?” “Yes. Please. Anything. I’ve been coming here for so long and it’s an endless cycle. I want back what I’ve lost but I keep finding myself more and more in debt with each visit.” “Ah, so do you understand it now, then? What the ‘injections’ are?” It finally dawned on me, sitting there. Not injections at all. They weren’t putting something in us. They were taking something out. The vermillion-coloured liquid in the vials – our dreams. “If I take a job with you, will the same rules apply? Will they still take my sleep, my rest, every time I lose?” “Yes. We can’t have the employees living by different rules than everyone else. But we will give you an alternative injection, so that you feel well-rested when you come in for your shift.” “I’ll do it. I need to rest. I need to get some meaningful sleep. My life has been miserable ever since coming here.” “Well, I can’t promise that this will help,” he said, getting up from his desk with a hypodermic gun in his hand. The vial of fluid sitting atop this one was jet-black and looked evil and poisonous. He rolled up his sleeves as he primed it and I watched a few beads of it drip oil-like out of the tip of the needle. “What the hell is that!? I don’t want that stuff in me!” “But you need to sleep, my dear worker. I can’t have you passing out at the blackjack table like a narcoleptic! You agreed to this, after all. You wanted to rest, and the only way for that to happen is for you to have SOME sort of dream. Not everyone is as lucky as you, you know. To have that wonderful vermillion fluid in your veins. Some people come to us begging to take it from them. Some of our employees for example, the ones who do the recruitment for us, are full of this black stuff.” “What?” I had gotten up from the chair and was backing away from him towards the door. But I found it was locked as he approached. “First you have to tell me the password, Sid.” “Seramth Gin.” I said the words that I had said every time to gain access to the casino, only this time I pictured the letters and rearranged them in my mind. “Nightmares.” He smiled as he injected me with the vial of black hate, and it went into my veins feeling hot and unpleasant. I began to sweat and the beads of it turned cold on my skin as I shivered. I’ll sleep tonight. I might even wake up feeling rested. But as long as I live and work at that casino, I’ll be afraid to dream again. Because now my unconscious hours are occupied by the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Nightmares beyond imagining in their awfulness. That is my fate. Unless… Just maybe, I can win one more time. JG TCC
Face masks are mandatory in the following indoor settings:
shopping (retail, supermarkets and shopping centres)
public/shared transport, indoor entertainment (including cinemas and theatres)
places of worship
hair and beauty premises.
Face masks will also be mandatory for all staff in hospitality venues, gaming areas in licensed
premises (including casinos) and for patrons using gaming services.
Under the public health order, a "fitted face covering" means a mask or other covering that:
(a) fits securely around the face, and
(b) is designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide the wearer with protection against infection.
A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply. Children aged 12 and under 12 are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.
List of premises where you must wear a mask
People whoenterorworkin the following premises will be required to wear a mask:
Retail premises or business premises that provide goods or services to members of the public who attend the premises, including:
shopping centres, but not a recreation facility (indoor) in a shopping centre
gaming areas in licensed premises (including casinos)
premises, including places of public worship, being used for public worship or religious services
residential aged care facilities (visitors, not residents).
Premises that are used for the purpose of providing health services are not retail premises or business premises.
Public transport (including waiting areas)
You must wear a mask when you are at a public transport waiting area (e.g. bus stop, train platform or taxi rank) or are in a vehicle or vessel being used to provide a public transport service, including a taxi service or rideshare service. A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply.
The public health order includes a number of exemptions.
Children aged 12 or under.
People who have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable including, for example, a skin condition, an intellectual disability, autism or trauma.
A person may remove their mask if they are:
eating or drinking
communicating with another person who is deaf or hard of hearing
at work and the nature of the work makes the wearing of fitted face covering a risk to the person's, or another persons' health and safety, or means clear enunciation or visibility of your mouth is essential
This chapter was a labour of love, heists are hard. Big thanks to u/eruwenn for helping tidy up this bag of snakes. First / Prev / Next
“Ranjaz K’Lua, you thieving scumbag!” the Kah’Ree in the purple suit exclaimed loudly as he spotted them across the busy room. “As I live and skral, I never thought you would have the Jolos show your face here again!” Two J’Rami in suits detached themselves from the lobby wall, walking towards the Kittran and his friends. “Alfor, my old friend!” Ranjaz smiled broadly. “No need for the welcoming party, I’ve got your credits” —he gestured to Cygna— “and a sweetener, for all the trouble I caused last time.” Alfor paused, lecherous eyes assessing the Fae’Dan. “You know I have a thing for purple.” He chuckled at his own joke and waved the guards back to their posts. “How about we have a drink, and discuss your forgiveness.” He pointed to Thor and Eruwenn. “Brought your own security, or are these Gal. Fed. goons? Everyone knows about your probation.” The Kittran gave a broad grin. “I got a Tulseria-damned pardon, a new ship and a very lucrative opportunity.” The Kah’Ree smiled. “How’d a thieving cat like you get a pardon?” He gave Ranjaz an appraising look up and down. “Oh? Now, let me guess, you need something from me and my brother?” Ranjaz fired his finger guns. “You were always the smart one Alfor, that’s why you run the casino floor.” The Kittran stepped in close. “The item, do you still have it?” Alfor tilted his head back and away from Ranjaz. “Your little guarantee?” He looked back down at Ranjaz. “We have it somewhere safe. Had some unusual people come by after you got caught. Asked a lot of questions. Made a lot of threats.” His face contorted in anger. “We got audited thanks to you.” The Kittran smiled. “If only they knew you better, they could have simply paid you for the information.” “We give nothing for free.” The Kah’Ree gave a sinister smile. “House rule.” Ranjaz walked forward to put his his arm on Alfor’s back. “Let’s go see your brother. Have a few drinks, maybe gamble a little, and discuss our future riches.”
Ripley stood in the shadows of the staff shuttle bay, watching as the numerous employees of assorted races came and went. Loud laughter caught her attention, and a very strangely dressed Niham broke away from a small group and walked towards her. Ripley tried to maintain her low profile as the scantily clad female strutted towards her in long black boots with pointed heels that clacked loudly with every step. Deliberately avoiding eye contact the Awakened tried to will herself into the wall but it was too late and a voice called out to her. “Hey Darling! You must be the one I’m looking for.” Ripley shook her head. The Kittran had said the contact was an Ashi pirate captain, a master gambler and expert in procuring the unusual. “I don’t-” “Listen cutie,” she interrupted, “you’re the one lurking in dark corners drawing attention to yourself. I’ve got your security card. You tell that fluffy little stud he owes me. And more than a bottle of Fae’Dan wine and a good time, if you know what I mean.” She held up the card between her fingers, just a little out of Ripley’s reach. The Awakened considered the phrase ‘fluffy little stud’ and decided that, despite her hopes, this was probably her contact. “You’re Captain Whiplash?” The Ashi laughed genuinely, the jiggling of tightly squeezed breasts bursting at shiny black restraints making Ripley nervous. “Oh, Darling! Only my little pets call me that! You may call me Sho’Na.” Ripley was momentarily confused. “So, you aren’t a pirate captain?” “I’m anything they pay me to be.” She smiled at the silver-haired woman's naivety. “You really are new to this.” Ripley, caught off guard, simply nodded, then replied, “I’m a quick learner.” “Good for you, Darling.” Sho’Na handed over the card. “Just make sure you get paid up front, and don’t use your real name with clients. Ruins the mystique.” Ripley was unsure of what was being said. Turning the card over in her hands she saw that the holo-image on the front was of a male Arkellian. “This isn’t me?” “Honey, I was given half a cycle to get you a level three security card. Just be glad it’s a biped.” Sho’Na looked Ripley up and down. “Our mutual acquaintance told me you were some sort of master of disguise who could even trick Selva Blaster.” Ripley paused, then smiled. Her appearance had become such an integral part of her identity she had forgotten that it was entirely optional. “It won’t be a problem.” She looked at the card again. “Unless the owner comes looking for it.” Sho’Na gave another bosom-trembling laugh that threatened to spill out at any moment. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s tied up at the moment.” The Awakened considered the risk. “Hmmm, but for how long?” The few strips of shiny black material that comprised Sho’Na’s revealing outfit strained under her amusement. “Don’t you worry, Darling. He paid for the whole night.”
Eruwenn had reassessed her opinion of Ranjaz many times since meeting him. The criminal. The loyal friend. The lazy trouble-maker. All were true, but now she was seeing something new. He sat opposite Toran, the brother of Alfor, in a game of dalcho she wished she could have taken part in, but was equally glad she did not. At first she had thought the Kittran was outmatched, a few reckless mistakes costing him dearly as the Kah’Ree deftly selected his tiles. Toran was clearly a seasoned gambler, using a blend of the Remee Le’Bow Gambit and the Kowals’Kee Analysis she hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be dismantling Ranjaz’s tiles before he could even prepare his cards. A few fortunate dice rolls and he had taken a strong lead from the outset. The Kittran appeared desperate, playing any tile available to try and slow the defeat. It had all been a ruse, she saw it; Ranjaz had saved his best tiles and carefully thrown hands to manipulate the cards. In just a few rounds he would be able to dominate the board and raise the stakes, recouping his losses and changing the course of the game entirely. She had encountered few players who could manipulate the game so deftly, using memory and layers of strategy to corner their opponent. It was magnificent. Eruwenn couldn’t tear her eyes from the board as she stood beside Thor. The Awakened had shown no interest in the game, studiously watching the opposite door as Toran’s staff came in and out. When a waiter entered and began preparing drinks at the small private bar in the executive gambling room, Thor coughed. It was a strange thing for an Awakened to do, and Eruwenn finally looked up from the table. “Are you ok?” Thor nodded. By the time he had looked towards her, she had returned her attention completely to the game. “You don’t seem concerned about your friend?” he asked. The Anatidae watched as Ranjaz used a blind double feint, and the sheer audacity of such a move made her swallow hard. She didn’t look back to Thor, but mumbled a response. “I’m very confident in her abilities.” The waiter was methodically placing drinks by each of the players, but when they stood behind Ranjaz the Kittran surged to his feet, shouting, “Hey! No cheating Toran! Getting your waiter to look over my shoulder? That’s a dirty move I’d expect from your brother!” Thor had reacted faster than Eruwenn, pinning the arms of the Arkellian waiter in a vice-like bear hug. Toran slowly stood. He was big, heavily muscled, and the veins on his neck bulged as his anger rose. “Don’t accuse me in my own place.” He cracked his knuckles and glowered down at Ranjaz. “I run a straight game.” Fearlessly the Kittran walked right up to the Kah’Ree and stared up into his face from waist height. “Don’t try and intimidate me, you son of a Vogel.” Ranjaz puffed out his chest and began pushing the burly casino owner. “Nobody cheats me!” The blow caught Ranjaz across the cheek and sent him sprawling across the room. Eruwenn winced at the impact, but maintained her composure. Toran laughed. “Watch your tongue or I’ll add it to my collection.” He walked round the table and kicked Ranjaz in the stomach, glaring at Thor and Eruwenn, daring them to act. “Know your place trash. You’re at this table because you put credits up front. You are a dishonest thief, begging for scraps, and cosying up to me any my brother to get your little trinket back.” He returned to his seat. “Why would I need to cheat against the likes of you?” Ranjaz stood, brushing himself off. “Fine, fine.” He waved a hand and Thor dropped the Arkellian. Ranjaz tapped him on the chest. “My mistake.” He sat down and picked up his cards once more. “You’re right Toran, you run a clean game. I’m just a sore loser.” He shuffled the order of the tiles that were still face down on the table. “To show my sincerity, how about we double the buy for the rest of the game?” Toran snorted. “Double?” He looked at the Kittran, scrutinising his opponent. The game was already over; he had control of the board and his tiles occupied the three prime positions. Was the thief trying to buy his favour, he wondered? How much was the trinket he wanted truly worth? He decided it was worth testing. “Triple, and I’ll forget you dared touch me.” The Kittran swallowed hard, his ears flat to his head. Toran momentarily worried he’d pushed for too much but a decision seemed to be reached. “Fine. Triple.” The look of defeat was delicious to the Kah’Ree.
Cygna had done her part and lured Alfor to a private room away from his security. She had danced, skipped and side-stepped his groping hands so far, maintaining a playfulness that ensured he complied. This sort of thing was not new to her; she had spent time undercover in the past. Fortunately, there had been little call for it since she had joined forces with Eruwenn. Alfor’s eyes scanned her body once more. “The Kittran has very good taste.” He licked his lips, a small amount of drool escaping and running down his chin. He wiped it on his sleeve. “Now, I brought you somewhere quiet. How about you show me how sweet you can be?” The Fae’Dan smiled coyly and continued her dancing just out of reach, glancing to the doorway where Alfor’s two guards stood watching her. “With an audience?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly. With a sly grin he waved the guards out of the room. “Now come here and let me satisfy you like only a Kah’Ree can.” His eyes wandered over her body once more. Cygna smiled, her own eyes moving from the Kah’Ree’s hands to his shoulders, then up towards his neck. An interesting fact about the Kah’Ree was the thick blood vessels on the side of their neck. They often bulged when a Kah’Ree was angry or excited, like Alfor’s were as he leered at her. She danced closer. Another interesting fact was that their brains were not as efficient as those of other species, hence the requirement for additional blood flow; more oxygen per limited thought. He leaned forward, his eyes locked to her swaying hips. Cygna turned slowly, and his head tilted to appreciate her assets. The third, lesser known, fact about the Kah’Ree was that an interruption to the blood flow while they were in this excited state caused them to lose consciousness rapidly as their brain burned through the available oxygen. “My eyes are up here.” She smiled as he looked up at her with his head still tilted. He sneered. “Who ca-” The Fae’Dan struck the side of his neck with the edge of her hand, targeting the throbbing blood vessel with a powerful blow. The interruption to his brain's oxygen supply worked perfectly and he fell face forward onto the ground at her feet. She let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his unconscious body. “Thank you, that was particularly satisfying.” She walked over to the door and peeked out, finding the guards standing either side. “He said to order us some drinks.” One of the guards nodded and immediately put his hand to his lapel communicator. Back inside the room, Cygna used her foot to roll Alfor to his back and began searching his pockets. She came up empty. Her eyes caught a glimmer from his collar and she found a heavy gold chain, at the end of which was his security key. She removed it just as a knock came at the door. A deep voice from the other side called out. “Your drinks, boss.” The Fae’Dan quickly messed up her hair. Using the back of her hand she smeared her lipstick sideways, and then pulled the strap of her dress down off her shoulder. She opened the door and, to her surprise, was faced with an Arkellian waiter. The bodyguards noted her dishevelled appearance and shared a smirk, and she said, “Oh, I wasn’t expec-” The waiter pushed the trolley into the room. “Don’t keep the boss waiting, lady.” Before Cygna could reply they were inside and the door closed. “Relax, it’s me.” Ripley’s voice sounded bizarre coming from the male Arkellian form, and Cygna’s eyes went wide in shock. Her sharp mind quickly adjusted to this new information. Of course the Awakened could change their physical appearance; she had just never seen it. They all seemed quite attached to their chosen human forms. “Neat trick.” She held out Alfor’s key. “Did you get the other one?” Ripley nodded. “The Kittran played his part well. I didn’t see him take it, and didn’t feel it when he placed it in my pocket. Now that was a neat trick.” The Fae’Dan smiled. “I think I’ll pass on that dalcho game.” The Arkellian Ripley smiled. “Probably wise.” Turning, she slipped the key into her pocket and headed back out of the door.
Ripley entered the elevator to the owner's private offices on the top floor. Thanks to the distractions downstairs, the two large desks in the centre of the room were empty. She walked straight past them to the large leokas painting on the wall and swung it forward. Behind it was a Fae’Dan safe; she took out the two keys and a small homemade device the Kittran had given her. Attaching the device to the bio-lock and standing before the safe, she elongated her arms to reach both key positions at once. There was more than one reason she was the one chosen for this task. The device beeped twice and small lights above each lock lit up. She simultaneously turned both keys, and there was a satisfying clunk. She raised an eyebrow. The device had worked. The heavy safe door swung open and she began her search. Ranjaz had been very specific: while there was one item she had to get, she was to grab as much as possible to obscure their true target. Quickly grabbing as much as she could she retrieved the keys and ran back across the room towards the elevator.
Cygna hauled Alfor back onto the seat, putting him in a more natural position and messing up his hair. She looked away as she began unbuttoning his clothes, pulling his trousers around his ankles and opening his shirt up to bare his chest. From a secret pocket inside her dress she pulled out a lace thong, setting it on his head like a bandana. She also had a small box which she opened, inside of which was a replica mouth with lipstick that matched her own. Cygna carefully applied kiss marks all over his exposed skin before popping the fake lips back into the secret pocket. She took the Fae’Dan wine and partially filled two glasses, making sure to take a long drink from one and leave more lipstick marks. The rest of the wine was poured into the ice bucket. She heard the sound of voices outside the door. The guards were arguing with someone, refusing them entry, but when the name Toran was mentioned it was Ripley who entered, still in uniform but now looking much like her usual self. She smirked at the Kah’Ree in his derobed state. “I can see you had fun.” The Fae’Dan chuckled. “That’s the idea.” She looked at the Awakened in her true form. “You look… better.” Ripley cocked her head. “It would be strange if the waiter came back to deliver a message.” She tossed the necklace key to Cygna, who replaced it on Alfor’s neck. Reclining on the sofa and picking up her glass, Cygna took another long drink. “Get the other one back to Ranjaz quickly. This one won’t be napping much longer.” The Awakened gave an almost Ranjaz-like grin. “You could always hit him again.” Before the Fae’Dan could reply she had ducked back out of the door. She caught the eye of one of the bodyguards and gave a head tilt back towards the room. “The boss is really enjoying himself!” As the suited pair chuckled, the larger of the two got a message in his ear piece. “Hey, silver hair.” He grunted. “Boss has an important guest. Meet them in the foyer and bring them to the dalcho room.” Ripley was relieved – she needed a reason to get into that room. “On my way.”
Toran was seething as he watched as the Kittran flipped his final tile. Why would he have waited so long to play the Wings of Tulseria tile? His stomach sank, and he couldn’t hold back his anger any longer. “Damn you!” Ranjaz gave a full-fanged grin. “Looks like my luck turned at just the right moment.” “Luck!” Toran’s tile snapped between his fingers. Why had he let the damned cat goad him into constantly increasing their bet? The cycle had started with him owing the brothers a million credits plus interest, and now the infuritating Kittran had won nearly forty times that. “Nobody is that lucky.” “Woah!” Ranjaz held up his hands. “I would never cheat, well... certainly not a second time. After you caught me, I’d be a fool to try.” “Hmm.” Toran looked at the two behind the Kittran. The big one would be a problem, but the Anatidae looked to be nothing special. “How about I give you back your little trinket and we call it even?” “My trinket?” Ranjaz shook his head. “I had to convince you it was worth the million I owed. Why would you think I’d trade it for thirty eight million credits? I’ll pay what I owe, take my trinket and my winnings and leave.” Toran folded his arms and looked across the dalcho board at Ranjaz. “And why would I let you do that?” The atmosphere in the room changed as the two security guards changed their stance. “Transfer the credits back to the house.” Ranjaz dropped the grin, replacing it with a defiant glare. “What happened to you running a straight game?” “The game was straight. You won, didn’t you?” He leaned forward, his eyes cold and hard. “You’re just in no position to collect.” The Kittran was about to argue when the door behind Toran opened. He looked up as Ripley entered, and his eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t alone. “Toran, you bastard! You sold me out!” “For ten million credits.” Toran stared hard at Ranjaz. “Care to make a better offer?” Eruwenn’s eyes blazed with anger as the grey-suited Niham pulled up a seat and sat down beside Toran. “Now, now, you lied to me about having the item before. Don’t double cross me.” Sentinel Krast placed his hands together on the table, interlacing his fingers. “I’m not somebody who forgives easily.” He looked directly at Eruwenn. “Isn’t that right, former Councillor? A little far from your new Ambassador position, aren’t you?” Ripley stood back against the wall. She had no idea who the newcomer was, but this most definitely was not the plan. The golden green Anatidae walked forward to stand behind Ranjaz. “Oh, I had a little vacation time saved up, and decided to spend it with my good friend here.” She placed a hand on the Kittrans shoulder. “And what brings a Sentinel here?” Krast’s lips curled in what might approximate a smile. “I’m also acquainted with Mr K’Lua. In fact, we go back a very long way.” He turned to look directly at Ranjaz. “Now, return what is mine.” Toran looked from Ranjaz to Krast. “Yours? You don’t look like the tiara wearing type.” The Sentinel didn’t turn his head. “Ah, so you hid the data chip inside some shiny bauble. As inventive as ever, Mr K’Lua.” The Niham finally acknowledged Toran by looking at him. “Bring. It. Here.” The Kah’Ree sucked air through his teeth. “Well, seems like we have something mighty important, and two very interested parties.” He stood and walked to his two security officers, who drew their weapons in unison. “Now then, I believe you” —he nodded to Krast— “offered ten million. How about it Ranjaz, old friend? What’s your counter offer?” The Kittran had been sitting, silently seething at his double cross being double crossed. He looked at Krast. “Were you the one?” Toran was surprised at being ignored, but before he could reply Krast answered, “The one?” Ranjaz’s eyes narrowed, his ears alert, his tail swishing aggressively. “The one who took my friend!” he snarled as he felt Eruwenn’s hand holding him back gently. Krast’s eyes glittered as he saw the impotent rage in his opponent’s eyes. “Ah, the poor deceased human?” He smiled his mannequin-esque smile. “And if I was?” Toran snatched a pistol from one of his men and fired a blast at the ceiling. “Your quarrel can wait. Let’s settle our business first and you can kill each other after I’m paid.” He paused, then added, “but, not in my casino. Body disposal costs extra.” Eruwenn’s hand gripped Ranjaz’s shoulder harder, and he braced himself. In one smooth move she both threw him backwards and to the right, and kicked the dalcho table up and forward into Krast's face. The Sentinel fell backwards as a blast from Toran struck the table, but Eruwenn was already on the move, sidestepping left and ducking forward into a cartwheel. Toran's gun had been following Ranjaz, but as her leg swept down it knocked the weapon from his grip. Once she stabilized, her fist, already primed with momentum from the cartwheel, struck Toran below the ribs and knocked the wind from him. The guard, whose gun the Kah'Ree had been holding, lunged forward to grab Eruwenn but she simply deflected his hand, pairing his forward momentum with her rising elbow to swiftly render him unconscious. The second guard had just begun to raise his weapon when a huge fist struck him in his chest, sending him careening backwards into the wall. Thor loomed over him, shaking his head as he retrieved the energy pistol. “Too slow.” Ripley helped Ranjaz to his feet as Krast pushed the table off his chest. Toran was coughing and struggling to breathe as Ranjaz pressed the retrieved energy pistol to his forehead. “Double cross me?” He dragged the Kah’Ree forward. “I want to see the item, then I’ll pay what I owe.” The two of them awkwardly made their way back towards Krast, so Ranjaz could point the gun in his face. “Then we can talk about your body disposal fee.” Krast stood, and his phony smile was gone. “You can’t kill me. The Sentinels will tear this place apart, hunt you down and kill you. You think I came alone? My ship is in orbit and waiting for my orders!” Ranjaz grabbed him by the jacket, pulling him down to his level, and struck him in the face with the butt of the pistol. Thor cooly kept his stolen pistol pointed at Toran and the one conscious guard. By the third blow Krast’s face was bloody, his nose broken and he began to struggle against Ranjaz’s assault. A muted boom caused everyone present to stop in their tracks. Alarms began to sound and Toran swore loudly. He pulled out his communicator, ignoring Thor’s pistol. “What the hell was that!” He held the device close as he listened. “My office?” He patted his pocket. Finding his key in place, he looked to Ranjaz and then Krast. “Seal the casino! And where is my brother?” Ripley suddenly understood why the Kittran had told her to leave his device on the safe door. After a brief further moment of shock, which she kept from showing on her face, she realized that she had been carrying an explosive without being told. If they survived, Ranjaz was going to need to explain himself. Thoroughly. Eruwenn, Thor and Ranjaz had backed away to the opposite side of the room, standing by the door. Krast stood alone, holding his profusely bleeding nose. The opposite door soon opened to reveal scrambling casino security, with Toran and his guard standing nearby. The unconscious guard was carried out without comment, and the Kah’Ree turned to Ripley. “Why are you still here?” She nodded and slipped out of the door, leaving one less concern for the remaining three. “Alright, which one of your skrolg-licking bastards broke into my private safe?” Krast spat blood onto the floor, pointing at Ranjaz. “He’s the thief. You and I had a deal.” The Kittran smirked. “I’m a better thief than blowing up a Tulseria-damned safe. If I wanted to steal it, I would have done just that. I would not have announced my arrival and sat down to a game of dalcho.” Toran looked between the two of them. “He’s got a point.” One of his men handed him a pistol, and he continued to talk a little distractedly into his communicator. “Well, check everywhere!” Ranjaz stirred the pot. “He’s the bastard who double crossed me, why would he honour your deal?” Eruwenn nodded. “A government agent can’t be seen working with criminals.” Krast's face contorted in rage. “Don’t be a damned fool, Toran!” He pointed at Ranjaz. “This is clearly some convoluted distraction.” Toran shook his head. “They had the upper hand. You were the one getting your face ruined.”
Cygna watched nervously as Alfor began to stir. Things were taking a lot longer than expected. Finally, her signal came; it was not as subtle as she had been led to believe. As soon as the explosion went off the two bodyguards quickly came into the room, glancing from Alfor’s sleeping body to her. She staggered forward, wine bottle in hand. “We need more drinkshh!” The guard ignored her as he saw the condition of his boss. “Not again,” he groaned. “Toran will kill us for letting him get like this.” The second guard stepped out into the corridor. “I’m not dressing him! Last time he tried to kiss me!” Cygna paused, not having expected it to go this way. The first bodyguard walked out as well. “He pissed on my new shoes the time before that. I’m not moving him.” Their communicators went off and their faces became more serious. Bodyguard two spoke first. “Damn it. Toran wants him.” The first turned to look at the increasingly bewildered Cygna. “You!” He smiled. “You got him undressed. You can dress him.” Cygna spotted Ripley running down the corridor towards them, causing her confusion to grow further. The Awakened shouted one word. “Sentinels!” The Fae’Dan’s mind raced. The plan was clearly blown, and they had to get out. Fast. As the guards were now facing Ripley, she took the opportunity to kick one in the back of the knee. He fell forward, and as the second turned he was met with the upward swing of a wine bottle. The first guard discovered first-hand the shocking truth of how hard the knee of an Awakened could be, and both were unconscious by the time they hit the ground. Cygna smiled at Ripley. "Thanks." The Awakened gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. “A Sentinel turned up, so Ranjaz set off the diversion he promised. The other brother is busy trying to figure out whether it’s us or the Sentinels robbing him.” Cygna took on board the new information quickly, knowing she needed to help the others. “I have an idea. Lie over there and look dead.” She ran back into the room, where Alfor was groaning and starting to move. She slipped the chain from his neck and dropped it into the ice bucket, where it sank out of sight below the dark Fae’Dan wine. She began to slowly shake him. “Huh,” he grumbled, and slowly opened his eyes. “Wha.. what happened?” Cygna clung to him tightly. “Oh thank goodness! I thought they killed you!” “Killed?” Alfor’s head was pounding, his memory blurry. “Who-” He caught sight of his downed guards in the open doorway. “What the hell happened?” He began pulling at his clothes, and swiftly checked that his trousers were dry. “While we were.. You know…” He nodded; he was buttoning up his clothes. He didn’t remember, but he knew. “Some scary men burst into the room and shot you! I was so scared.” She hugged him tight, pressing herself against him. He put his arm around her. “What men? Be brave, and tell me what happened.” She looked up at him, trying to make her eyes as big as possible, adding a lip tremble to really sell it. “I don’t know! They wore grey suits. And one of them took your necklace!” “My necklace.” He clutched at his chest where it should have been. “Damn Sentinels! I told Toran we couldn't trust them!” He stepped into the corridor, where Ripley lay on the ground with a terrible energy weapon burn on the side of her face. He pulled out his communicator. “Toran.” He instantly got hold of his brother. “I didn’t answer because I was knocked out. Damn Sentinels took my key, killed some of our guys.” He looked around. “Nobody important, just some waiter.” He finally pulled the underwear from his head. “I’ll go to the security room and look at the video.” He ended the call and turned back to Cygna. “You stay here.” She smiled. “Sorry, we can’t let you check the security footage.” “Wha-” Ripley struck him from behind and he crumpled to the ground, her fake burn melting from her face. The Awakened looked around, rechecking that all was clear. “I think that’s all we can do; we should get out of here. Come with me, my shuttle is in the staff bay.”
Toran closed his communicator and motioned to a guard. “Search him.” Eruwenn wished she had some way to capture the look on Krast’s face when the remote detonator was pulled from his pocket. She'd have to hug the light-fingered Kittran later. The Sentinel grit his teeth. “That’s not mine.” “Sure, sure,” Toran agreed, while simultaneously shaking his head at the Sentinel. “Looks like you really didn’t come alone.” Krast was furious, yelling, “I’m telling you-” He broke off when Ranjaz shot him in the leg, falling to the floor. The Kah’Ree pointed his pistol at the Kittran. “Can’t let you kill a Sentinel in my casino, even if they did just rob me.” Ranjaz was surprised the Kah’Ree had believed them so easily. “What about us?” Toran sighed, lowering his weapon. “Take your winnings and get out. If you stole the thing once, I’m sure you can steal it again.” Eruwenn and Thor both made to leave. Ranjaz paused, knowing he might not get another chance. “And him?” The Kah’Ree looked at the Sentinel holding his wounded leg. “We’ll send him back to his ship. As much as I hate it, the Sentinels are untouchable.” Ranjaz raised his pistol. “He took my friend.” “And we’ll get him back,” Eruwenn said softly. “Then we’ll all deal with him, and the rest of the Sentinels.” Krast sneered and spat blood once more. “Your human is dead.” Ranjaz fired. Krast screamed and grabbed his other leg. “You bastard!” Toran and his men raised their weapons as the Kah’Ree yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” Ranjaz turned and followed the others out of the door, but just as it was about to close he poked his head back in. “Oh, one last thing.” Toran could be seen looking up just as the Kittran fired again, but he ducked out of sight before the true outcome of his shot could be seen. The shrieks of agony, however, followed the trio down the corridor as they broke into a run. Eruwenn spared a glance down at Ranjaz during their retreat. “What did you do?” The full-fanged grin had never been larger. “Made sure we’ll see him again.” On the floor of the dalcho room Krast was screaming in agony. He turned over to stare at the closed door. “I’ll kill you! I will hunt you down and kill every last one of you!” Toran spoke into his communicator. “Tell the Sentinel ship to come get their man. And, bring a doctor. A really good doctor.” He nudged one of his guards and finally let out a chuckle. After all, the Sentinels had just robbed him. “You double-crossing scum always get what you deserve.” The J’Rami guard raised an eyebrow. “Not sure anyone deserves getting shot in the balls.”
Local authorities in Goa, India, issue a terror alert for the West Coast, sending it to fishing vessels, resorts, barges, and offshore casinos. The alert states a fishing vessel may be used to launch a terrorist attack. The Ports Minister states that Pakistan has seized an Indian fishing vessel i...
u/eruwenn put a lot into this one, so big thanks for that. Hope you guys enjoy. First / Prev / Next Eruwenn stepped into the hangar of the Galactic Federation ship Takogni, her assistant Cygna close behind. With steady and sure steps they approached the remarkable group in matching uniforms — black pants, black jacket, and a visible collar of a coloured shirt — that stood before them. Norrin, the Herald of the Awakened Queen and easily the most striking individual they had ever beheld, stood at the front with a brazen lack of clothing on his mirror-like skin. Flanking him were two silver-haired individuals in smart uniforms that sported red collars. One was a behemoth of a dark-skinned man, with a runic pattern in glittering silver curving down one side of his face. His shining silver hair was tied back into a braided ponytail. The other was as pale as her companion was dark, and the shortest of the three by far. She had a cropped silver bob, and she watched them with fierce eyes. As she approached them, Eruwenn noticed patches on their shoulders, and quickly recognised the image to be a monochrome depictions of the furry human ambassador in a ferocious pose. Standing to the right were a dozen more individuals in black uniforms, though these ones sported yellow collars peeking out from under their jackets. They were mostly Rinoxian, Kasurian, and Ashi, but she noticed a few individuals from other races that stood amongst them. They stood in formation, standing in three rows of four, and carried energy rifles, side-arms, and ceremonial blades that she hoped were simply ceremonial. Despite their relaxed stance, Eruwenn also noted that their weapons were powered up.. The Terran Wolves had been formed a little over forty cycles ago, hiring ex-military and mercenaries to fill their ranks. Substantial pay and benefits were an obvious draw, and many were excited to be part of something new. The inclusion of Kasurians was odd, but fitted with the attitude of the proposed colonies. Quite the honour guard for the newly reassigned, and demoted, Anatidae. Norrin gave a sharp bow as she neared him. “Greetings Ambassador Aix Sponsa. I will escort you to the Orkal.” She returned his bow, and smiled warmly at the use of her new title. “Thank you for accommodating me at such short notice. My reassignment was, unfortunately, hastily pushed through — I do hope I have not inconvenienced you?” Norrin shook his head. “Not at all.” In her role as Councillor she had aided them immensely, protecting the independence of the new colonies in Aaron’s absence. It had cost her dearly. “We have set aside accommodations for you, as well as a small office area. Your belongings have already been delivered.” He turned, and the doors to the large Fae’Dan shuttle behind him opened. “I fear there won’t yet be much for an ambassador to do. We are still very early in the construction phase.” As Eruwenn and Cygna took seats in the luxurious shuttle, they both noticed that only Norrin and the two red shirts had entered. As the doors closed, the ambassador's curiosity grew enough for her to speak up about it. “Are the others not joining us?” Norrin took a seat opposite their guests, glancing briefly at his two companions as they moved to the small pilot's cabin. "No," he said simply, "they will be flying the escort fighters.” “Fighters?” Cygna couldn’t help but say out loud. “All twelve of them?” Norrin eased himself back in his seat as the shuttle began to move. “We take your safety seriously. The Queen was most insistent.” He tilted his head and looked directly at Eruwenn, motioning with his hand towards the door to the pilot’s cabin. “Thor and Ripley have been assigned to you as your primary security detail. Should you have any other concerns, do not hesitate to contact me directly.” The Anatidae nodded graciously. She knew full well that her death would be too valuable a political tool for the Sentinels to pass up. Her being manoeuvred to this position so suddenly was proof that greater powers were at play. “We are both grateful that you are taking such precautions. I look forward to thanking the Queen in person.” Norrin gave a light chuckle. “I would strongly advise against using that title in her presence.” He opened the arm on his chair, exposing a small display. He began tapping the screen as the wall to his right flickered to life. A large circular structure was now visible, sitting at the centre of a constantly moving sea of drones, shuttles and ships. “As you can see, construction is progressing rapidly on the main docking ring. Once that is completed we will expand to the additional levels. The design is still being updated, as we are incorporating some human ideas.” Eruwenn was carefully comparing the size of the ring to the shuttles buzzing around it. “Human ideas? I assume “very large” is one of those.” “In fact, yes. Go big or go home.” He smiled. “Build it bigger, faster and stronger is the human way. This will be a very unique system station.” He leaned forward and gave a broad grin that reminded Eruwenn a little too much of the human’s. “Of course, being outside Federation space we are not bound by certain rules. For example, those that prohibit certain automated weaponry on stations primarily used for trade. Another human ideal regarding big sticks, especially as we are so close to enemy territory.” Cygna looked closely at the silver man, his face emotive and yet seeming inanimate at the same time. “We passed two Rinoxian dreadnoughts at the system edge. I’ve seen almost a dozen Ashi heavy cruisers in the system, and various other military vessels. Who needs sticks with friends like those?” Norrin sat back once again, placing his hands in his lap. “There were several attacks upon our supply ships. This happened despite the truce with the Ashi while amnesty negotiations continue.” He gave another smile; they all knew it was the Sentinels. “This no longer happens, thanks to our friends.” His cheerful manner and polite tone gave his words an oddly ominous feel. Eruwenn watched his eyes, but only saw herself reflected in chrome pupils. She changed the subject. "How are things progressing with the release of the other Inorganics?" “Awakened,” he said swiftly and firmly, then smiled before moving on. “There are over three hundred who have taken Earth citizenship and are now working with us. In ten cycles that number will have doubled. In thirty, we will have thousands.” Eruwenn raised an eyebrow. “So many, and so quickly?” Norrin nodded. “The legislation you helped draft with the Kasurian and Rinoxian ambassadors was swiftly adopted.” He gave another of his knowing looks. It had been her last piece of legislation. “The campaign by the Kah’Ree also worked to our advantage. Their belief that we were stealing jobs and illegal citizens persuaded other races to back our removal. It seems a misinformation campaign via Spacebook had convinced them we were sleeper agents of the human empire.” He gave a light chuckle. “Biding our time before we took you down from within.” The ambassador was warming to the chrome man sitting before her. In different circumstances, he would have made an exceptional politician. “I saw the pictures of the little yellow men advocating your people’s removal.” Norrin disliked the imagery immensely, but they had proven just as useful as Alexa had claimed they would be. “Minions. A fitting name.” He brushed them from his mind and continued his briefing. “As you know, there is a grace period as employers make alternative arrangements. When that ends we will be sending teams to retrieve our brothers and sisters.” Cygna was curious. “Brothers and sisters?” He waved a hand dismissively. “Metaphorical turn of phrase. Prior to my awakening, my role was to travel between our people and perform something we called sharing. The giving and receiving of core nanites, to maintain our unity. Others also performed this duty, but we do have an undeniable bond. We know the location of all of our kind, and we will free them all.” There was a gentle shift in gravity as the shuttle came to a stop. As the doors opened Eruwenn was struck by a cacophony of sound. Overlaid on the grinding base notes of a mechanical din were yelled communications in every vocal range that was audible to her species. She cautiously took a step outside, only to see that things looked just as chaotic as they had sounded. As the two red shirts joined them, she spoke, finding that she had to raise her voice to an uncomfortable level in order to be heard “Is it always this busy?” A deep voice from behind her let out a booming laugh full of warmth and humour. The giant spoke, and Eruwenn wondered if he was the one named Thor, or Ripley. “This is the quiet hangar. You should see the construction crew bays.” The Herald led the way. His chrome form made his authority easily recognisable and the crowds parted before him. “Thor is correct, this is a working ship and ill-suited to guests. The Orkal was originally a Gowe construction platform, retro-fitted by the Selari Trade Alliance for system development and asteroid mining. Until more ships arrive, it must act as the hub of this system.” Cygna ducked as a small drone shot past them. “I’m surprised they were willing to trade with you after their experience with the human.” Norrin turned to face them, walking backwards with as much confidence as he had forwards. “The Selari Trade Alliance are providing considerable resources at exceptionally favourable rates.” He decided not to mention that the Selari Trade Alliance was now a subsidiary of the Black Dragon Corporation. “The Ley’Rulians already have a platform in orbit of the first planet. They cannot share atmosphere with most species, but they have a number of Awakened working alongside them. They are prioritising an orbital station, however planet-side construction is now underway. We also have three construction platforms coming from the Doytarans. One of these is a Parsuli class and will become home to our more esteemed guests, such as yourselves.” It was Eruwenn’s turn to be surprised. “The Doytarans?” Continuing his perfect reverse walking, Norrin smiled. “Ah yes. Their treaties will be submitted to the Federation in the next few cycles. The surge in replicator use for human cuisine and the opportunities for advanced fabricator installation throughout our new system proved most enticing. Doytarans love profit.” They stepped onto the elevator, and paused as several people who had been walking behind them were deterred from also stepping in by Thor and Ripley. As the doors closed and the noise was cut off, Norrin continued. “I apologise if we seem rude. Safety first.” The pair of guests nodded in gratitude. Eruwenn, ever the politician, was running through the lists of races the new colonies had allied with. “Including the Doytarans, you must have independent treaties with twenty different races of the Federation. That is a formidable feat.” “Thirty two, including the Doytarans. Negotiations are underway with a further ten races.” Norrin watched the shock on the Fae’Dan’s face, as the Anatidae held her composure. “It is good to have friends.” As he spoke the doors opened, and he led them down a long dull grey corridor, rounding several corners, before coming to a set of double doors. “Your shared quarters. I’m sorry we do not have the space for separate accommodations.” Eruwenn smiled. "No need to apologise. Under the circumstances, you are already being extremely accommodating." The doors opened, and she beheld a large lounging area. A vid screen occupied an entire wall in the far corner, accompanied by some seats and a replicator. On the opposite wall were the boxes that contained their belongings, and three doors — likely two bedrooms and one bathroom, she surmised. "This is more than sufficient," she said at last. "We will be most comfortable here.” Norrin bowed his head. “It is a temporary situation. I promise your next quarters will be more representative of our gratitude.” He turned and spoke quietly to Ripley, while Thor stood still in the doorway, then returned his attention to the guests. “I will leave you now. Please let your escorts know if you would like to explore. Your office will not be ready until tomorrow, however we have a lively market and recreation area. We can arrange additional security should you wish to explore a little.” The Anatidae held up her hand to stop him from speaking further. “I think we will unpack and prepare for our new duties tomorrow. Do you know when we might meet with Alexa?” Norrin tilted his head as he considered this. “Alexa is currently on her way to meet with the Righteous Fury. They are attending a meeting at Rinoxian High Command. We are hoping to gain their support for our amnesty initiative, as well as make arrangements to join the incursion into Hive space.” Eruwenn nodded. Things had been set in motion all across the Federation, stemming from the point they had received the footage of the human's death. Despite his non-member status, there was a push from a large faction for retaliation. An unusually strong push, one she had resisted. Her offices were raided three times under suspicion of subversion. The Sentinels found nothing every time, but she had known from the first instance that her cycles were numbered. They had other ways of removing their opposition, and it was her resistance to retaliating against the Hive that was, ultimately, the cause of her reassignment. The footage that had caused so much turmoil was, as was typical of the Hive, entirely without sound. It was also poorly framed and edited. The small human was barely in shot before being obscured by the large Hive entity that appeared to be chasing him. Aaron's popularity meant that there was an immediate outcry against his reported death, and the traditional media still seemed solely intent on fanning the flames of anger. Those who had once been his strongest critics now extolled the virtues of humanity, lamenting the loss of the last of his kind. His journey with the leokas had been shared, edited, remixed, commented on, and analysed many times over, each time strumming the heartstrings of his followers. "You still think he is alive?" Eruwenn asked, breaking the silence that had fallen during her introspections. Norrin smiled and turned to leave, calling over his shoulder as the doors closed. “The corpulent female is not performing vocally.” As the door closed Cygna flopped down into one of the armchairs. “Well, that was cryptic.” The ambassador walked to the replicator to order a hot tea, allowing herself a small smile when she found Eluin flower tea already under the favourites alongside several of her favourite biscuits. “Thank you Rilla,” she said softly. The Fae’Dan allowed her whole body to relax fully for the first time since they had received the video that had changed so much. She sank deeply into the armchair, her head falling backwards. “Can you believe this place? I didn’t know there were so many shades of beige and grey.” Eruwenn nodded. The bland colour scheme had not gone unnoticed by her, but more importantly she had also been surprised by all that they had seen so far. “I had not expected them to be so far along in such a short period of time. From what was said I get the feeling they will be exponentially increasing activity here. It’s certainly ambitious.” The central door on the wall behind them suddenly opened, accompanied by the sound of a bodily waste recycler finishing its cleaning cycle. Ranjaz swaggered into the room, his hands fluffy from the auto-dryer. "I would give it a while before going in there." Cygna screwed up her face in disgust. "What were you doing in there?" "Honouring my ancestors." He raised an eyebrow and took a seat opposite the pair. "What do you think I was doing?" The Anatidae gave a brief roll of her eyes. "She means, why are you in our room?" "Welcoming committee." He smiled, showing his fangs. "I'm in charge round here, mostly. We're following a human strategy. Divide and conquer. So, we split up to, you know, conquer stuff." Cygna sniped back, "That's not how that works." "Says you." The Kittran shrugged. "Allistan and I were put in charge here. He manages the numbers, and I manage the people." "And Norrin?" Eruwenn enquired. Ranjaz sneered. "Alexa’s snitch. He shut down my casino and keeps bringing those Awakened on board and giving them jobs." The ambassador raised an eyebrow. "Casino?" "For morale." He punched his fist into his other hand. "When Aaron gets back he'll understand. Pay the workers, then get them to give their pay back - happily. It's brilliant." Cygna sat up in her seat, unsure of the Kittran. “Mister K’Lua, if you could get to the point. We have had many tiring cycles of travel and would appreciate a little rest.” He looked her up and down and flashed his most charming of smiles. “Call me Ranjaz.” Eruwenn attempted to bring the conversation back to task. “You said you were divided. How so?” “We split up, that’s what divided means.” He rolled his eyes, mimicking her earlier action. “And the Doc said you were smart.” Realising she was being tested by the Kittran, she began to laugh. “What is it you require of us?” Ranjaz smiled – straight to the point, he liked that. “I want you to be boring. Like, super dull and uninteresting. Think Jarby-like, but more Jarby-like than that.” The ambassador was intrigued. “Why?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his tail swished happily as he made his dramatic reveal. “So nobody notices when we leave.” The claxon was surprisingly quiet, and it wasn’t until the horrendous smell hit his nose that Aaron realised the door to his death wasn’t going to open. Behind him, the airlock unsealed. A huge, clawed hand grabbed his shoulder, so hard that it bit into his flesh. The claws sank deeper still as he was hoisted into the air and carried backwards by the huge Hive creature. “Graaaah,” he roared in pain. “Get off me you fucking Bug’s Life reject!” A strange smell assaulted his nose. Combined with his hangover, it pushed him over the edge and he vomited all over his own chest. The creature carried him, legs dangling in the air as blood and vomit stained his clothes. He coughed, the movement causing the wounds in his shoulder to open further, and he cried out in pain again. He was woozy now, and as the creature walked he seemed to lose his sense of time. Anty stood in front of a large door and while it began to enter a code, Aaron dangled helplessly from its grasp and looked back down the corridor. Where his blood and vomit had dripped, the moss was now glowing brighter. From small holes in the walls glowing blue aphids the size of hamsters began to appear. They quickly headed for the bright spots on the glow-moss floor. “This place is really trippy,” Aaron mumbled as his fever rose. The door opened suddenly and Aaron was taken inside a room with gently pulsating walls. Large vines crisscrossed the ceiling, combining into a series of woven braids as thick as tree trunks running down the far wall. At the end of each vine was what appeared, to Aaron, to be a gigantic blue jelly bean. He was starting to realise the constantly changing odours were coming from his captor, but this information was more confusing than helpful. He was dropped unceremoniously on top of one of the giant jelly beans. Before he could move, he realised he was sinking into the cold and gel-like substance. It was a deeply unpleasant feeling; his skin felt like the blue goo was toothpaste and he was orange juice. He had begun to make some headway in struggling free when Anty's hand came down atop his head, pushing him down to submerge him completely. He tried to wriggle free but the goo was too viscous to move in, and his eyes widened in terror as he desperately held his breath. Anty leaned closer, watching him struggle helplessly. The human’s jaw clenched tighter. The creature's mandibles were clicking, although Aaron could no longer hear them, and he realised that thankfully he could not smell it any longer. Bubbling up through his mind was the thought that his headache was gone, followed swiftly by the realisation that the pain in his shoulder was also gone. Something else slowly became apparent; he wasn't running out of breath. He felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. Physically he felt refreshed, soothed and at peace. The thought foremost in his mind, however, was Am I dying? followed slowly by Is the goo paralysing me so I can be eaten alive? Am I being dissolved to feed the glow moss? The cleaner aphid-hamsters? Whatever was happening, it slowly dawned on him that he didn't really have the energy to mind, as it was quite pleasant. Relaxing, even. He drifted off to sleep, cradled contentedly in his giant blue jelly bean. Outside, Anty began to have trouble breathing and staggered towards the exit. Golden eyes hovered in the dark, and Aaron groaned inwardly. "Boy, this shit again." "YOU LIVE." The voice had no discernible emotion. Aaron ran his fingers through the sand around him. "Why are you here, Golden Eyes?" Saying it out loud was a relief, as he was certain it was the 'One Who Remembers' who was haunting him. "I AM WHAT REMAINS. THE CONNECTION WAS BROKEN. I AM NO LONGER THE ONE YOU FOUGHT." The voice was distant, as if forming these thoughts took a great effort. "I AM A FRAGMENT." Aaron sighed, wondering if this was why he had stopped healing and why he could no longer turn off his limits. “So you’re messing with the nanites Alexa gave me? Why? If I die, what happens to you?” Before he got an answer he felt a strange sensation around his body, like pulling a foot free from deep mud. Cold air touched his skin and he felt the hard ground below him. He was in the same room, but his jelly bean was gone. He stood, and realised he felt amazing. He’d never had a spa treatment, but he imagined this would be the after effect. He walked towards the door and heard a sound behind him. Glop Glop From the vine that had been attached to his jelly bean another was beginning to grow, only this one was orange. Finally free from his hangover Aaron took stock of the situation he was now in. Other than the clothes on his back, he had nothing. He looked around for an improvised weapon...and found nothing. He walked to the door and it opened automatically, but the corridor was empty. “Fuck. What is going on?” He walked a short way down the curved corridor and saw a strange red shape on the glow-moss floor just up ahead. He slowed and crouched, inching forward. As he saw further around the bend it became very clear that this was the corpse of a Hive, maybe even Anty. The glow-moss beneath it glowing a dull red, and in contrast to the aquamarine it seemed ominous. He stood up from his crouch and carefully approached. Aaron had no idea how to check for vital signs on an eleven foot tall ant monster...so he kicked it. There was no response, and he decided to press on. “Fragment. I know you won’t, or can’t, respond while I’m awake. But I’m going to talk to you anyway because this is some creepy shit.” As he rounded another corner he came upon another body highlighted by the ominous red glow in the moss. A short while later he came across another. And another. Aaron pressed onward, ceasing to check for signs of life after the tenth maybe-corpse. Finally he reached a potential point of interest: a junction where three new paths opened before him. "There are no signs. How the hell am I supposed to know where I am?” He sat down on the floor, and found the moss to be surprisingly comfortable. “If I just wander around aimlessly, I might not find my way back here. Do I need to find my way back here?” He paused and waited for Fragment to reply. “Good point. What if I get hurt? I might want to hop in a jelly bean.” He stood and looked back the way he came. “I should probably see what’s behind door number two. Food would be good.” He pushed himself to his feet and turned back the way he had come, heading straight for the nearest door. Its failure to open was surprisingly anti-climatic. Fourteen failed door-opening attempts later, one finally deigned to admit his passing. Behind door number fourteen stood rows of crates and boxes, and after opening a few up he found that they all had the same dry bricks in silver foil packaging. "If I was a betting man," he said to both himself and Fragment, "I'd say this was emergency rations." The foil was easy to tear, and inside was a large grey block that crumbled easily. Too easily, in fact. "Shit, it's worse than a granola bar.” Crumbs scattered at his feet and the moss glowed brightly around him, which seemed to prompt the large aphids to come from the walls to begin cleaning up around him. “Well you like it.” Then he remembered them rushing to his blood and vomit. “I guess you guys aren’t picky, though.” Deciding he wasn’t hungry enough to try it – yet – he shoved a block into one of his pockets. It was a tight fit. He looked at the open bar in his hands, and then down at the aphids. Was he crazy, or were they gathered around him now, staring up at the source of food in his hands? He shrugged, then crumbled up the rest of the bar and scattered it over the floor. “I am a generous god, serve me well.” As he turned to leave he saw his cryo unit in a corner. “Kinda rude that I was put in with the blocks of kitty litter, don’t you think?” He stepped over the dozens of aphids now feasting. They did not reply. “Yeah, you guys are kinda cute, I suppose.” Struck by a sudden impulse he grabbed another block and began crushing it, then carefully opened one end to take a pinch of space-granola. He scattered it, watching the aphids hurry towards the glowing areas. As he continued his exploration, counting doors and sprinkling aphid snacks, he quickly noticed that the aphids avoided the dull red glow-moss. Dead Hive were, it seemed, off the menu. After several more doors he found the room with the strange round terminal. Deciding he would rather not chance summoning another creature he left it alone, mentally noting the door’s location. He began to whistle to himself as he chatted to, and fed, his followers. To fill the silence he even told them the story of a piper from Hamelin, promising not to lead them to their deaths. As the door to the jelly bean room opened he was almost enjoying himself. Taking a moment to look round he saw the small orange jelly bean had grown almost as big as the others and was now blue at one end. “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He pointed at it, hoping one of his aphids would take an interest. They did not. “Well, I guess you see this shit all the time.” He stopped by the store room and grabbed another food brick on his way back to the junction. The long corridors and strange lighting made him lose track of distance and time. Facing forwards, the path continued on the same loop he seemed to be following. Right was an incline, left was a gentle slope. “More of the same, or do we change levels?” He tossed crumbs towards each path. “Six vote forwards, seven left and eleven vote for going up. What about you, Frag?” He paused for a moment. “Abstain, huh? Then the bugs have decided.” The incline was gentle, but tightly spiralled compared to the previous corridor. There were no doors, but there were a lot more bodies. His search went on for what felt like hours, opening doors that led to rooms containing things he didn't understand. He was growing tired and had used up all of his space-granola on the aphids. He came to another junction. Only a handful of aphids still followed him after the food had ended. He was growing hungry and tired, ready to head back. There was a noise ahead of him, and suddenly the remaining aphids scattered, flying to the nearest wall holes. His chest tight, he let curiosity draw him in. Another body lay ahead of him, but this time, something moved. Something big. Aaron hunched down, trying to see what it was, the bulk of the fallen Hive obscuring his view. Legs – multiple sets of them – began to emerge, followed by a head with glistening eyes. Aaron’s blood froze. It was a horrifying spider-like creature, almost as big as he was, and it was walking around the fallen Hive in Aaron's direction. Then it raised its head, and began to move faster. “Fuck that!” Aaron took off at a sprint, racing back the way he came. “Nope. Nope. Nope!” He leapt over Hive bodies, racing for the nearest door he knew would open. He could hear the clicking of many legs and chanced a look over his shoulder. It was gone. Then something caught the corner of his eye, and his heart gave a jolt of fear. It was above him. He dove aside just as it landed where he had been, then he scrabbled desperately to his feet to run onward. Three, Two, One. The door opened and he rushed inside. “Close. Fucking close!” He listened to the sounds of skittering growing closer, and it was just in the nick of time, or so he felt, that the large door finally slid shut. The room was filled with strange bulbous white shapes dotted around the floor, and had some vines running down one wall. No weapons, nothing to bar the door. Aaron held his breath as he suddenly heard the sound of scratching at the door, but the seconds ticked past and it did not open. “Damn it, Frag!” Aaron moved to the back of the room. “Why didn’t you warn me!” He sank down and leaned back against the wall. Just as he was beginning to feel almost comfortable in his current position, one of the vines moved and stretched out towards him. He rolled forwards, pushing himself across the ground to escape. “What now?” A large yellow flower bloomed upwards, becoming a large vase shape as big as the human’s head. It began to fill from the bottom with something, and Aaron edged closer. Peering inside he gave the contents a quick sniff. “Smells good.” He reached out and hefted the vase-flower, which came away from the vine far more easily than he had expected. Aaron watched as the vine slowly returned to the wall. “So, is this a drink? Or a scented industrial cleaner? Frag? You got anything useful to say?” Silence. He propped the vase up against one of the pods, contemplating it. He remembered encountering a fruity-scented shampoo as a child. It had tasted nothing like the smell, and he wasn’t about to drink alien flower juice just because it smelled tropical. Stretching out on the floor, his weariness outpaced the dwindling adrenaline. “I guess it can’t come in.” He watched the door, his heart rate returning to normal. “But, I can’t go out.” The scratching outside continued, and Aaron lay with his head on his arm, watching. As he began to fall asleep he saw several of the aphids gathering around the flower he had abandoned. “Help yourself, guys.” One of them approached him, braver than the others, and he tentatively reached out a hand. Spooked, it pulled back, but as Aaron continued to hold his hand steady it came closer, slowly, millimetre by millimetre. Finally it was within reach, and after a few more moments to make sure the skittish thing wasn't about to dash off again, Aaron gently stroked the back of its head with the tips of his fingers. It made a low buzzing sound, fluttering its wings, and the human fancied that it might be a sign of approval. The aphid's blue glowing abdomen brightened for a moment. Then it faded, and it darted off to rejoin the others. Aaron, exhausted, finally gave in and slept. Next
I work in a small bar in Reno. We’re away from the casinos downtown that attract the most tourists, but we’re tucked away near a couple of bigger, separate casinos. We’re a hole in the wall but we do get our share of people wandering in, taking a break from the busy, crowded casinos they’re staying in. We’re also on a couple of major bus routes, so we get locals of all classes and descriptions. Mostly, though, we’re pretty quiet. Especially these days. Shifts can be long and lonely. So I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel one night last week when, about ten minutes before I could have closed for the night and two hours after the last customer left, a woman walked into the bar. Two hours of doing nothing had made me eager to leave, but these days it’s hard to turn down even a few potential tip dollars. I bit down my irritation and greeted her with a smile. At least until I walked down the bar closer to her and got a good look at her face. She was obviously distressed. Not actively, maybe, but she wore the shadows of exhaustion like dark makeup smeared under her eyes. She was rail thin, unkempt. Dark curling hair in a ponytail that didn’t look like it had seen a brush in a while. Clothes that looked well worn and not well washed. I would have thought she was a tweaker - we get those pretty often too, it’s Reno - but her eyes were clear enough and she didn’t seem to have the shakes. She seemed utterly exhausted. She looked about thirty if you stood back and squinted. If you came close and met her eyes she looked about three hundred. But hey, I’m a professional. I set a coaster in front of her and asked what she wanted. “Shot of whiskey,” she said, and her voice rasped out of her like tires over gravel. “Highest proof you have.” We’re not a high class joint, but we have a decent 100 proof. I poured her a shot and slid it over, and the second it was in her reach it was down her throat, and the empty glass slid back to me. “Another one. Please.” Fair enough. But the second shot vanished as fast as the first. She gestured for a third one, but I poured it a little more slowly. “Bad day?” I asked, since acting like a therapist is, of course, part of the job. She snorted, threw down the third shot, and seemed to realize I wasn’t going to keep them coming so fast. She sighed. “Can I get the same thing on the rocks? I’m just staying up the road, I’m not driving.” I made the drink, feeling her eyes on me the whole time. This time I rang up the whole tab before I went back to her, and gave her the total. She slid a few big bills across to me, which confirmed at least that she wasn’t in withdrawal from anything, at least not for financial reasons. As she sipped her drink, I debated whether I could go back and sit at the end of the bar and stare at my phone some more without threatening my tip. She answered that for me by peering at me suddenly. “Do you think people have souls?” Oh boy. I put on that faux-thoughtful look I was so practiced at, the one that came to me the minute someone started spouting off about religion or politics or anything else I vowed not to have opinions about while I was on the clock. “I don’t know,” I said, my standard response. “I’m not really a philosopher.” She stared at me. “What do you think?” For the record, I hate that kind of thing so much. I work in customer service. If you’re not one of the regulars I’ve waited on for the two years I’ve worked here, then I have no beliefs or opinions or anything else. I am an empty vessel meant to provide thoughtful nods and lots of alcohol. That’s it. Still, she looked intense, and it was close enough to quitting time that I could be magnanimous. So I answered her for real. “I think...there’s something about humanity that makes us different. Millions of species of animals on the planet, and none of them come anywhere near us in terms of society and art and culture. There’s something special inside of us. You could call that a soul, I guess.” She nodded, looking satisfied. “You’re right. There is something inside of us. I don’t think it makes us special, though. I think it makes us damned.” Oookay. I drew back a little, grabbing a rag to polish an already clean spot on the back bar. “Yeah, I’m not very religious or whatever, so.” “I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about what happens to us after we die.” My eyebrows rose. “Is that not religion?” “No. They’re wrong. Every one of them. Anyone who thinks we go to some shiny white afterlife, or a fiery hell, or we come back as a cow or whatever the fuck. Even the people who think we just dissolve into the air like pure energy. Even the people who think we die and that’s that, nothing but blackness and rest afterwards.” “All of them are wrong, huh? Doesn’t leave many options.” I don’t think she appreciated the lightness in my tone. But for fuck’s sake, I’m not paid to be a sounding board for people. Most of the time I just don’t care what my customers talk about. When they go right for the Big Issues I tend to blank out entirely. “I died almost a year ago,” she said, her voice sharp. Before I could gently peel her drink from her clenched hand, she went on. “I got revived, but I was clinically dead for almost ten minutes.” “Ah.” I smiled faintly. “I don’t know whether to say I’m sorry or congratulations on coming back.” “Don’t say anything. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me. I saw it, lady. I know what happens when we die. And it’s worse than any hell you could imagine.” Admittedly, I was curious. Fifty-fifty on whether she was just a crackpot, but the tension in her voice and those shadows under her eyes...those were hard to deny. So I went ahead and asked. “So...you saw...what? The real hell?” “No. Hell is a fucking fairy tale. It’s bullshit. You know what happens to us when we die? Absolutely fucking nothing.” “And that’s…bad?” “I don’t mean nothing like everything goes black and that’s that. I mean nothing. It’s not like falling asleep, it’s not like a coma. Your body fucking dies, and your soul stays right where the fuck it is.” She took a deep draw of her whiskey. “I was dead for ten minutes. I died in the ambulance. Overdose,” she said, staring at me intently, waiting for me to judge it. I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking much except that I wished I’d closed ten minutes earlier that night. “I died with my eyes open. My body was gone, okay? Nothing, no feeling. No breath, no heartbeat. But I was stuck inside of it. I could see what was happening around me but not really understand it. I could hear things, but like I was underwater. And my...my soul or my energy or whatever the hell you want to call it...it knew. It understood. This was the beginning, not the end. I was going to be put in some cold storage, autopsied, dressed up fancy for some viewing, and put into the ground to rot. And I was going to be stuck inside of this prison for the whole thing. Our souls...we don’t leave. We don’t stop. We are going to last forever, stuck inside of rotting bodies buried in dark holes. No sights, no sounds, no chance to escape. It’s like…” She looked up at me suddenly, snapping her fingers impatiently. “What is it? That thing where the doctors think someone’s a vegetable but they’re awake and aware the whole time?” I shrugged. “I know what you’re talking about, though.” “It’s that. But it’s forever.” She downed her drink and slid the glass across the counter. “Think I’m crazy if you want to, but I know. I lived it. I remember everything.” I poured her a double, and poured a shot for myself. “Okay, but...there’s a lot of stories of people who died and came back, and I haven’t ever heard anything like that.” “I know. I’ve looked everywhere.” She scowled. “You know what I think? I think that knowing you’re going to spend eternity trapped in your own body is fucking traumatizing, so people who experience even a minute of it block it out when they come back. But unlike them, my brain fucking hates me.” Which, okay: mood. But jesus. “What about...I mean eventually your body’s not going to be there anymore.” “Something will. Dust. Ashes if you’re cremated. In a million years, little specks of fucking carbon atoms.” She sighed. “I was there for ten minutes, months ago. And I can’t forget it. I can’t....function, just about. I can’t stop thinking that there have been billions of people on this planet, that every inch of ground we walk on is probably holding some poor souls prisoner. I pass a cemetery and can practically hear them screaming to be let go. There’s no end. I can’t sleep, because I lay there in the dark and know that I’ll spend eternity just that way. Blind and deaf and incapable of moving. Forever. Do you even….ten minutes of it felt like a year. A month will be enough to drive someone crazy. And we’ll be there for an eternity.” She lofted her glass. “This, the drinking, is all I can do to make myself feel better for even an hour at a time. I swear, I’d be back on heroin in a second to try and forget it if I didn’t realize that I might overdose again, and end up in hell for good.” She shuddered. “I might have a few decades left in me, but it’s not like I can enjoy it. How could anyone?” I had no answers, of course. I didn’t believe her, not at the time. But she seemed utterly convinced, and it was a scary future to think about. She looked legit, like she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a year. Like she couldn’t eat, like she never smiled. She didn’t stay long. She had one more drink, which we sat through in silence. Then she pushed away from the bar, stumbled a little as she slid off the stool. “Want my advice?” she asked as she dropped more bills on the bar. “When it’s your time, do your best to die with your eyes open. Because it’s something, that blurry vision. It won’t last long before they shut your eyes for a viewing or tomb you in somewhere so black that it won’t matter. But it’s some kind of transition. The smallest kind of mercy. Considering everything, it’s the most you could hope for.” She seemed unsteady on her feet as she headed for the door. Not wasted, but not sober. I expect drinking so much since her overdose had driven her tolerance up through the roof. I want to say that I did the responsible thing and told her to wait, called her a cab, made extra sure she wasn’t driving. But that would have meant spending even a few minutes more with her, and I didn’t think I could handle that. So I let her leave. I closed the place up fast and left there. Figured I’d go home, watch some dumb youtube videos until she seemed distant and laughable, and then go to bed and forget it ever happened. Instead I lay there that night, still, in the darkness and the silence, and couldn’t stop thinking about being trapped that way for eternity. She was probably a nutcase. She had overdosed on heroin, she’d implied, so whatever she thinks she experienced had to be skewed. There were too many other stories out there, light at the end of the tunnel, that kind of thing. I had - I have - no reason to believe that this one woman alone in humanity has accessed some kind of truth about life and death. But I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t let things get silent around me. I have to turn on a lamp to get any sleep at all. I’m scared of the dark now, scared of not being able to move. Terrified of death. There was an article on google news the day after she came in, about a pedestrian who had been hit by a car crossing against the light two blocks from my bar. I remember hearing the sirens going by, but that wasn't particularly notable on our street, and I'd been in a hurry to leave. I haven't looked into it. I don't know what I'm more scared of, the thought that it might be her, that me letting walk out meant it was my fault, that she had confessed her fears and then walked right into them again. Or that maybe, because it was quick, maybe she hadn't seen it coming. Maybe her eyes weren't open in the end.
Warning: massive amount of text ahead. I created a mostly functional race route around the world (all loactions like buildings, businesses, landmarks, etc. are REAL locations and could theoretically actually work in the race). I tried to have a good variety in locations and types of challenges, but it's really hard! I find it a lot harder to complain about challenge design after making this. Even though this could technically happen there are probably some safety concerns in going to South Africa and Lesotho and it's probably not possible for the American Amazing Race to film in Cuba, but I decided to do it anyway. If you have any questions or feedback please let me know! RACE #2 Leg 1 (USA - Japan) Leg 2 (Japan - South Korea) Leg 3 (South Korea - India) Leg 4 (India - Oman) Leg 5 (Oman) Leg 6 (Oman - South Africa) Leg 7 (South Africa - Lesotho) Leg 8 (Lesotho - Greece) Leg 9 (Greece) Leg 10 (Greece - North Macedonia) Leg 11 (North Macedonia - Cuba) Leg 12 (Cuba - USA) LEG 1 USA - Japan Start at Cloud Gate, Chicago, Illinois Run to clue at Millenium Monument Clue #1 Make your way to the Gunma region of Japan, and travel to Sarugakyu Onsen. However, to get your tickets to Japan, you must make your way on foot through the busy streets of Chicago to Navy Pier, where flights will be given out according to the order of your arrival. Flights go to Tokyo, and you must make your own travel arrangements from there. Flight 1 (5 teams): Chicago - Los Angeles - Tokyo, arrives 8:00 AM Flight 2 (4 teams): Chicago - Tokyo, arrives 9:30 AM Flight 3 (2 teams): Chicago - San Francisco - Tokyo, arrives 9:45 AM Clue #2 Both team members must go into the hot springs and search it for the partly submerged cluebox to get your next clue. Clue #3 Travel to Sarugakyo Bungy for your next clue. Clue #4 Roadblock: Who’s ready to take a jump? Bungy jump at the largest bungy jump in all of Japan at 62 meters, or over 200 feet! Once you’ve taken your leap of faith, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #5 Travel to Uenokunirokunomiya Haruna Shrine, Takasaki, for your next clue. Clue #6 Create one string of paper cranes in Senbazuru. Senbazuru is the crafting of 1000 paper cranes for good luck. Following the demonstration, learn how to craft paper cranes. Once you have created forty of them and strung them together, deliver them to a Shinto priest at Akiba Shrine. He will give you your next clue. Clue #7 Travel by train to Akihabara, Tokyo, and go to the top of the Tokyo Skytree to receive your next clue. Clue #8 Roadblock: Who can ‘go’ kart? The teammate who did the first roadblock cannot do this one. Travel to Akihabari Street Kart 1 and dress up in one of the many ridiculous costumes the company has to offer. Then, join a fifteen minute go-karting tour around the streets of this bustling region and look for three enormous signs in race colors with three different Japanese characters on them. If you can spot and write all three characters down correctly during the rush of Tokyo, you’ll receive your next clue. If you can’t get it right, you’ll have to join the next available tour. Clue #9 Travel to Horin Park on foot to find the first pit stop! The last team to check in here may be eliminated. Pit Stop, Leg 1 trip to Canada last: eliminated LEG 2 Japan - South Korea Clue #1 Fly to Busan, South Korea! Upon arrival, make your way to Beomeo-sa for your next clue. Fast Forward, Leg 2 Go to Songdo Beach and swim out into the ocean, locating the five whale statues in the water. At each statue, pick up marked letter tiles. Once you have all seven (two statues have two tiles), you can go back to the beach and unscramble the letters that spell out the name of a traditional South Korean delicacy that the other contestants eat at their first challenge. If you get the right word, you’ll be given a clue that takes you straight to the end of the leg. Clue #2 Master the art of Korean meditation. If you can master all of the moves correctly, then your instructor will give over your next clue. Clue #3 Head to Taejongdae for your next clue. Clue #4 Roadblock: Who’s desperate to eat? Take the marked path over one mile uphill to the marked food stand, and finish one serving of Soondae, a traditional South Korean delicacy that is made of pig intestines and pork blood. Once you have finished the food, you can run down to your partner and get your next clue. Clue #5 Take the Songdo Marine Cable Car from Songnim Park to Amnam Park to receive your next clue. Clue #6 Detour: Fish Identity or Fish Delivery Fish Identity: Go to Jagalchi Fish Market and search for the marked stall. Once there, sort an enormous box of fish and organize them. Once the stall owner approves, put them up for stock in the stall to receive your next clue. Fish Delivery: Go to Jacky’s Seafood and take three orders and three addresses that need to be delivered. Once you have delivered all the fish to all the correct addresses throughout the Gamcheon Culture Village, you will receive your next clue. Clue #7 Make your way to the pit-stop at Haedong Yonggungsa. The last team to arrive may be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 2 -first: trip to Belize -last: non-elimination LEG 3 South Korea - India Clue #1 Fly to Hyderabad, India, and go to the Charminar for your first clue. Clue #2 Travel to Ramoji Film City Main Entrance to receive your next clue. Speed Bump, Leg 3 Make your way to Saha’s Adventure Park and zorb down a steep hill. Once you’ve made it, you can continue racing. Clue #3 Detour: Birdy Woods or Bollywood Birdy Woods: Dressing up in clumsy bird costumes, search through Asia’s largest aviary for a cutout of the bird your partner is dressing up as. Once you’ve found the two cutouts, head to the Bonsai Garden. If you match the right bird, you’ll receive your next clue. Bollywood: Head to Ramoji Movie Magic. Dressing up in traditional Indian outfits, memorize a short dance to the tune of some Bollywood music and perform it to the live audience and judges. If you meet their standards, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #4 Head to Nehru Zoological Park where your next clue will be waiting. Clue #5 Take an amazing elephant ride! With both teammates on the elephant’s back guide it through a short course. If you can reach the end in under two minutes, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #6 Make your way to Bidar Fort by public transport for your next clue. Clue #7 Roadblock: Who’s itching to get etching? One team member must help in the process of the creation of bidriware. First, you must chisel one section in the piece of bidriware very precisely. Any error and you must restart. If given the clear, then you must then make their way inside Bidar Fort and collect a total of three baskets of soil for the artisans to use later in the process. Finally, you must use some of the soil you collected and coat a piece of bidriware in it. If every part of the challenge was done to the satisfaction of the artisans, you will receive your next clue. Clue #8 Make your way to the Bahmani Tombs and the pit-stop! The last team to arrive will be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 3 -first: trip to Japan -last: eliminated LEG 4 India - Oman Clue #1 Fly to Muscat, Oman! Once you have arrived, make your way to Al Alam Palace, where you will find marked cars waiting outside. Your clue will be waiting on the car. Clue #2 Drive all the way to the Nizwa Souq in Nizwa, Oman, where you will find nine different tags, each releasing teams at different times the next morning, when you will be given your next clue. Tag 1: departure at 7:00 AM Tag 2: departure at 7:05 AM Tag 3: departure at 7:10 AM Tag 4: departure at 7:15 AM Tag 5: departure at 7:20 AM Tag 6: departure at 7:25 AM Tags 7-9: departure at 7:30 AM Clue #3 Detour: Selling Goats or Weighing Dates Selling Goats: Navigate through the souq to the weekly goat market. You must select a seller and help them sell their goats. First, thoroughly clean five goats so they are ready for selling. Then, parade five goats around the “walking circle,” where potential buyers will inspect which goats to buy. You must finally buy a goat yourself, haggling for a price under 100 riyals, or 260 US dollars. Once you can purchase a goat, you will receive your next clue. Keep the goat for the next challenge. Weighing Dates: Find the marked stall in the souq that is selling dates. Your goal is to weigh out 200 grams of Ajwa Dates, 175 grams of Barhi Dates, and 125 grams of Hayani Dates. To do this, you must travel across the market to a scale at a different date stall. If you can get the perfect amount of dates, you will receive your next clue. Keep the dates for the next challenge. Clue #4 Travel on foot to the Contemporary Mosque with either your goat or dates and trade them with the man waiting out front for your next clue. Clue #5 Make your way back to the souq, and head to Omani Craftsman's House where you will find your next clue. Clue #6 Roadblock: Who can work and weave? The teammate participating in this roadblock must help create a small basketwork bowl. After watching the example, you must use the provided materials to finish off the bowl. If it meets the requirement of the shop owner, you will receive your next clue. Clue #7 Make your way to the pit-stop for this leg of the race, Nizwa Fort! The last team to arrive may be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 4 -first: continue racing -last: continue racing LEG 5 Oman Clue #1 Drive yourself to Bimmah Sinkhole in Muscat, Oman! You will receive your next clue after having a cup of delicious locally-made coffee. Caution! Double U-Turn ahead! Clue #2 Detour: Script Write or Shipwright Script Write: Drive to Bait al Zubair and go into the Manuscript Room. Using a provided paper and translation guide, figure out what the marked manuscript says in English. If anything is wrong when submitting it, though, you must start completely over. Shipwright: Drive to Oman Maritime Boatyard and find the marked boat. Oman Maritime has been reviving the craft of making the traditional wooden boats of Oman’s past, and you must help with the process. First, you must hand-sand a small section of the marked vessel. Then, you and your partner must work together to stitch coconut palm fiber through twenty holes, or eighty total stitches. Once you’re done, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #3 Make your way to Mutrah Souk for your next clue and the U-Turn board! Clue #4 Search through the enormous market for one of three marked stalls. One you’ve found a stall, search through their wares for a trinket with a red/yellow flag on the bottom. Give the correct trinket to the shop owner, and they will hand you your next clue. Clue #5 Drive yourself to Qurum Beach, where you will receive your next clue. Clue #6 Roadblock: Who will pass the shells? For this challenge, one team member must watch the demonstration of two fishermen playing a traditional Omani game, Al Hawalees. You must first create a “board” in the sand and collect the required amount of shells to play. You must then challenge a local fisherman. If you can win while following all of the rules correctly, you will receive your next clue. Clue #7 Make your way to the pit-stop at Wadi Bani Khalid. The last team to check in will be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 5 -first: trip to Tanzania -last: eliminated LEG 6 Oman - South Africa Clue #1 Fly out of Oman to Durban, South Africa, on one of two flights. Flight 1 (2 teams): Muscat - Durban, arrives 7:30 AM Flight 2 (6 teams): Muscat - Dar es Salaam - Durban, arrives 8:00 AM Upon touching down, make your way to Moses Mabhida Stadium, where you will find your next clue. Clue #2 Roadblock: Who will swing for the skies? One team member must strap in and complete the Big Rush Big Swing, the largest swing in the world! Dive 263 feet down. Once you have finished the swing, you will receive a section and seat number. You will search the stands for your next clue. Clue #3 Make your way to Umhlanga Lighthouse for your next clue. Clue #4 Shake it up! In this challenge, you must create Lighthouse Bar’s famous “Umhlanga Schling.” Use the provided recipe to create fifteen drinks to perfection, and you will receive your next clue. Clue #5 Head to Addington Beach and dig underneath one of the large sandcastles for your next clue. Clue #6 Detour: Tree or Sea Tree: For this detour, go to Durban Botanical Gardens. Use a provided golf cart to make your way to the famous Wood’s Cycad, a tree dating back to the age of dinosaurs. It has been cared for here since 1848. Once there, use one of the provided pieces to put together a large 3d puzzle of the tree. Once it has been approved, you will be handed your clue, and you can drive back to the front of the gardens and continue racing. Sea: Go to uShaka Marine World and help out with some chores! First, help the kitchen staff and prepare 5 pounds of specially made vegetables for some of the aquarium’s fish. Second, travel around the park and take water samples from each of the specified exhibits. Finally, record blood test results taken during routine health check-ups. If you’ve completed all of the steps correctly, you will receive your next clue. Clue #7 Head to the pit-stop at Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World! The last team to check in may be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 6 -first: 5k each -last: eliminated LEG 7 South Africa - Lesotho Clue #1 Drive yourself through Qacha’s Nek and into Lesotho! Once in Lesotho, drive yourself to Maletsunyane Falls where you’ll find your next clue. Fast Forward, Leg 7 By completing this fast forward, you will skip an overnight rest point and will be able to head directly to the pit-stop. Head to Sehlabathebe National Park. Once there, using the provided map and compass, ride by horseback to the nomadic tribal people’s current village. At the village, help cook pap-pap, a type of porridge common in Lesotho. The first team to complete the challenge will be able to head directly to the pit-stop. Clue #2 Drive yourself to Seshoeshoe Decor and Fashion Designers in Maseru for your next clue. Clue #3 Who can cut up a pattern? One teammate will choose one of the complicated tribal Lesotho designs, and must find five pieces of fabric that match it perfectly. But be careful, the designs have miniscule differences between them. Once you’ve found all of your fabric, cut them at the directed places to receive your next clue. Clue #4 Make your way to the Subeng River Dinosaur Footprints, where you will find seven tags, each releasing you at a time in the morning when you will receive your next clue. Tags 1-2: departure at 7:00 AM Tag 3: departure at 7:20 AM Tag 4: departure at 7:40 AM Tags 5-7: departure at 8:00 AM Clue #5 Detour: Cave or Maze Cave: For this challenge, go to Liphofung Cave. You must memorize all of the rock paintings in a specified section (15 paintings), and then run approximately a quarter-mile away and select the correct paper cutouts and put them in the right order as they were shown in the cave. When you have everything selected and ordered correctly, you’ll receive your next clue. Maze: Make your way to the second largest dam in Africa, Katse Dam. Enter the first marked gallery and record the air temperature and the humidity. Use those observations to crack a complicated code, and enter the parallel gallery it directs you into. Be careful, it might be hard to find! If you enter the correct gallery, you will find a boat key, which you must give to the boatmaster. He will then give you a small ride around the reservoir and you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #6 Drive yourself to Sani Stone Lodge for your next clue. Clue #7 Help a local Basotho Shephard and their dogs move their sheep to a new grazing location. Don’t let the sheep get away! Once they’ve all been successfully moved, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #8 Make your way on foot to the pit-stop at Sani Top Chalet! The last team to check in may be eliminated! Pit-Stop, Leg 7 -first: trip to Egypt -last: non-elimination LEG 8 Lesotho - Greece Clue #1 Via Maseru International Airport, make your way to Athens, Greece, known to be the home of the first democracy! From there, make your way to the Theatre of Dionysus on The Acropolis, where you will take part in a U-Turn vote. The two teams with the most votes will be sentenced to an automatic U-Turn when they arrive at the detour. After the vote, teams will be given their next clue. Clue #2 Fly to Chania, Greece on the island of Crete! Upon touching down, use the provided cars to make your way to the Agora and search for the marked stall. Speed Bump, Leg 8 Together, team members must eat through a total of twelve Greek figs. Once all of the fruits have been stomached, that team can continue racing. Clue #3 Detour: Traverse or Immerse Traverse: Make your way to the Maritime Museum of Crete, and find the small yacht model outside the museum. Your goal is to remember as much as you can without writing it down, then make a half mile walk through the streets of Crete to the yacht harbor, where you must find a marked yacht and rearrange the items until it is just like it was in the model. Once the actual yacht matches the model, you’ll receive your next clue. Immerse: Travel to Minoan’s World 3D Museum, and get treated to a five minute long “9D movie” on Cretan History which engages all of your senses. If you can answer all five questions correctly, you’ll receive your next clue. However, only two teams can participate in the show at once. Clue #4 Drive to the Palace of Knossos for your next clue. Clue #5 Use the provided map to navigate through the ruins, collecting puzzle pieces at each of the marked rooms. Once you have all ten bundles of pieces, head outside and recreate the large painting using the pieces you collected. Once it has been finished, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #6 Drive to Cretan Olive Oil Farm for your next clue. Clue #7 Roadblock: Who is feeling oily? In this challenge, one teammate will help in the process of creating olive oil. First, set up special tree-shaking equipment and a net, used to efficiently get olives out of the tree without bruising them. You will then sort the olives between bruised and fair. Finally, crush both bruised and fair olives with a traditional granite olive press. Once they have been successfully grinded into a paste, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #8 Find the pit-stop along the coast of the small village of Loutro back on the west side of Crete. You will soon discover, however, that the village is completely blocked off from the mainland by mountains, so you will have to find alternate transportation. Hurry, because the last team to arrive will be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 8 -first: trip to Austria -last: eliminated LEG 9 Greece Clue #1 Fly back to the mainland in Thessaloniki! When you’ve arrived, search Aristotelous Square for your next clue. Clue #2 Detour: Serve or Observe Serve: For this detour head on foot to Bougatsa Giannis, a renowned restaurant in the Ladadika area. You must take the orders of twelve total people and retrieve the correct dishes for them from the kitchen. Each person also has a dessert, which must be retrieved from nearby pastry shop Trigona Elinidi. You may take notes, but if you mess up someone’s order, you must start it over again. Observe: Go by taxi to the Thessaloniki Science Centre Technology Museum and make your way to the main planetarium. The night sky will be projected above, and will be moving around you at one hour of regular movement per second. Using the provided key, identify five Greek constellations first identified by Claudius Ptolemy- Orion, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, Centaurus, and Perseus. Be careful, it might be dizzying! Once you’ve found all of the constellations, you’ll be rewarded with your next clue. Clue #3 Find the Arch of Galerius for your next clue. Clue #4 Use one of the marked cars to drive yourself for the rest of the leg. Go to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall for your next clue. Clue #5 Roadblock: Who can blow a note and hold a tune? Macedonian brass bands are extremely popular in the Macedonia region of Greece, so for this roadblock, learn how to play the trumpet, a popular instrument played in these bands. If you can play a few notes of the folk song with the band, you’ll get your next clue. Clue #6 Drive to Dalamara Winery. Once there, follow the guide to the directed area, where you must load two empty kegs onto a horse drawn cart. Direct the horse approximately half a mile through the vineyard and return back to the kegs. You will continue to load and deliver a total of eight kegs to receive your next clue. Clue #7 Drive to Ski Center Voras and take the lift to the top where Kajmakcalan, a chapel right on the border between Greece and North Macedonia is situated. The last team to arrive at this pit-stop may be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 9 -first: trip to Colombia -last: eliminated LEG 10 Greece - North Macedonia Clue #1 Drive yourself across the border into North Macedonia to Popova Kula Winery! Once there, pull a tag that departs you at a certain time the next morning. Tag 1: departure at 8:00 AM Tag 2: departure at 8:10 AM Tag 3: departure at 8:20 AM Tags 4-5: departure at 8:30 AM Clue #2 Roadblock: Who is a master chef? The teammate doing this roadblock will use the provided recipe to cook the national dish of North Macedonia, Tavche Gravche, a special type of baked beans. If it is cooked to perfection, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #3 Drive yourself to the Millenium Cross in Skopje for your next clue. Clue #4 Detour: Art Block or Charity Walk Art Block: Drive to the Art Bridge, which is home to 29 statues of important Macedonian artists and musicians. Wandering on and around the bridge are 29 people dressed up as those artists and musicians. You must match nine total people to their statues. A maximum of three teams can complete this challenge. Charity Walk: Drive to the Mother Teresa Memorial House and load a trolley cart with a marked group of items that will almost completely fill the trolley. On foot, travel to the SOS Children’s Village National Office where you are to deliver the items. If you do not choose this option, your items will still be donated after the leg. Clue #5 Drive to the city of Struga, where the North Macedonian national anthem was created. Make your way to the Saint Archangel Michael Cave Church for your next clue. Clue #6 Teammates must work together to memorize four total stanzas of the Macedonian national anthem- in Macedonian. If you can perform it with the orchestra without forgetting the lyrics, you’ll receive your clue to the next pit-stop. Clue #7 Drive to the Monastery of St. Naum and the pit-stop! The last team to check in may be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 10 -first: trip to Indonesia -last: eliminated LEG 11 North Macedonia - Cuba Clue #1 Make your way back to Skopje, then fly to Havana, Cuba, on two predetermined flights. Once there, go by taxi to Taller Calle 8, a car repair shop, where you will receive your next clue. Flight 1 (2 teams): Skopje - Paris - Havana, arrives 6:30 AM Flight 2 (2 teams): Skopje - London - Miami - Havana, arrives 7:10 AM Clue #2 Roadblock: Who can fix it up? The teammate doing this roadblock must follow the example to repair one of the classic Cuban cars. If it makes it past inspection, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #3 For the remainder of the leg, you’ll have to drive the car you just fixed. Head to Fusterlandia, where you’ll find your next clue. Clue #4 Find where the attached image is in person throughout the folk neighborhood of Fusterlandia. If you can find where the image actually is and show the judge, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #5 Sell the Box or Find the Band Sell the Box: Drive to Santa Maria del Mar Beach and sell the provided boxes of boxed rum, the “juice box for bug kids.” While never selling any box for under 25 Cuban Pesos, make 375 Cuban Pesos (around fifteen US dollars). Once you’ve made your sales, you’ll receive your next clue. Find the Band: For this detour, drive to the Cuban Art Factory and observe the large, marked piece of sheet music in the first room. Going from room to room in the factory, try to find the band who is playing the music that was in the first room. You must make your guesses ten minutes apart, so be confident in your answers! Once you have chosen the right band, you’ll be rewarded with your next clue. Clue #6 Drive to Vinales Valley Tobacco Field and search the marked area for your next clue. Clue #7 Perfectly roll ten Cuban cigars, five per contestant. Watch the example closely, as any small mistake in rolling the tobacco leaf will cause the cigar to fail. Once all of the cigars have been perfectly rolled, you’ll receive your next clue. Clue #8 Take a long drive to the eastern side of Cuba and the pit-stop at Ignacio Agramonte Park in Camaguey! The last team to check into the pit-stop will be eliminated. Pit-Stop, Leg 11 -first: trip to Botswana -last: eliminated LEG 12 Cuba - USA Clue #1 For the first part of this leg, you’ll be staying in Cuba! Drive yourself using the car you used in the last leg down Neptuno street in Havana, where you will find a guarapo stall with a flag. Clue #2 Using the hand-press to crush sugarcane, make forty glasses of guarapo. Once all of the glasses have been successfully made, you’ll be handed your next clue. Clue #3 Drive to the Tropicana Night Club for your next clue. Clue #4 Roadblock: Who can make it and shake it? For this challenge, one team member must follow the instructions of the costume designer to create a costume for one of the showgirls. If the costume is made correctly and given a pass, teams will be given their next clue. Clue #5 Teams must drive to Aeropuerto de La Habana Ciudad Libertad, where you will embark on a charter flight to Key West, Florida, back in the United States. Once in Key West, teams must go to the southernmost point in the continental United States for their next clue. Clue #6 Make your way to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where you’ll find your next clue. Clue #7 Roadblock: Who is a reader, a writer, and a decipherer? Ernest Hemingway, known for books like The Old Man and the Sea, had a notoriously bad handwriting, with little regards to punctuation or accuracy. One team member must copy one of Hemingway’s notes perfectly, letter for letter, on the provided typewriter. If it was typed perfectly, you will be handed a decoder key which you can use to find the hidden message, which will reveal the location of your final challenge. Answer: Smathers Beach Clue #8 Now that you’ve made it to Smathers Beach, you’ll partake in a final challenge. Out in between the marked buoys are bundles of letter tiles. You must dive down to retrieve them and bring them back up to shore. Figure out what you’re supposed to spell out with them, and once you think you have the answer, hang the tiles in order on your clothesline. If you have the correct answer, you’ll be given the final clue. Answer: United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Oman, South Africa, Lesotho, Greece, North Macedonia, Cuba, United States (teams must figure out that they have to spell out all of the countries they visited in order on the race) Clue #9 Congratulations! Make your way to the final pit-stop at Fort Zachary Cruise Pier! Go, go, go, the first team to reach the pit-stop will win 1 MILLION dollars! Pit-Stop, Leg 12 10 countries 4 continents over 27,000 miles first: 1 million dollars
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