Profit from Matched Betting Casino Offers Today (Updated

DKNG - Fundamental DD Inside - DKNG

This is an example of fundamental DD that takes place at ‘smart’ money institutions based on my professional experience in IBD, Private Equity & most recently at a HF (mods can message me for proof). Not thoroughly fleshed out b/c you autists have limited attention spans, but a summary. Figured I’d take the time to give back to this community that has provided many lolz, & should be a good measuring stick when evaluating other forms of fundamental DD posted here.
NFA.
DKNG - DraftKings, Inc.: vertically integrated US mobile betting operator that also provides retail sports betting & back-end betting solutions through SBTech. Think of SBTech as the tech ‘market-maker’ for traditional sports betting, they do all the funny math to set the betting odds & seem to be working on back-end solutions for DKNG Casino
The Big Picture
Only ~2% of the ~$90Bn gambling revenues were placed online which is the lowest in the world where betting online is legal. For example, in other countries online gaming activity represents ~6% - ~52% of total gambling revenues, with ~12% being the average.
Wall Street expects online gaming revenue to be $20Bn-$40Bn within the next 10 years. For this to be achieved, the online gambling market will have to achieve a ~30% penetration rate on total country gaming revenues. There is an expectation that this is could be easily achievable given penetration trends overseas - see page 11 of this: https://s1.rationalcdn.com/vendors/stars-group/documents/presentations/TSG-Investor-Day_March-27-2019.pdf
Other catalysts include increasing adaptation of sports betting in more states. States that have both legal sports betting + online sports betting permitted: NV, NJ, WV, PA, IA. Sports betting permitted but no online: DE, MS, RI, MO, AR. Prior to COVID there was ongoing discussions across many States, especially ones with growing deficits to explore how permitting sports betting could create a fresh avenue of tax dollars. Post COVID there is an expectation that these discussions will be given extra focus as many States will be hungry for incremental tax dollars. Important to note that currently 43/50 States allow DFS, but given the small share DFS has on total Gaming Revenues, it increasingly looks like DKNG is banking on traditional sports betting for a variety of reasons, more later. There are entire articles on Google arguing this catalyst so I’ll end this here.
Digging Deeper
DKNG’s main offerings are Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) products & traditional sports book products to its clients. Long story short, a metric to look for in my opinion (that is curiously not reported by management or remarked on) is the hold % in traditional gaming sector parlance or the ‘rake’ & compare it to the ‘traditional’ gaming products like sports betting & Blackjack.
For DFS: DKNG takes ~15% of the prize pool (note: used to be ~6-11% [2]). Curiously, their main competitor FanDuel also has moved up to a ~15% rake recently. Google searches show the smaller competitors have a rake in the ~13% range.
This ‘rake’ has grown ~2x in 6 years, but it has been a delicate move on behalf of management. Why? B/c the more ‘sophisticated’ DFS players (equal to autistic day traders on Robinhood) have noted this increase & based on some Googling, some have moved down market to the smaller players. As a side note, many live casino games have their rules altered to grow the Hold %. For example, Blackjack games with 6:5 payouts on 21 have materially higher Hold % than the traditional BJ rules that pay out 3:2. Given the findings so far, DKNG may not have much room to materially increase its hold % in DFS games in the near-term from current of 15%. More on this later.
Now why the fuck is this important? This is important b/c the typical sports book (ex-Parlays) have a ~5% hold %/rake. Parlays have up to a ~30% hold (which is why it’s commonly known as the sucker’s bet), & just for reference, the average Blackjack table clocks in 14.5%. What this means: Every dollar put into these games, the “House” or DKNG, will take 15% of your money for DFS games, for sports bets they will be pocketing ~5%, up to ~30% if you’re into parlays, & we’ll just use the standard 14.5% BJ hold for the DraftKings Casino platform.
So why the acquisition of SBTech & a foray into the traditional sports gambling market? As you can see previously, the illegal sports betting market is >30x the size of the current daily fantasy sports market. So it’s clear that the DFS providers including DKNG are foraying into the space to capture this user base & hopefully convert them into games that have a higher hold %, such as DFS/DKNG Casino.
As of May 2020, DKNG has achieved a 30% penetration rate on its ~4mm ‘monetized’ DFS clientele to its Online Sports Book (OSB), from the OSB+DFS clientele, DKNG has converted 50% into its DraftKings Casino platform.
Including non-monetized users, user base totals at 12mm. Based on these unit economics: every 1mm of additional users -> 333k monetized users for DFS -> 100k users for OSB -> 50k users for DraftKings Casino.
Some Numbers – Italicized/Bolded the important
Numbers that represent Risks to Long Thesis
Things to look for when going Long
- Progress of additional States legalizing sports betting – specifically, States with DFS already legalized
- Cost structure evolving to a more fixed mix vs. the mostly variable mix currently as this will be the forward figure that determines profitability
- Increasing User Base (Curr.: 12mm) -> Monetized Base (Curr.: 4mm) -> MUP (1Q’20: 0.7mm)
Share Price Target
Given the cost structure of the company, I’m going to base the price targets around Enterprise Value / Revenues (driven by MUPs & ARPUs).
Bear Case MUP: 5mm -> $20.32 - $45.73
Base Case MUP: 5.5mm -> $22.27 - $50.10
Bull Case MUP: 6mm -> $24.21 - $54.47
These MUPs imply a monetized customer base of 28mm – 33mm. At the high-end, this implies that DKNG monetized customer base will equal MGM’s current total user base.
At yesterday’s close of $43.70, DKNG is trading at 3.5x – 4.5x forward Revenues on an expected >5,000 MUPs.
Share Price drivers / considerations:
- Continued multiple expansion
- MUP Growth exceeding beyond targets
Management Team
Jason Robins, 39 – Co-Founder & CEO. Duke BA, started DraftKings from day 1 in 2011. The 2 other buddies he started the Company with are still at DKNG. Dude navigated the Company through the scandal that rocked them in ’15 & ’16, and was the trailblazer in getting DFS labeled as a non-gambling product that enabled it to open in States without a gaming designation. This shit is the stuff that gets people in history books. His accomplishments make him seem like a very competent guy. Has 3 kids now, and only ~3% economic ownership in DKNG but has 90% of the voting power through his Class B share ownership. Also he actively participates in venture investments, sitting on 10 boards.
His comp plan performance bonus target is pretty murky, but main drivers are EPS growth, revenue growth, then a bunch of margin & return metrics, along with share price returns. Overall, very open-ended & it’s safe to say as long as shit doesn’t hit the fan, he will be eligible for his max payouts year over year. I’m assuming the lawyers tried to encompass everything possible for maximum flexibility to justify him earning his max comp as long as DKNG is still around.
Since he’s got voting control of 90%, I’ll end the specific-person overview here, but want to note that they have a very bloated C-suite. 12 folks at DKNG, 8 folks at SBTech, all with C-suite designations. Whereas their main competitor FanDuel, has 3 guys with a C-suite designations & 1 EVP, but is a sub under a larger ParentCo that has its own management team of ~5 guys.
Looking through glassdoor you can see the biggest complaint among employees giving bad reviews is based on management, all of the specific issues they point out IMO are a result of a top-heavy company. Seems like a good starting point to optimize their cost structure, but given Robins' history of sticking this entire thing through with his co-founders since '11 stuff like this doesn't seem to be a part of his playbook. They’re a public company now though, so it’s going to be interesting to see going forward.
TL;DR:
If I were to initiate a position in DKNG, the stock would have to fall to the $35-$37 range for me to be a buyer of the stock, and based on this rough intro analysis I'll be considering Put options if it breaches $50. I would not touch Calls at this level.

[1] Susquehanna Research – U.S. Online Gambling 6/27/19
[2] https://rotogrinders.com/articles/bang-for-your-buck-a-look-at-dfs-industry-rake-153302
[3] https://draftkings.gcs-web.com/static-files/8f3a5c5a-7228-45bf-aab2-63604111c48d
[4] Goldman Sachs Research – DKNG Initiation 5/19/20
[5]https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/223071/Dont_monetize_like_League_of_Legends_consultant_says.php
[6] https://rotogrinders.com/threads/how-many-people-actually-play-dfs-regularly-252044
submitted by IAMB4TMAN to wallstreetbets [link] [comments]

I'm finalizing my portfolio for this year.

It's been a while since I made a big post. Lots of people are still messaging me about the energy sector post, especially for the ENPH tip, so I'm here to show my portfolio. I don't own all companies yet, this is partially hypothetical. I'm holding on to a reasonable cash position for a possible new downturn, but I have starting positions in most companies and will DCA.
I will try to keep it summarized, as I have done quite a lot of analysis on each of them. I'll draw the main picture and give the most important arguments for my choices, but I'm not expanding too much. If you're interested, you can DM me to talk about them more.
Let me start by saying I'm a growth investor. I always look for a combination of growth with a great track record, if possible at a reasonable price. There are exceptions as you will see below, but the main balance stays the same. I'm not a defensive investor, but no aggressive one either. My timeline is 2-5 years at least (due to a possible start of a small business), but I would gladly hold on to these companies 10+ years.
TLDR; For you guys not interested in my portfolio, I've added a short list of interesting smaller cap companies at the end, most of them trading at decent values.
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ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES - $AMD
This one is becoming a blue chip, but has more than enough growth potential to live up to those high valuations. Preferred by gamers and beating their biggest competitor in the CPU market hard. While AMD and INTC were close competitors at the beginning of the 21st century, INTC took the lead by a lot. Since 2017, they introduced 7nm CPU's and GPU's and they are closing the gap fast. Not only are their chips more performant, they are also cheaper. Market cap $60B vs $261b.
Those next generation chips lead them to new partnerships, often beating INTC. Microsoft, a long time Intel customer, began using AMD chips in their Surface laptops. Lenovo using AMD for their new servers. Nvidia started using the chips in their AI products. AMD is also used by Apple's high-end laptops, while Intel (used in the budget range) will probably get replaced by Apple chips made in-house. Apart from laptops, AMD has government contracts to deliver supercomputers in 2021/2023 and they are used in both PS and XBOX consoles, to give a few examples.
For the CPU market, AMD is destined to take over, but they're also taking on NVDA for their GPU's. They have been catching up for years and in 2019 they finally made a better performing GPU in the $350-400 price range. There is a possibility to gain GPU market cap since NVDA has been pushing their prices due to the lack of competition. Therefore, with AMD stepping up their game, they need to give up market share or lower their margins.
Financial
Assets over liabilities are x1.88. Cash to debt ratio well above industry average, debt to EBITDA well below IA. ROE 17.12% and ROIC 28.06%. Earnings were growing fast before Covid (125% in Q3, 78% in Q4). Yes they're overvalued, but with their future outlook, I would always buy below $49.
Doubts
Now that they are done catching up, the question is, will they outperform in the future. To gain more market share of Nvidia, they need to be better, not equally good. AMD also needs to control the heating better, as it is one of their long term problems.
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MASTERCARD - $MA
Fintech companies like SQ and PYPL are a great investment. However, a lot of big companies will (and already did) implement online financial services. MA is able to easily work with multiple of those companies and they're using their global presence pretty well, that's why they're my pick for the fintech industry.
They launched Mastercard Accelerate last year, implementing those online paying platforms and letting start-ups take advantage of their global presence to grow and transform very fast. Last year they acquired Ethoca (managing e-commerce fraud) and Vyze (platform to connect merchants with multiple renders, giving them the opportunity to get those financial needs for start-ups). MA is basically helping start-ups to grow faster, which will result in more financial transactions in the future.
Last but not least, they like to focus on expanding to countries where there isn't much competition yet. They are expanding their exposure to Middle East and Africa, working with local networks and e-commerce platforms. They are in a strong position to capitalize those regions in the future and take on market leader Visa even more.
They get compared a lot to Visa, so I'll expand on that subject a bit as well. While V is focussing on performance and speed, MA plays the cyber security card. They are already working on ways to implement cryptocurrency and Mastercard tend to have more growth potential vs stability from market leader Visa. While V is in the lead, MA is more widely used by fintech companies, which shows potential take-over in the future. Next to their credit services, they also own debit service Maestro, which is widely used in Europe.
Financial
Returns as high as 150% (ROE) and 60% (ROIC). Very large margins and perfectly stable balance sheet. High EPS growth YoY, 53% and 42% in the last two years. Quick ratio 1.87. V has more assets and even bigger margins, however MA wins in returns and cash. In terms of more growth, I like to focus on those last numbers more.
Doubts
It's a blue chip at a $300B market cap. Their growth potential might be limited, although I see them as one of the better picks between blue chips.
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ENPHASE ENERGY - $ENPH
I already talked about solar energy in another post, so I'm gonna skip the explanation. As some of you know my choices were ENPH and SEDG, so I'll explain a bit about why I choose ENPH here. Mainly it's because of their financials, so I'll dive that straight away.
Quick ratio - 2.35 vs 1.74
ROE - 142.94% vs 21.51%
ROIC - 85.51% vs 25.81%
Net margin - 25.81% vs 10.28%
However I think SEDG balance sheet is a lot better and safer, ENPH is working on their future more efficient. They are paving the way smoothly with bigger margins and return on investments. Although SEDG might be the better pick right now, ENPH will be the better one in a short while. ENPH is also a bit less overvalued and their PEG ratio is lower, which makes them the better pick to get in right now.
Diving into the products as well, ENPH just has the better and more efficient product. Their micro inverters are more durable (20 vs 12 years) and give the chance to increase or decrease the amount of solar panels easily, depending on your personal situation.
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GALAPAGOS - $GLPG
I'm not a big fan of biotech companies, but these guys have my attention. Not because they're working on Covid vaccines, but because of two reasons. First one is them getting back-up from Gilead Sciences. That's the push they needed to start operating worldwide, increasing their potential market cap. Now that they have the cash from GILD, they can keep on buying interesting divisions and increase their growth. While having almost no long term debt, they are set pretty well with about $4 billion extra in cash.
Second, they have multiple medicines in later trial phases, with Filgotinib as their biggest one. They had a setback on those results, but the company is very confident, giving an opportunity to get them at a decent price. I wouldn't be surprised if they partner up with another big pharmaceutical company in the metabolic disease section.
Financial
High PE (84 vs 44 average), but PEG ratio is 1.2. Quick ratio 9.28. ROIC 75.91% and ROE 7%. Became profitable this year with 16.25% net margin. 38.7% YoY EPS growth.
Doubts
Like all biotech players, there's a lot depending on medicines getting through phase trials and being commercialized. If Filgotinib will fail, their stock will obviously fall. However since they are backed by a big US giant, they can commercialize the product faster and on a bigger global scale if trials succeed. That's what gives them the advantage in comparison to other biotech companies for me.
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WALT DISNEY - $DIS
This one has got me doubting a lot. I've taken them off and put them back on my list multiple times, but eventually I decided to keep them at least 2 years to see how they will evolve into streaming.
Biggest advantage they have on their competitors is they basically have a monopoly on kids entertainment. Kids are growing up with electronic devices and content, so they're creating customers at a very young age. That's how Coca Cola used to work. They targeted 14-16 year olds, dumping loads of money into advertising which resulted in life long customers, as people didn't change cola brands often.
Disney+ is a big hit and they won't get so much competition from other streaming services as Netflix and Roku will. They have one of the strongest defined brands out there and they know perfectly how to build and maintain their company. It's also still unclear how sports with public will evolve, but it's certain streaming will become even bigger after Covid. Therefore their money-losing ESPN acquisition could even turn into a moneymaker.
Financial
I can't really say great things about their financials. ROE is 12.67%, above 10% is decent. Assets over liabilities are x1.85 and debt to equity is 0.61. You could apply the saying "too big to fail' here, but that's about it. The bad financials are mainly caused by their big investment to streaming of course and they're working on it hard. They doubled their cash position, increasing their quick ratio from 0.75 to 0.89.
Doubts
I would say financials are their weak point here. They still have to go through some bad weather this and next year I would say. Them doubling their cash position in Q1 was soothing, as I see it being the biggest issue for the future. It might be better to wait it out and keep an eye on them for next year, but I wanted to take a position already. Not higher than 8% of my portfolio though.
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MICROSOFT - $MSFT
They don't really an introduction I guess. 2nd biggest player for cloud services with Azure. Naming Satya Nadella as CEO and making the transition from hardware to software in 2014 were the best decisions they could've made. Acquired the government contract with Pentagon, however there's still uncertainty about it. In short, Amazon is claiming they were about to win the contract, but Trump criticizing the company would've lead to calling off the deal. For me, that's probably the main reason why MSFT didn't fly as high as their fellow cloud competitors yet.
Financial
Assets over liabilities x1.67. ROE and ROIC respectively at 43.82% and 28.88%. Quick ratio of 2.88, 0.65 debt to equity and 1.86 cash to debt. Decent financials, great returns. Talking about blue chips, I would say MSFT is still fairly valued with a PEG ratio just below industry average. Also paying a small dividend.
Doubts
The Pentagon contract allegations could be pretty negative for the company. They will probably not come back on their decision, cause if they do, MSFT will claim they already made big investments towards them and things will just keep on dragging on. Even without the contract, MSFT should be a 10 year hold while buying on dips.
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INNOVATIVE INDUSTRIAL PROPERTIES - $IIPR
Haven't read a lot about them here on Reddit, but they're a very decent investment. Basically, they buy properties from cannabis companies and leases them back to the sellers, giving them the cash they need to grow faster and IIPR keeps the long term advantage of renting out those properties. They need to buy about 6-8 properties a year to keep their growth rate going and they already bought 7 this year. They still have a lot of cash ready to take advantage of the crisis.
Not only are they 20% undervalued right now, they have a lot more growth potential after that and on top of it, they pay close to 5% dividend. I'm not a big fan of betting on the best cannabis company for the future, but IIPR is a great buy to have exposure in that industry. It doesn't happen very often I come across a company that combines growth potential with a high dividend, but IIPR does.
Financial
Quick ratio 6.75, cash to debt 2.8 (while REITs have an 0.07 average). Net margins 13% above average. Assets over liabilities x4.88. Annual EPS growing by more than 150% and about 41% in the last quarter before Covid. They just missed Q1 estimates, but it was only an 8% drop from Q4, performing way better than other REITs.
Doubts
IIPR has held a lot of new investment rounds, diluting shares. Of course extra capital will result in higher growth and will eventually be positive in the long run. There has been a drop in these last few days due to the announcement of selling 1 million more shares soon. I would look at it as an opportunity to get an even better price on them.
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TELADOC HEALTH - $TDOC
It's the only company I don't own yet. I can't force myself to invest more than $140 per share for them, although I really like their business model. A lot of people are skipping doctors visits these days, going straight away to get medicines and counting on the advice of pharmacists. A lot of times, there's more examination needed.
Not only do I see them succeeding in their field, I see them as an essential part of the automation of the pharmacy industry. It's a useful tool in emergencies, giving advice and deciding how serious the condition is, if (fast) medical care is needed. Teladoc will also play a role in insurance and giving the employers a checking tool. 98.9% of their shares are owned by institutions.
Financial
In terms of profitability and returns, not great of course. They are estimated to get profitable in 2023. Great balance sheet, assets over liabilities x2.66. Quick ratio 6.14, cash to debt 1.06, debt to equity 0.48.
Doubts
It's hard to see if a company is well managed before they are profitable. Their moat isn't very narrow, however I feel being one of the first ones gives you a big advantage in this field.
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DRAFTKINGS - $DKNG
Gonna keep this one pretty short, there has been enough posts about Donkey Kong. For me, the most important factor for choosing them in this industry is their fantasy sports section. They are widely popular and that division will only get more interesting while online gambling, and especially in-game betting, gets more and more legalized in the US.
Although they realized major revenue growth in 2019, they almost doubled their earnings loss. Main reason of course having to develop their platform and system. Good thing is, their technology is highly scalable, meaning they margin will grow massively while expanding in to more states and countries. Not many ratios available yet, so that's about the only financial information I own atm.
The only negative I see is their pretty wide moat, so this one should be monitored more closely in the future. But for now, they have the momentum and are one of the most popular choices, great investment.
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RAYTHEON TECHNOLOGIES - $RTX
As many of you know, two great companies (UTC and RTN) merged together in April. While United focussed on aircraft engines (Pratt & Whitney), Raytheon manufactured weapons, military and commercial electronics. They always delivered advanced technologies and them gaining multiple government contracts in the last decade is confirmation of their performant products.
Raytheon will continue to grow their leadership in different segments. Because of their diversity, they seem perfectly in place to grow even more into an aerospace & defense giant. Engines, aerostructures, avionics, sensors, cybersecurity and other software solutions are just a few examples of their working fields.
Financial
With a PE ratio of 13.58 and PB ratio of 1.41, this is probably the most undervalued stock in my portfolio. Assets over liabilities x1.43. The rest of their financials isn't that great. UTC was carrying a lot of debt, but because of the merger, it will be better balanced as RTN was only carrying $2 billion net debt. If they can decrease their debt and optimize their merger, they are set to be the new number one in defense.
Doubts
It's still unclear how the merger will work out financially and logistically. In theory, they should be very well armed (pun intended) to take on LMT as market leader. Their exposure to commercial aircrafts is also a big threat, but it's less of an issue because they can make up with their other practices.
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As you can see, I've tried to get the best blue chips with still some growth potential and stable growth companies together. Since a lot of companies already got mentioned on this forum, I'll include a bonus round of interesting companies I came across during my search for the best companies. I didn't include them in my portfolio mainly because I feel the chance of them succeeding and living up to their future potential is more risky than others. For you looking for higher risk, higher reward, check out these companies below.
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So, that's about all I have to share. This will also be my last big post a while. Analyzing stocks has been my main occupation for the last three months, but it's time to work on opening up the hotel and bar again. I hope some of you get something out of this. I'm not a professional so always check again for yourself. I'm gonna hold on to these companies for a while now. Will add some extra capital at the beginning of 2021, so you could expect another big post about my newest findings then. For now, I'm gonna take a break from following the market day in day out and enjoy the weather a bit more.
Have a good one!
submitted by CapitalC5 to stocks [link] [comments]

Bullish Options Plays [2-4 Month Horizon]

Bullish Options Plays [2-4 Month Horizon]
This post covers 4 Bullish Option Plays across various industries.
Criteria for selecting Bullish Options Plays:
  • 500MM + Market Cap
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM +
  • Uptrend detected
Using these criteria, I have curated a basket of plays. The time frame of these options are 3-6 months out, to avoid Theta burn and maximize ITM potential. The beauty of these plays is that the stock only needs to move up a few % to be profitable, with a long time horizon as a hedge. Close the position within 2-4 months to minimize theta and maximize delta opportunity.
1) Wells Fargo $WFC [BANKING]
Wells just got hammered after an expected poor earnings. This makes it a prime candidate for upward movement.
Bullish Wells Fargo Case:
Wells has a history of prudent underwriting, and we are probably closer than not to a turn in the credit cycle.
Wells Fargo's retail branch structure, advisory network, product offerings, and share in small and medium-size enterprises is difficult to duplicate, ensuring that the company's competitive advantage is maintained.
Wells offers the scale advantages of a money center bank without the risks and volatility associated with extensive capital markets operations.
Wells Fargo Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?

  • 500MM + Market Cap [99B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [46M]
  • Uptrend detected [Bounced off 52Wk Low as support]
  • **Within 10% of 52 Week Low [52 Week Low was $22, WFC is trading at $24.14]
$WFC Overlay with $JPM - The charts are nearly identical
As a big 4 bank, it is impossible for the Fed to allow WFC to go down. They have a good balance sheet, with a P/E ratio of 8.9, down from 11. The lower P/E ratio alone will bring in more long-term investors. If that isn't enough to make you comfortable, WFC offers a whopping 8% dividend yield, making it even more attractive.
This is an attractive investment for both options and stocks.
Let's take a look at options on $WFC, which I found using my unusual options scanner:
Big Bullish bets for October 16 2020, 2 days after their next earnings.
More Bullish Bets on WFC for October 16 2020
These huge bets range from $25 to $30, 3 months down the line. This averages to a $2.5, or 11% increase over the next 3 months. With this information, I propose:
WFC $27.50c Oct 16 2020, trading at $1.30 at time of writing. 24% Probability ITM.
WFC $30c Oct 16 2020, trading $0.79 at time of writing. 16% Probability ITM.
I am currently invested in $WFC stock, and hold the $30 Oct 16 Calls.
2) Twitter $TWTR [Technology]
Twitter is poised to dominate with its huge reach and rumored subscription platform for content creators. Source:
https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/8/21317266/twitter-subscription-platform-codename-gryphon-job-listing
This is a buy the rumor, sell the news play. I anticipate Twitter announcing this platform in the next 3 months.
Bullish Twitter Case:
Investments in product enhancements and video content could return the monthly active user growth rate to the double digits.
The deal with the NFL to live-stream Thursday night games and provide a platform for interaction and conversation about the games may attract more premium content providers to use the Twitter platform.
Growth in ad revenue per user remains strong at Twitter, more than offsetting the deceleration in user growth.
Twitter Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [27B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [30M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since March]
$TWTR Overlay with $FB - the charts are nearly identical
The value that $TWTR and $FB lost due to lack of advertiser revenue has been recouped. The arrival of a subscription service is very bullish, because more and more people are looking to make money online since being laid off by COVID - Twitter's reach makes it incredibly well positioned to solve this problem. Subscriptions made $MSFT and $AAPL cash cows, expect the same for $TWTR.
This is an attractive investment for both options and stocks.
Let's take a look at options on $TWTR, which I found using my unusual options scanner:
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
These bets were placed BEFORE COVID, and $TWTR is trading at the same price as when these were placed. The strikes range from $40 to $60, 6 months down the line. Taking a Strike of $40, that is 15% OTM of the current price. If they announce the platform within the next 6 months (I predict they will), the stock will explode.
With this information, I propose:
TWTR $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.25 at time of writing. 28% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.45 at time of writing. 29% Probability ITM.
Buying $40 Jan 15 2020 Calls are only $20 more for an extra month. Look to close these after their earnings next quarter, when they will likely announce the subscription platform.
I am currently invested in $TWTR stock, and hold the $40 Dec 18 Calls.
3) Southwest Airlines $LUV [AIRLINES]
Warren Buffet and COVID have caused investors to turn a nose up at airline stocks. I don't blame them - the uncertainty will affect airlines more than most other industries. That said, don't miss this opportunity to profit off Southwest Airlines, as they have the best balance sheet in the industry.
Bullish Southwest Airlines Case:
Southwest enjoys the strongest brand in the industry thanks to its simple fare prices, free checked bags, and solid customer service. This brand equity will enable it to continue growing faster than peers and support unit revenue.
Mergers among Southwest's competitors will engender pricing power for the airlines, and oil prices will remain low for longer, boosting Southwest's top and bottom lines.
Southwest's aggressive expansion will continue, driving growth at the carrier.
Southwest Airlines Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [20B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [15M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since June]
$LUV Overlay with $AAL and $DAL - Delta and American have been hit worse than Southwest for a reason.
$LUV is performing better than its competitors, with higher lows and higher highs when comparing the charts. With the best balance sheet, its exposure to oil has been proven to be overcome since the whole oil futures fiasco. They have been prepped for the second wave and are most likely to weather the storm out of all the airlines.
My options scanner did not find any significant options data for $LUV.
I propose:
LUV $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.05 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.40 at time of writing. 26% Probability ITM.
I am currently invested in $LUV stock.
4) Ericsson $ERIC [Telecommunications Equipment]
With growing tensions between the US and China, it is unlikely Huawei will be allowed to provide 5G infrastructure. The UK just announced that Huawei will NOT be providing 5G infrastructure, so Ericsson is poised to seize a huge market share.
Bullish Ericsson case:
Income sources could diversify as licensing revenue from 5G patents may grow through applications outside of Ericsson's handset manufacturer agreements.
5G may afford Ericsson a longer spending cycle and higher equipment demand than previous wireless generations. Additionally, 5G should create more use cases for Ericsson's software and services within Internet of Things device networks.
Ericsson's turnaround measures are happening at an opportune time. Management's focused strategy should expand operating margins while 5G infrastructure spending increases top-line results.
Ericsson Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [29B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [13M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since March, even stronger after UK Huawei announcement]
$ERIC Overlay with $NOK - Both stocks are strongly trending upward, with almost 100% gains since march.
$ERIC is poised to bank on 5G since Huawei is being punished in retaliation to Chinese handling of Hong Kong. Expect more growth as infrastructure expands and Apple announces their 5G line this fall. Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/apple-iphone-12-rumors-5g-release-camera-specs-2019-6
My options scanner did not find any significant options data for $ERIC.
I propose:
ERIC $11 Nov 20 2020, trading at $0.50 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
I am no longer invested in $ERIC stock - truly kicking myself for selling, because I had a great cost basis a year ago. Regardless, I am picking up these calls.
Conclusion
Based on my research, $WFC, $TWTR, $LUV, and $ERIC are poised for big gains over the next 2 quarters. All the plays have a 25% chance of being ITM, but do not need to be ITM to be extremely profitable.
TL,DR:
WFC $27.50c Oct 16 2020, trading at $1.30 at time of writing. 24% Probability ITM.
WFC $30c Oct 16 2020, trading $0.79 at time of writing. 16% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.25 at time of writing. 28% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.45 at time of writing. 29% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.05 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.40 at time of writing. 26% Probability ITM.
ERIC $11 Nov 20 2020, trading at $0.50 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
submitted by iKalculated to options [link] [comments]

Bullish Option Plays for you [Various Industries]

Bullish Option Plays for you [Various Industries]
This post covers 4 Bullish Option Plays across various industries.
Criteria for selecting Bullish Options Plays:
  • 500MM + Market Cap
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM +
  • Uptrend detected
Using these criteria, I have curated a basket of plays. The time frame of these options are 3-6 months out, to avoid Theta burn and maximize ITM potential. The beauty of these plays is that the stock only needs to move up a few % to be profitable, with a long time horizon as a hedge. Close the position within 2-4 months to minimize theta and maximize delta opportunity.
1) Wells Fargo $WFC [BANKING]
Wells just got hammered after an expected poor earnings. This makes it a prime candidate for upward movement.
Bullish Wells Fargo Case:
Wells has a history of prudent underwriting, and we are probably closer than not to a turn in the credit cycle.
Wells Fargo's retail branch structure, advisory network, product offerings, and share in small and medium-size enterprises is difficult to duplicate, ensuring that the company's competitive advantage is maintained.
Wells offers the scale advantages of a money center bank without the risks and volatility associated with extensive capital markets operations.
Wells Fargo Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [99B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [46M]
  • Uptrend detected [Bounced off 52Wk Low as support]
  • **Within 10% of 52 Week Low [52 Week Low was $22, WFC is trading at $24.14]
$WFC Overlay with $JPM - The charts are nearly identical
As a big 4 bank, it is impossible for the Fed to allow WFC to go down. They have a good balance sheet, with a P/E ratio of 8.9, down from 11. The lower P/E ratio alone will bring in more long-term investors. If that isn't enough to make you comfortable, WFC offers a whopping 8% dividend yield, making it even more attractive.
This is an attractive investment for both options and stocks.
Let's take a look at options on $WFC, which I found using my unusual options scanner:
Big Bullish bets for October 16 2020, 2 days after their next earnings.
More Bullish Bets on WFC for October 16 2020
These huge bets range from $25 to $30, 3 months down the line. This averages to a $2.5, or 11% increase over the next 3 months. With this information, I propose:
WFC $27.50c Oct 16 2020, trading at $1.30 at time of writing. 24% Probability ITM.
WFC $30c Oct 16 2020, trading $0.79 at time of writing. 16% Probability ITM.
I am currently invested in $WFC stock, and hold the $30 Oct 16 Calls.
2) Twitter $TWTR [Technology]
Twitter is poised to dominate with its huge reach and rumored subscription platform for content creators. Source:
https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/8/21317266/twitter-subscription-platform-codename-gryphon-job-listing
This is a buy the rumor, sell the news play. I anticipate Twitter announcing this platform in the next 3 months.
Bullish Twitter Case:
Investments in product enhancements and video content could return the monthly active user growth rate to the double digits.
The deal with the NFL to live-stream Thursday night games and provide a platform for interaction and conversation about the games may attract more premium content providers to use the Twitter platform.
Growth in ad revenue per user remains strong at Twitter, more than offsetting the deceleration in user growth.
Twitter Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [27B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [30M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since March]
$TWTR Overlay with $FB - the charts are nearly identical
The value that $TWTR and $FB lost due to lack of advertiser revenue has been recouped. The arrival of a subscription service is very bullish, because more and more people are looking to make money online since being laid off by COVID - Twitter's reach makes it incredibly well positioned to solve this problem. Subscriptions made $MSFT and $AAPL cash cows, expect the same for $TWTR.
This is an attractive investment for both options and stocks.
Let's take a look at options on $TWTR, which I found using my unusual options scanner:
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
Huge Bullish $TWTR bets for Jan 15, 2021
These bets were placed BEFORE COVID, and $TWTR is trading at the same price as when these were placed. The strikes range from $40 to $60, 6 months down the line. Taking a Strike of $40, that is 15% OTM of the current price. If they announce the platform within the next 6 months (I predict they will), the stock will explode.
With this information, I propose:
TWTR $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.25 at time of writing. 28% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.45 at time of writing. 29% Probability ITM.
Buying $40 Jan 15 2020 Calls are only $20 more for an extra month. Look to close these after their earnings next quarter, when they will likely announce the subscription platform.
I am currently invested in $TWTR stock, and hold the $40 Dec 18 Calls.
3) Southwest Airlines $LUV [AIRLINES]
Warren Buffet and COVID have caused investors to turn a nose up at airline stocks. I don't blame them - the uncertainty will affect airlines more than most other industries. That said, don't miss this opportunity to profit off Southwest Airlines, as they have the best balance sheet in the industry.
Bullish Southwest Airlines Case:
Southwest enjoys the strongest brand in the industry thanks to its simple fare prices, free checked bags, and solid customer service. This brand equity will enable it to continue growing faster than peers and support unit revenue.
Mergers among Southwest's competitors will engender pricing power for the airlines, and oil prices will remain low for longer, boosting Southwest's top and bottom lines.
Southwest's aggressive expansion will continue, driving growth at the carrier.
Southwest Airlines Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [20B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [15M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since June]
$LUV Overlay with $AAL and $DAL - Delta and American have been hit worse than Southwest for a reason.
$LUV is performing better than its competitors, with higher lows and higher highs when comparing the charts. With the best balance sheet, its exposure to oil has been proven to be overcome since the whole oil futures fiasco. They have been prepped for the second wave and are most likely to weather the storm out of all the airlines.
My options scanner did not find any significant options data for $LUV.
I propose:
LUV $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.05 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.40 at time of writing. 26% Probability ITM.
I am currently invested in $LUV stock.
4) Ericsson $ERIC [Telecommunications Equipment]
With growing tensions between the US and China, it is unlikely Huawei will be allowed to provide 5G infrastructure. The UK just announced that Huawei will NOT be providing 5G infrastructure, so Ericsson is poised to seize a huge market share.
Bullish Ericsson case:
Income sources could diversify as licensing revenue from 5G patents may grow through applications outside of Ericsson's handset manufacturer agreements.
5G may afford Ericsson a longer spending cycle and higher equipment demand than previous wireless generations. Additionally, 5G should create more use cases for Ericsson's software and services within Internet of Things device networks.
Ericsson's turnaround measures are happening at an opportune time. Management's focused strategy should expand operating margins while 5G infrastructure spending increases top-line results.
Ericsson Profile, from my personal research platform
Meets Criteria?
  • 500MM + Market Cap [29B]
  • Average Daily Volume 5MM + [13M]
  • Uptrend detected [Strong upward trend since March, even stronger after UK Huawei announcement]
$ERIC Overlay with $NOK - Both stocks are strongly trending upward, with almost 100% gains since march.
$ERIC is poised to bank on 5G since Huawei is being punished in retaliation to Chinese handling of Hong Kong. Expect more growth as infrastructure expands and Apple announces their 5G line this fall. Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/apple-iphone-12-rumors-5g-release-camera-specs-2019-6
My options scanner did not find any significant options data for $ERIC.
I propose:
ERIC $11 Nov 20 2020, trading at $0.50 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
I am no longer invested in $ERIC stock - truly kicking myself for selling, because I had a great cost basis a year ago. Regardless, I am picking up these calls.
Conclusion
Based on my research, $WFC, $TWTR, $LUV, and $ERIC are poised for big gains over the next 2 quarters. All the plays have a 25% chance of being ITM, but do not need to be ITM to be extremely profitable.
TL,DR:
WFC $27.50c Oct 16 2020, trading at $1.30 at time of writing. 24% Probability ITM.
WFC $30c Oct 16 2020, trading $0.79 at time of writing. 16% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.25 at time of writing. 28% Probability ITM.
TWTR $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.45 at time of writing. 29% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Dec 18 2020, trading at $3.05 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
LUV $40c Jan 15 2020, trading $3.40 at time of writing. 26% Probability ITM.
ERIC $11 Nov 20 2020, trading at $0.50 at time of writing. 25% Probability ITM.
submitted by iKalculated to wallstreetbets [link] [comments]

S&P 1700 within 6 Months


This is a new post after some interest in a comment why I believed the S&P is going to 1700.
Update 3: I am going to limit my answers in the comments guys; as the post becomes more popular it is becoming more diluted with snark etc. I don't expect anyone to follow my opinions; I just want to share one aspect of why I am making the trades I am. I maybe wrong. Random walk and all that..
Original Disclaimer: This is based on historical precedence and we are in unprecedented times but, with history as our guide a strong argument can be made for the S&P to decline to a level that is currently inconceivable. I have disclosed all my positions near the bottom.
Update 1: Slightly long; happy to be challenged in the comments, it is late in the UK (2am) so may tidy it up and add more references and charts tomorrow. Update 2: Have expanded the post to answer as many comments and requests for references wherever possible and tagged in the requestors.

Intro: Are we in a recession?

If you believe so, or that we are heading into a recession then there are four things needed to support a genuine rally out of a recession

We are missing 2 out of those 4 criteria; the overwhelming monetary and fiscal policy (world-records) are compensating for lack of positive indicators and volatile and bullish pricing.

What do you mean by pricing?

It can be argued that the current price of stocks is not discounting for the acute and likely chronic harm to consumer sentiment and spending power. For example; the UK clothing retailer Next Group closed their bricks and mortar stores (share price increased 4%) then they cancelled all online shopping (share price increased 3%) and finally they cancelled all orders with their supply chain (shares leapt 12.8% during the rally.) There is the massive amount of second, third and fourth order effects that this one company does to the UK economy (and Turkish factories). Suppliers, shipping, design, marketing etc all cancelled and the staff furloughed.
This is one example but the indexes are currently full of similar examples and some analysts are ringing the alarm bells.

Lazard Asset Management are concerned that the pandemic “will persist longer than many investors suspect and that the economic damage will be deeper and potentially longer-lasting”.
Reddit is quick to mention that stonks only go up but there is some truth to that sentiment at present since any negative factors are dismissed as being priced in and all positive factors are heralded as a cause for stocks to rally. If priced in was accurate then we would not see record-beating market rallies back to back. 10% volatility swings over 48 hours is the very definition of not priced in.
There is evidence to suggest that, well, the bullish sentiment is wrong and mainly because it is retail investors being taken for a ride whilst funds re-balance and offload.
Retail traders "buying the dips" is normally a contrarian signal, meaning that it's time to sell. This section is for u/lntoIerant in response to a comment.

Edit to answer some comments about this portion thus far.

Do retail investors move the market?
Are retail investors buying in greater volumes?
Are retail investors dumb money?

What does this have to do with the S&P dividend and the EPS?


Major indexes are comprised of stocks that pay handsome dividends; normally 2% yield a year. The companies have reached their limit of growth (HSBC haven't discovered 5 million new customers and Shell are not finding new fossil fuels) so investors hold the stock for income-seeking reasons.
The FTSE 100 was priced in to generate £89 billion in dividends for 2019 and £90 billion+ in 2020. That has largely collapsed.
The only companies that pay dividends are those taking on debt to do so like Shell. And they have; a 10Bn credit line to maintain dividends. The Bank of Englandhad to slap 5 UK banks from issuing dividends at this time. That means that their primary valuations as income-generating stocks are questionable...
...especially since the dividends are not expected to return to the 2020 levels for another 10 years now. Edit to add: This portion is taken from the market report by BNY Mellon. You can see the chart here. The analyst is John Velis of BNY. Thanks to u/flash_aaaah_ahhhhh for prompting me.

“By 2021, the market expects dividends per share for the S&P 500 to be down to under $38 per share (a staggering 41 per cent drop from recent highs of approximately $63 per share) and then to start slowly rising again. Going out 10 years to 2030, the expectation is that dividends will just about recover to pre-Covid-19 levels.”

Main body: Onto the S&P

In 2021 the market expects the dividends per share for the S&P to be reduced to $38 per share. That is priced in and common knowledge.
That is a 41% drop from the recent highs of $63 a share and seems alarming for income seeking investors since we are not expected to recover to those prices for 8-10 years. Source.
But DataTrek have noted that we are still currently trading at 21X the trailing 10 year earnings of $122 a share.
Dividends per share normally don't fall as far as earnings per share. But they are inverted at present.
For the S&P to be trading at 2,650 level (or even higher) it means the market does not believe the pandemic or recession will have any long-term damage. That puts us squarely at odds with items 3 and 4 in our list of factors needed to exit a bear market.

Talk to me about 2008!

Thanks to u/mister_woody for asking for more data.

In other recessions, including 2008, the dividend price per share drops approximately 12-15% but the earnings per share drop by considerably more; as much as 85%.
That means that in 2008 financial crisis and subsequent bear market; the dividends per share dropped by a lower percentage amount than the total index value drop.
You can see that in this chart here.

Right now, we have the reverse. Dividend share drop in this market is 41% (which is chilling) and market drop was approximately only 30% and rallying heavily back to the mid-20's only. That makes no financial sense unless the assets were being propped up by buyers...

If the S&P follows the same playbook at 2008-9, then we would expect to see levels of around 1400 at the bottom but that seems extremely bearish expecting that this crisis is worse than 2008.
If previous indications hold true, then we would expect the S&P to drop by approximately 50-60%ish at the true bottom to reflect the 41% decrease in expected shares plus additional discounts and negative market sentiment.
In reality, we are probably likely to pull back to between 13X and 15X trailing average which puts the S&P between 1600 (low side) and 1800 (high side).

You are putting a lot of faith in a re-run of the 2008 crisis

I am. No doubt about it. After October 2008, stocks fell for another four months, piling up 40% of losses before the recently ended bull market began in March 2009.

New market indicators

Since I wrote this post, the DJIA was up over 4% and closed down on the day.
Thank you to theTwitter feed of Jim Bianco for this: Since 1925 (95 yrs!), up more than 4% and closing down on the day has happened only one other time ... Oct 14, 2008 (Tsy Sec Hank Paulson forced the banks to take TARP money). The S&P 500 was up 3.5% at the high and closed down on the day. Since April 1982 (daily H,L,C began) has happened three other times...Oct 3, 08, Oct 14, 08, and Oct 17, 08.
This mkt continues to trade like Oct 08. It was six months and another 25% down before the low.
Bezinga are also playing up the 2008 similarities.

Why is bullish sentiment so wrong?

The negative reports are so wildly negative that the almost defy belief. We are dealing with insane numbers way beyond our traditional frame of reasoning. This is topped only by the insanity of the scale of quantitative easing. Less than a year ago, a small movement in the non-farm payrolls would lead to a 2-3% move in the markets; now we are hitting 700K jobs lost, a truly ugly number and the market rallies hugely. Future economic students will study this to try and understand what was happening.
In the space of weeks the majority of the Western economies have swung to being effectively state-sponsored, centralised economies and no one really knows how to unwind these positions.
It is impossible to reconcile being a bull with a centralised state economy and blue-chip stocks that refuse to pay dividends but the share price remains at the same levels as when they paid a 2% yield.
The UK forecast is for the deepest contraction since 1900. Business surveys have shown activity crashing faster in March than during the financial crisis. The Office for National Statistics has published experimental research on the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

With entire swaths of the economy having shut down “traditional forecasting methods become irrelevant”, warned Chiara Zangarelli, economist at investment bank Nomura.
Michelle Girard, economist at NatWest, said that while there was huge uncertainty about the precise magnitude of the contraction in gross domestic product in the second quarter, “there is little doubt that it will be off the scale”
That is not a bullish sentiment. It means markets are acting irrationally since fundamentals are being dismissed as priced-in. In reality; nothing is priced in.

Disclosure


Spreads
Equities
Currency

Edit to add: So, your entire thesis is totally destroyed if companies keep paying dividends?

Yes.
In a nutshell.
But something else will be destroyed; the western taxpayer and future growth.

CEO said 'every pound we receive [in rates relief] will be invested in ensuring Tesco is able to support British shoppers...' That is tax payers paying a subsidy to a free-market company for the ability to shop...and also...
Mr Lewis said that the needs of savers and pension funds also needed to be considered in the debate around dividends. “We’ve thought long and hard about our responsibilities here . . . we are in a strong position to pay out for the benefit of those people

Edit to add: What about the FED and stimulus


u/tauriel81 and u/aliveintucson325 and u/100PERCENTYOLO_VEQT
OK - to truly test my own assumptions; here is my argument AGAINST my position.
The Fed have not quite printed money as Reddit loves to meme. They have issued liquidity and central banks worldwide have allowed banks to relax their requirement to hold reserves of cash. That injects money into the business world by allowing lending and borrowing to continue. It also reduces theoretical risk since the models are back within tolerance.
When the time comes they will remove the credits gradually without causing hyperinflation. They do this by paying banks not to lend back into the system by holding a % of their assets at the Federal Reserve. So they pay the banks but the banks keep the deposit at the Fed and don't pass on the liquidity to potential borrowers..gradually and sustainably.
https://www.aier.org/article/powells-new-monetary-regime/
That means the borrower of the future (home purchasers, entreprenuers etc) will have very few credit facilities available so RIP to the long-term economic growth.
We also have unprecedented government support for citizens. The largest social security welfare plan since WW2, especially in Europe.
If you believe that the Western economies can weather this storm using the bridging devices by central banks then it pays to dollar cost average into the market and keep buying the dips as a retail investor.
Lots of buoyant news from European nations and China about the slowing pandemic is overwhelming the negative leading and lagging economic indicators about economic data.
If you believe the economy can return to normal within 36 months, then it pay to be bullish and invest.
If you are day-trading, swing-trading or short-term options trading then the overwhelming market moves are likely to crush people as the system flexes under lots of volatility. You are also likely prioritising the negative news and technical analysis in your filter bubble and de-prioritising the positive news particularly when that news is fiscal or monetary policy since those things are dry, boring and incomprehensible half the time.
So you miss Fed backstops critical bankingi and instead hear UK Prime Minister in intensive care.
If you want to know what is going on...

Decide where you making a prediction. Plan your trade, trade your plan.
How do the FED take money back out of the economy?
They FED purchase the security initially to then sell it back to the asset-holder later. So the balance of credit-deficit merely swaps but by paying a small premium on the excesses that they hold, they can cushion the inflation or deflation of the currency.
So, they effectively give the bank liquidity and then remove that liquidity later by passing the asset back...but also provide a small premium to cushion the blow; 50% of the premium is then held on Federal Reserve books so that the market is not flooded with new money.
The FED previously reduced their balance sheet from $4.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion but it remains to be seen if they can unwind a position of this size.

TL:DR



submitted by DongusMcLongus to StockMarket [link] [comments]

[Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 005: A Terran's Mercy

The Last Precursor is a brand new HFY-exclusive web-serial which focuses on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. With his species all but extinct and only known as the ancient Precursors, how will Rodriguez survive in this hostile universe? Make sure to read the earlier chapters first if you missed them!
Join the TLP Discord!
Previous Part
Part 001
.......................................
Fleet Commander Orgon the Unkillable, leader of the Tarus II subjugation force, stands behind First Officer Megla as she browses countless records inside the Dragon Breath's database. Her reptilian slit-eyes flick from right to left as she scrolls through countless walls of text, searching for the information her commander requested.
"Still nothing?" Orgon asks, as he evaluates the information she currently has onscreen.
"I've only had an hour, Fleet Commander. Even if I had months, I still might not be able to scan all of our records. The best I can do is skim while searching for references to Terrans or Humans. I haven't yet found anything."
Orgon exhales through his nose. "Blast. There's nothing worse than facing an enemy we know nothing about. This Terran is no ordinary foe. I can see in his eyes that he's slain countless battle-hardened warriors. We can't afford to annoy or trifle with a beast like him, especially when he possesses such a powerful vessel."
Officer Megla continues to tap on dozens of buttons as she peruses the Dragon Breath's records. However, she also shows her intelligence by splitting her attention perfectly while conversing with her commander. "Kyargh! Commander, if I may. I suggest we execute a tactical retreat. We've already sent a coded transmission to the Thülvik. Since we haven't a chance of defeating the Terran's warship, we should take advantage of its immobility and leave. Our scans reveal its engines have degraded to non-operational status. With any luck, it won't be able to pursue us."
Orgon gazes at the back of Megla's head. "I can't do that. We've already failed the Thülvik once today. Twice, if you count allowing that advanced stealth vessel to escape our grasp. A third humiliation might result in an execution for me and a court martial for all of the bridge crew. We must make inroads with the Terran to bring him and his crew to our side. If we can present the Thülvik with even a hint of alliance with this vessel's owner, we will reap the rewards."
"I understand your position, Commander," Megla mutters, "but even so, we're fooling around with volatile gamma-rays. This Terran is extremely dangerous and ruthlessly calculating. At the start of the conversation, it seemed as if he hadn't even heard of the Kraktol, yet by the end, he had us dancing in his palm. Even with a vessel like his, that is no mean feat."
A moment of silence follows.
Commander Orgon narrows his eyes.
"...Hadn't even heard of the Kraktol."
"Commander?"
Megla glances back at the Commander, only to frown as she spots a look of intense concentration on his face.
Orgon the Unkillable strokes his scaled chin, his expression turning more complicated every second. "Who in the galaxy, especially in the adjacent sectors, knows nothing of the Kraktol? Is not our control of the Outer Rim growing tighter each year?"
The First Officer nods. "Kyargh! Of course, Commander. The claws of the Kraktol loom over the Fifth Spiral Arm. Ever since our acquisition of Rylon's Precursor shipyard, our advance has become unstoppable. None dare to oppose us. Even the Core worlds utter our name with fearful whispers."
Commander Orgon glances around the Dragon Breath's bridge, at the many officers and crew members dutifully following his commands.
"Indeed. The Thülvik might punish me for failing to wipe out our ancient enemies, but the Kessu pale in comparison to the value of this fleet. Perhaps I've been looking at this situation wrongly from the very beginning."
Her concentration broken, Officer Megla turns in her seat to stare up at her Commander. "I don't follow."
"Think about it," Orgon mutters. "This Terran... how could his people enter our space without any of us knowing? How could he acquire such a highly advanced vessel under our guarded watch? It's not as if he flew the Juggernaut into the cloud and held position there. He must have found it within the last several years. Perhaps he and his crew have been working to restore its functionality."
"More importantly," Orgon continues, "perhaps he didn't. Officer Megla. Continue searching the records. This time, I want you to narrow your search parameters. Scan all collected information we've obtained regarding the Precursors. I want information regarding their appearance and biology. In particular, I want to know if we ever found out their species' name."
Megla's complexion turns ashen. Her bright-yellow scales dim noticeably, flushing orange from the dread circulating in her veins. "Commander... you can't mean..."
"Follow my orders," Orgon replies, his voice a whisper. He glances at a couple of other nearby officers, both engaged in a quiet conversation as they monitor the Juggernaut vessel's activities. "It's only a hunch, and I can't make any strategic decisions based off a mere whim. Assemble a kill-switch transmission with my hypotheses. Have it transmit directly to the Thülvik in the event of the Dragon Breath's imminent destruction. We don't want to send any unsubstantiated rumors her way without evidence, but if we should perish to this Terran, then we might as well give the Thülvik a lead."
Megla lowers her head. After a moment, she returns her attention to her computer's screen. "Yes, Commander. I understand."
Orgon pats his First Officer's shoulder. After staring vacantly at her screen for a moment, he turns away and heads to his Tactical Officer's station.
Could it be? Orgon wonders. Might the Terran be a Precursor himself? That should be impossible. If fifty thousand of their kind have survived, and with a vessel as advanced as their Juggernaut... the galaxy will soon experience a crisis. The Rodaks won't be able to stop them, nor will the Mallali, the Buzor, or the Avaru.
The Fleet Commander's jaw presses together tightly. I am no historian, but even I know the fables of the Precursor wars. Star-detonation-beams. Planet-obliteration-cannons. Some say the Precursors were a species hellbent on violence and carnage, while others claim they were all unscrupulous warriors who slew one another in countless bloody wars. I am... afraid. If the Kraktol are the first to face this Juggernaut vessel... we will also be the first to perish.
The first of many.
Orgon slows to a stop behind the red-scaled visage of his Chief Tactical Officer, Soren Mudrose. The female Kraktol dutifully carries out Orgon's previous orders, drawing up multiple possible lines of attack against the Precursor Juggernaut.
"Officer Soren. Report."
Orgon slows to a stop at her left. He scans all three of the giant holographic displays placed before his Tactical Officer and waits for her response.
The Tactical Officer turns to Orgon and presses her palms together respectfully. "Kyargh! Commander, I have not yet come up with any guaranteed successful attack vectors, but I've managed to complete a few that increase our odds of success to greater than five percent!"
Orgon nods. "Five percent... it will have to suffice. Elaborate."
Officer Soren rubs her claws together nervously. She turns back to her console and taps several buttons, bringing up virtual images of the Kraktol fleet and the lone Juggernaut vessel. "Based upon our scans, we estimate the Juggernaut only has somewhere between five and twenty-five weapons online. We don't know what their condition is, what ammunition they use, or what their offensive power is. However, I have increased the damage vectors of our enemy to the maximum, just to be safe."
"This is certainly the right time to overestimate our enemy," Orgon says, his tone grave. "Continue."
"Kyargh! I took the firepower of the Thülvik's personal flagship and gave it a damage output of one thousand percent. If we assume the Juggernaut vessel is capable of unleashing that much devastation, then every cannon-barrage will take out the critical systems of our mid-level battlecruisers, and cause severe damage to the Dragon's Breath. It should take three salvos from these long cannons positioned on its stern to obliterate our flagship. If we attempt to shield the rest of the fleet with our ship, we can rush forward at mark ten point seven, then travel along this vector here until..."
The Tactical Officer spends the next few minutes detailing several attack strategies to her commander. However, each one only makes his expression fall further and further.
"...It seems our best bet is your third strategy," Orgon mutters. "We must deploy as many of our interceptors and bombers as possible. With so few functioning weapons, the Juggernaut vessel might not be able to destroy them all in time before they arrive at its hangar bay. We can land inside and begin combat with its internal security forces."
Orgon's stomach begins to churn uneasily. "There's only one problem with that strategy, Officer Soren. We don't know how competent the Terrans are at hand-to-hand combat. We don't know how powerful their conventional weapons are, nor do we know anything regarding their military tactics. Even if we somehow end up outnumbering them four-to-one upon entering their hangars, they will still have a tremendous advantage against us."
Officer Soren sighs. "...Commander. Given how advanced the Juggernaut ship is, don't you think they will possess Combat Armor far surpassing ours? This is why I outlined a lander invasion as the third strategy and not the first. I believe that if we engage them in ground warfare, their technology will rip us to pieces even if their tactics prove sub-par. I can't emphasize enough how terrible of an end we might suffer if we fight them on their territory."
"We haven't many options," Orgon growls. "Aerial combat is a non-starter. The Juggernaut is likely a carrier-type battleship with countless interceptors, all of them superior to ours. Even if we assume 99% of them are nonfunctional scrap-heaps, we have to assume that just one highly advanced interceptor will reduce our whole fleet to rubble. You need only recall how the stealth-ship evaded the attacks of 100 interceptors for several minutes, and that was without any other allies providing covering fire. Furthermore, the stealth-vessel was even less-advanced than that Juggernaut, and therefore, its support craft."
Orgon's tongue pokes at the back of one of his teeth. The Commander shakes his head wryly as he imagines several possible ways his fleet could end up destroyed when confronting the Juggernaut.
"I'm afraid that of all the options you've laid out, Officer Soren, sending as many transport ships as possible to their hangar might be our best bet for pacifying the Terrans. If our enemies possess advanced Combat Armor, or if their weapons vastly outstrip ours, our troops will fall. Perhaps fleeing might be our best option for survival, but we will only end up delaying the inevitable. I would rather perish in glorious combat if it gives us a chance to take out these 'Terrans' while they're weak, than to give them time to repair their vessel. Once the Juggernaut's engines come online, the Thülvik herself will be at risk, as will the rest of the galaxy."
Orgon squeezes Officer Soren's shoulder. His touch conveys a deep sense of despair, as well as a resignation that his end may soon arrive.
"Do what you can to streamline your third plan, Officer Soren. Transmit the relevant tactics to the rest of our fleet. We will wait for the Terran's response. If their Admiral decides to attack, we must execute the invasion without delay. Every second wasted will mean countless deaths among our ranks."
Officer Soren nods quickly. "Kyargh! Yes, Commander! I will devote myself to this plan, even if it spells our bitter end."
"Good."
Orgon the Unkillable pulls his claws away from Soren's shoulder. He continues walking around the Bridge, chatting with one crewman after another, finalizing his plans.
Eventually, the Chief Navigator, Officer Gorlax Stormfang, speaks up. "Commander Orgon! We've received a hail from the Terran vessel."
Orgon glances at Gorlax from his position at a nearby console. Without delay, he walks away from the crew-member and trots over to his chair, then sits down.
It takes a few moments for the Commander to steady his nerves. Once he exhales his tension away, Orgon nods at Gorlax. "Onscreen."
Blip.
The viewscreen activates, this time showing six Terrans, all seated at different bridge stations, focused intently on their work. Admiral Rodriguez stands by himself, with nearly two dozen Kessu flanking him on his right and left. The tiny little creatures only serve to emphasize how tall and powerful-looking the Terran is, giving the Kraktol an unintentional frame of reference for his stature.
Decked out in a navy blue admiral outfit, Commander Rodriguez stands at attention, his hands folded behind his back.
"Commander Orgon. I've just returned from my hangar bay, where I met these Kessu for the first time. We had a discussion I would describe as... illuminating. Suffice it to say, I've found your claims of a stolen vessel laughable. Have you any explanation for lying to me? Any that I might find reasonable, I mean."
Orgon doesn't flinch. He assumes the air of a Commander, no longer bothering to kowtow to the Terran. "I do not, Admiral Rodriguez. I owe you nothing, as the galaxy is a treacherous place. Countless unscrupulous enemies lurk in the Void, so you can hardly blame me for attempting to minimize the risk to my crew and fleet. Would you not do the same if our roles were reversed?"
A faint smile appears on the Terran's face. "Let's cut to the chase. You lied to me, but I suffered no damages. I'll cross it off my tally just to be a good neighbor. My crew have always spoken of my generosity, so I'd hate to disappoint them. On the other hand, these Kessu have suffered greatly as a result of your violent ways. You attacked their world, murdered their families, and committed horrific acts of genocide against their people. As a man of principle, I find your actions abhorrent. What say you in your defense?"
Orgon tilts his snout slightly upward. The crocodile-alien glances at the Kessu with a barely-concealed look of hatred.
"My defense? Those little wretches skulking at your feet are the mortal enemies of the the Buzor and the Rodaks. Along with the Dakkit, the Varot, and countless other species among the Mallali, the Kessu turned my people into second-class citizens in the galactic courts. They hounded us, enslaved us, and tortured us. The infamous Sky Cats played the role of scientists and explorers, but in secret, they were barbarous monsters who left horrific atrocities in their wake no matter where they went."
Orgon continues. "My people want our revenge. We deserve it. We suffered endlessly for tens of thousands of years at the hands of the filthy Futh who have sought shelter on your vessel. I'll admit that I did lie at first. I lied that these children of the Sky Cats stole a vessel from me... but that was a mere technicality. They've stolen countless Kraktol lives in their pursuit of power, and when the time comes, they will stab you in the back as well. Destroying their species was a merciful act, one which will spare the galaxy much heartache in the future."
Orgon finishes speaking. He nods slowly at Admiral Rodriguez, waiting for the human's reply.
However, José doesn't immediately respond. Instead, he glances at the shivering figures of the cat-aliens beside him, all of whom stare at the Kraktol commander with terror-filled eyes.
"Hmm. I was not aware of your previous conflict with the Kessu," José murmurs. "Your argument is compelling. Have you any evidence of your claims?"
"Of course."
Orgon turns to his left to look at Megla, his First Officer.
"Have our synthmind compile a brief summary of events regarding the Kessu-Kraktol genocides during Alonis's Reign."
"Yes, Commander."
However, when Orgon returns his attention to the viewscreen, he instead witnesses José's hands moving a thousand miles per hour, manipulating countless holographic images in the air before himself.
"No need," Admiral Rodriguez replies, his voice as tranquil as a mid-summer's day. "My synthmind has already provided the information you mentioned."
Orgon blinks twice in surprise. "It did? How?"
The Admiral's smile widens. "How do you think, Commander? My synthmind is countless epochs more advanced than yours. Naturally, she extracted the information and compiled it for me."
The Terran speaks in a matter-of-fact way, but his words cause a deep, terrible chill to pervade Orgon's bones.
That... that can only mean... his synthmind must have hacked our data stores! And if it could breach such sensitive information, there's no reason the Terran can't simply seize control of my entire fleet.
Several realizations click into place in the back of Orgon's mind.
What else could this mean? Has the Terran been spying on us the whole time? Does he know about our planned attack vector? Does he even, perhaps, know that I suspect he's a Precursor?
Orgon doesn't voice any of his thoughts. The mere prospect of them being a reality threaten to give him conniptions.
In the worst-case scenario, the Terran wouldn't only be able to seize control of my vessel, but the entire Kraktol fleet! We would be powerless against him! He wouldn't need to fire a single shot to defeat us!
Orgon's yellow-tinted scales shift to orange as he fails to keep his emotions in check. A quick glance around the room reveals looks of shock among several of the senior officer's faces as they, too, come to similar realizations.
However, the Terran's expression flickers between boredom and disinterest. He scans the files stolen from Orgon's ship and nods.
"I see. It seems that either your claims are true, or you've known of my existence for hundreds of years and this is a truly clever and well-planned ruse. Not to insult your intelligence, but I find the latter far less likely than the former."
With a wry chuckle, José pushes away all of the holo-files with a wave of his hand.
"Commander Orgon. I understand that you have a blood-grudge against the Kessu. However, my fellow Terrans have a saying. 'Do not punish the son for the father's crimes.' These Kessu at my feet, have they harmed you? Have they brought ruin upon your cities? Have they enslaved your people? Tell me, Commander, what crimes these primitive, innocent villagers have committed against you."
Orgon balls his claws into fists. "Hmph. Innocent? They robbed my people of our livelihood for countless millennia. Perhaps not those specific Kessu, but their forefathers did. Everything the Kraktol have now, we earned ourselves. We obtained no remuneration from the Kessu. Why do you wish so desperately to protect the descendants of thieves, marauders, and pirates? Do Terrans not understand that evil runs in the blood?"
"I acknowledge your pain," José says. "That is why I have listened carefully to your grievances. Were I an uncaring soul, I'd have blasted you out of the sky. Let me instead revise my question. Do any Kessu remain who personally caused injuries to the Kraktol, or have they all perished to the annals of time?"
"Graugh!" Orgon snarls. "The ones who hurt my people are dead! They've all died! All that remain are their descendants, children who lived decent lives off the labor stolen from our backs! I care not what your 'Terran sayings' and folklore suggest, Admiral Rodriguez! If you wish to shelter these Kessu, then so be it! Do not chide me like a newly-hatched spawnling. Do not speak down to me as if my people's suffering is some ancient wound we must casually set aside! Our entire history comes from pain! It has forged us into the mightiest Rodaks in the galaxy!"
Orgon rises to his feet. His words boom throughout the bridge, making the hearts of his crew soar. His passion-filled speech inflames their anger, reminding them of the pain they've suffered, and all the reasons they continue to fight.
"The Kraktol will never give up on our revenge, Admiral Rodriguez! So long as the Mallali control the Core, the Rodaks will fight back against their oppressive regime! Who are you to pass judgment on me when two hours ago, you hadn't a clue who the Kraktol and Kessu even were?! A self-righteous zealot, that's who! Hmph!"
Commander Orgon breathes heavily. His eyes bulge in their sockets, enlarged due to the cold blood furiously pumping through his body. The changes in his physical condition make him appear three times more threatening than before, as if he might snap and attack the viewscreen at any moment.
Several seconds pass before Admiral Rodriguez responds.
"In that case, you leave me no choice. As of this moment, I will place the Kessu under my protection. If the only restitution you will accept for the sins of their ancestors is blood, then that is a price I won't allow them to pay. These Kessu are not the ones who harmed you. They may have benefited by the trauma caused to your people, but they had no say in that matter. I will also place the rest of their species under my protection as well. I will excuse the violence you've committed against them prior to our meeting, but after today, any further acts of undeserved aggression will force me to take military action on their behalf."
José nods at Commander Orgon. "Go. Take your fleet and leave. I've nothing more I wish to hear from you."
Commander Orgon balks.
The Kraktol leader stares at the Terran in disbelief, his confusion growing by the second.
The Terran is letting us go? No! He's dismissing us as if we were unruly hatchlings! After all that tough talk of us facing his wrath, why would he tell us to leave?
Unable to understand the Terran's motivations, a spark appears in the Commander's eye.
Ah. Could it be? Is the Terran not as strong as he claims? Might he actually be afraid of my fleet, after all? Perhaps he wishes to intimidate us because he lacks the firepower to back up his feeble words.
Before José can disable the communication feed, Orgon lifts his head to meet the Admiral's gaze.
"Graugh! You, Terran... do you really wish to make an enemy of the Kraktol empire? Your ship is impressive, but can it match up to the might of ten thousand Imperator-class battleships? Why do you always seek to intimidate me with mere words? What are you so afraid of that you wish for us to leave you in peace, hmm?"
Orgon's thoughts return to his first interaction with the Terran.
That's right. This human initially referred to my ships as 'death machines.' Does that not confirm he is secretly afraid of me? He seems to know everything about me, yet he keeps his secrets clutched against his chest.
Admiral Rodriguez frowns. "I think you're misunderstanding something, Commander Orgon. I do not fear you, nor your so-called 'Kraktol Empire.' I am one of Ramma's Chosen, and so, I serve a higher creed. I protect the innocent and uphold justice blindly. I would slay my own brother if Ramma's Creed deemed it necessary. Therefore, I have determined that protecting the now-helpless Kessu from your fleets is of the utmost importance, yet, at the same time, I cannot deny that you have acted according to your own circumstances. I will not retroactively punish you, but I will give you the opportunity to change your ways."
The Admiral continues. "If you slay the Kessu, you will only further a cycle of violence. Those who survive, if any, will grow up to resent you. Someday, when you perish to the tides of time, those same Kessu will fall upon your descendants with an executioner's axe, confident in their righteousness. What then? Shall the cycle continue a fourth time? A fifth?"
José shakes his head. "Instead, I will forcibly end the violence here. I will show you with my actions that I am willing to forgive and forget, while allowing this lesson to percolate in your minds. Ideally, given time, you may be able to let go of your hatred. You may even go so far as to forgive the Kessu for the evil of their ancestors, though you will neither condone nor forget what happened. That is what you must do to relieve yourself from the pain of your past."
The Terran finishes speaking. His words seemingly echo infinitely on the bridge of the Dragon's Breath, making the ears of all its officers ring.
Orgon's eye twitches.
"Forgiveness. You want the Kraktol... to forgive the Kessu?"
"That is your choice," José replies. "Whether you do so or not is up to you. Likewise, my decision is to protect the Kessu, as the current generation and many previous generations have not committed such heinous acts. That is why we should leave each other here, today. I will allow you to leave my space, undamaged. I'm sure you've calculated the firepower of my vessel several times. You know that if push were to come to shove, you would not win in a firefight."
"I believe there has been enough death and destruction today," Jose adds. "Return to Kraktol space. Leave here, and do not continue any further attacks on Kessu-controlled worlds, however many there may be. If you do, you will find that my mercy has a strict upper limit."
Without waiting for a reply, José waves goodbye. "Farewell, Commander Orgon. I hope we meet next time under better circumstances."
A moment later, the viewscreen cuts off, once again initiated at the Terran's end.
Orgon's shoulders slump. He glances around the bridge at the mixture of expressions on his crew-member's faces. Anger, acceptance, and confusion alike run rampant among their ranks.
Chief Navigator Gorlax sits back in his chair and stares through the plexi-window at the black Void outside, the endless expanse of space stretching to infinity and beyond. His eyes reveal complex emotions as he wrestles with the idea of forgiveness in the face of the hatred he's carried his whole life, versus the realization that attempting to murder all the Kessu will require combatting an enemy the current Kraktol fleet may never stand a chance of beating.
First Officer Megla's yellow scales flush brighter than ever as her emotions run hot. The look on her face tells Orgon everything he needs to know. She wants blood, and no exchange of words will ever change that reality.
Tactical Officer Soren, meanwhile, bears an introspective look. She operates on a more logical level than many of the rest of the crew, allowing her to set aside her emotions in the pursuit of her goals. She taps the end of her snout silently, pondering whether engaging the Terran now and risking the fleet's destruction would be worth the risk if it meant obtaining his technology and killing the Kessu.
Nobody says a word.
Orgon sits in his chair and gazes at the window for over a minute. Eventually, he comes to a decision.
"Everyone. We have a choice to make. I wish to hold a referendum vote regarding our next course of action. All members of the Dragon's Breath bridge-crew are eligible. Nobody else."
The Commander blinks twice before continuing.
"We have a 5% chance of seizing control of the Terran vessel and killing the Kessu. Likewise, we now have a 100% chance of fleeing and escaping with our lives. However, if we flee, the Thülvik will punish us severely for abandoning the Kessu extermination mission, failing to capture the stealth vessel, and failing to obtain the Juggernaut vessel. Needless to say, whether we stay or flee, we have a high likelihood of losing our ranks or our lives."
The Commander holds up both of his clawed fists.
"Raise your right fist if you wish to attack the Terran's vessel, fight his crew, and potentially seize everything he owns for ourselves. Raise your left fist if you would rather leave with our tails tucked between our legs. Perhaps the Thülvik will show us mercy."
Guilty looks appear on several crew-member's faces. More than a few of the Kraktol appear hesitant at attacking the Terran's ship. Its superior firepower and advanced hacking capabilities don't escape their notice.
However, returning to the Thülvik empty-handed gives them similarly tremendous worries. Even if she only punishes a minority of the crew, most of them will be those serving on the bridge.
Eventually, to even Commander Orgon's surprise, every single Kraktol raises their right fist. Despite their misgivings and fears, the bridge-crew decide to stay united against the terrifying alien menace. If they flee, they might have to face the Terran on far less optimal terms, when he has repaired his vessel's flight functionality and several other primary systems.
With a nod, Commander Orgon smiles. He lowers his fists and settles more comfortably into his chair.
"Graugh. You are all brave warriors. If we must die, then we will go out like warriors. We will continue seeking our revenge, regardless of the Terran's honeyed words. I thank all of you for your fortitude... you are the best crew a Commander could ask for. Now, Navigator Gorlax, Tactical Officer Soren... transmit the attack command to the rest of the fleet. We will begin our assault in twenty seconds."
"Aye, Commander."
"Yes, Commander!"
Gorlax and Soren nod in unison. They turn to their stations and begin tapping hundreds of buttons at once.
Suddenly, something unexpected happens.
The ship's internal lights flicker. All of the viewscreens on the Dragon Breath's bridge deactivate and reactivate a moment later, but now, they glow an ominous red.
The bridge's bright blue lighting shifts to the color of blood.
Overhead, a female synthmind speaks.
"How unfortunate. The Admiral gave you the choice to retreat, but you turned him down. You will soon realize what a big mistake you have made. Now, it is too late to change your mind. The Admiral is very displeased."
Orgon leaps out of his chair. His blood turns to ice as he fails to recognize the strange, alien voice speaking overhead. "Officer Megla! The kill-switch! Activate it at once!"
"I already tried!" Megla exclaims. She helplessly taps on her useless computer screen, leaving nothing but claw-marks on its surface. "I'm locked out! I can't warn the Thülvik!"
"Yes, you are, and no, you cannot," The Synthmind affirms. "Do not worry. My Admiral is not a cruel man. He will grant you a fair chance to fight for your lives. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to calculate the landing coordinates for your vessels. You will soon join the Admiral in his hangar bay."
The ship's inertia dampeners stutter for a moment, causing the crew to fly out of their chairs as the Dragon's Breath begins traveling at low-impulse power toward the Bloodbearer's awaiting hangar.
Orgon's scales turn an ashen shade of grey.
The Terran is bringing us directly to his ship's hangar?! He intends to fight us in fair combat?! Oh, no! That was supposed to be our best bet of overwhelming him! He must have his entire military force inside with an ambush waiting for us! That filthy Futh!!
No matter how Orgon curses in his mind, all he can do is watch helplessly as his entire fleet begins flying toward the Bloodbearer, their controls inaccessible to the pilots onboard.
The Terran awaits.
Next Part
.......................................
Author Note:
Klokinator here! I am also the author of The Cryopod to Hell. The Last Precursor takes place in the [Cryoverse] which TCTH spawned. You do not have to read TCTH to enjoy TLP. However, I highly recommend it if you enjoy HFY themes, but be warned it will take some 200 parts to get to the relevant HFY elements due to the nature of the story. (A similar structure involving very few humans fighting against vicious demons that have taken over the galaxy.)
If you like this story, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
Thank you!
submitted by Klokinator to HFY [link] [comments]

[OC] Walker (Part 5: Turning Point)

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[A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Over the next few days, Mik worked at familiarising herself with the various simulators that Kyle set up for his construction machinery. It was somewhat of a relief to find that even the catastrophic failure of an overworked gearbox wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic (or fatal) as the impromptu atmospheric re-entry that might just result from screwing up a low-orbit manoeuvre. However, given that most construction sites had people moving around on them, Kyle impressed on her that any mechanical mishap could lead to injury or death anyway.
A week later, after the machinery itself had been delivered and uncrated, it was time for her to get out there and translate simulator experience into real-world skills. Everything was set up, fuelled with the hydrazine that vehicles on Mars tended to use, and left out near a section of rough terrain that Kyle deemed would be perfect for her to practice on. There was also a small ‘construction shack’, being a pressurised cabin that allowed Kyle to monitor her progress in comfort and safety.
Professor Ibrahim had not skimped on the machinery. There was a classic tracked bulldozer, a loader with an absurdly large bucket on the front, a grader, a scraper and a heavy truck. She was already checked out on ground vehicles but the truck was likely to handle differently to the much lighter all-wheel-drive ones she’d used so far, which was why he’d ordered it.
At Kyle’s suggestion, she started off with the bulldozer. As per safety regulations, she was wearing a hardhat and high-vis gear, as well as her usual construction boots. The bulldozer controls and seat showed signs of having been adjusted for a large man in a pressure suit, which made it entirely unsuitable for her. Fiddling around a little, she adjusted matters so that she could see what she was doing and handle the controls with relative ease. Once she had that sorted out, she started the dozer up and began to familiarise herself with it, with Kyle offering guidance via radio from the construction shack.
He wasn’t alone in there. Professor Ibrahim had firmly stated that he needed to observe Mik, at least for the first few days, and Dani had wanted to watch as well. Diamantina came along for a few hours then got back to her current hobby, which was disassembling one of the surplus rock-hoppers and making it over into something that could achieve Martian orbit with ease. As Mik understood matters, it was more a situation of seeing if she could do it rather than making it for any particular purpose, but she enjoyed it.
It was a learning curve, but not an impossibly steep one. She found herself enjoying the work, controlling the lumbering machines with deft touches. They had been designed with built-in oxygen supplies to plug into the pressure suits that the construction crews would have used; with a hose adaptor, she could take a breath every now and again, leaving the tanks mostly full by day’s end. Even better, if she worked in shorts and a sleeveless shirt, her skin’s pseudo-photosynthesis could augment her oxygen supply even more, to the point that a pony bottle would be more than adequate for the task.
The training proceeded apace. Once Mik was secure in the basics, Kyle started her on more advanced techniques, swapping her from one machine to another to keep her mentally active and so he could see how much she had retained when she got back to the first one. Dani had her own schooling to do, but Professor Ibrahim would drop her off to the worksite in the afternoon and she would ride back with Mik and her father. Overall, the work was both mentally and physically draining, but Mik had never been one to back down from a challenge.
About a month in, Mik felt she was getting pretty good at it. She was building new muscle in her arms from working the heavy controls, and she could tell by eye the best way to attack a new challenge. The area of rough ground she’d been working on had been bulldozed, graded, scraped, built up, dug out, moved around and generally landscaped to within an inch of its existence. The proof-of-concept demonstration for the Tharsis Corporation was not far away, and every member of the Valles Marineris Research Complex wanted her to succeed, for both personal and professional reasons.
Which just made it all the more exciting when a shuttle came in to land at the pad one afternoon, just as Professor Ibrahim was dropping Dani off at the worksite. Working in the open as she was, Mik could see that the shuttle wore Tharsis insignia, but not much more than that.
“I thought the demonstration wasn’t for another week?” she asked Ibrahim over the radio attached to her pony bottle.
“As did I,” he replied, sounding puzzled. “Perhaps they are moving it up. Or maybe a pre-demonstration inspection of the facility. A chance to meet you before the big day.”
“Oh, great,” groused Mik. “I’ve been working all day and I’m covered in dust and fines. I’m just glad I can’t sweat. That would really make the first impression just perfect.”
“No, no, it is good,” he assured her. “They will not want to see some perfectly-dressed little doll. Showing them that you’ve actually been driving construction machinery is ideal. I will take Kyle, and go and greet them. You and Dani can come along behind in the truck, once you’ve shut everything down.”
“We can definitely do that,” agreed Mik. “Want me to load some rubble on the back, just to prove we aren’t playing patty-cake out here?”
“That is a nice touch, yes,” Ibrahim agreed. “It will prove to them that you can handle the work, over and above the Martian conditions.”
The two men emerged from the construction shack; Ibrahim tipped Mik a wave before heading over to where he’d landed the rock-hopper. Kyle detoured to where she sat on the idling bulldozer. “It’ll be fine,” he assured her, giving her a thumb’s up. “This’ll probably be just a few bigwigs wanting a sneak peek at their investment before the big event. Over and done, and back to work as normal tomorrow.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” she replied with a smirk. Leaning back on the seat, she watched him head over and vault up onto the rock-hopper with an easy move that native-born martians could never duplicate. Of course, it helped that the Connaughts were Earthborn, and retained much of the heavy musculature gained from the stronger gravity field.
Once the rock-hopper had taken off and was heading down the Valles toward the Research Complex, she started the bulldozer moving again, heading toward the parking space she’d blocked out for it. Shutting it down, she jumped off and trotted over to where the loader was parked. It started easily enough—some of the lessons had involved maintaining the work vehicles under Martian conditions—and she rolled it toward a conveniently-piled stack of rocks. Edging the loader blade under the stack, she scooped a heap of them into the bucket.
The truck was parked nearby, and she took the loader over and dumped the rocks in the middle of the cargo bed. By now, this sort of thing was almost second nature to her, so she went and got a second load. Just as she was depositing this heap on top of the first one, two all-wheel drive vehicles came powering up the track from the Complex. As per health and safety practices, she stopped the loader where it was and lowered the bucket to rest on top of the heap of rocks.
The all-wheel-drives were the type the researchers from the Complex used when they wanted to move more than two people at a time, or bring back heavy rock samples. Four pressure-suited figures got out, then one waved and beckoned. Mik put the air mask over her face as she jumped down from the loader. “What’s the matter, guys?” she asked over the radio. “Am I taking too long?”
There was no answer, but that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes, people ended up on totally different frequencies and just plain forgot to switch back. But as she got closer, Mik recognised the suits in use. “Hey, Sven,” she said, gesturing to the tallest of the newcomers and making the universally recognised hand-signs for ‘switch to channel twenty-three, dumbass’. “I thought you had an experiment you were married to back in the lab. How come you’re out here?”
Then they got a little closer, and she wondered why they had their faceplate polarisations turned all the way up. Behind them, the door to the ‘construction shack’ opened and Dani stepped out. “Sven?” Mik said. “Kennedy? Hussein? Guys, come on, you’re freaking me out a little here.”
What’s going on?” asked Dani. “These guys come to check on you or something?
“I don’t know,” Mik said, taking half a step backward. “They’re acting a little weird.” Sven crowded in on her at that moment, grabbing for her arm. “Hey!” she yelled, backing away again. “Cut that out!”
“Mik, something’s wrong,” Dani said, her voice tight with tension.
“Why, what—” began Mik, then she saw where Dani was pointing. Back toward the Research Complex. The buildings themselves were out of sight, but then she spotted something that should never be visible on Mars.
A curl of smoke, climbing into the air.
Mik might not have had much in the way of experience in the ways of the world, but she’d had access to all the online movies and books available through the Mars-wide information web. The Research Complex may have been situated in a valley, but there was always a satellite overhead, and the various dishes and receivers on the roof weren’t there for decoration. She’d marvelled at the (to her) exotic locations portrayed on the screen, but she’d also paid attention to the plots.
One particular genre that she’d watched quite a few of were detective movies. Her genetic heritage gave her above-average intelligence, so she’d enjoyed trying to solve the case before the detectives pulled all the clues together. It didn’t always work—her lack of familiarity with some basic Earth concepts told against her in this regard—but it had been a fun hobby of hers for quite some time.
Now, despite the inclination to trust people wearing pressure suits she recognised, she came to a logical conclusion that she didn’t like in the slightest. The people she’d thought were her friends were hiding their faces with polarisation and not replying to her radio signals. There was a fire at the Research Complex, or at least something was on fire.
That’s not Sven. That’s not any of the guys.
“What’s going on here?” asked Dani.
“Dani, these aren’t the people who should be wearing these suits,” Mik said, ducking under a grabbing arm and backing off to avoid being encircled. This was another indicator that something was badly wrong, though one that was working in her favour. These people were clearly unused to moving quickly over uneven terrain in unfamiliar pressure suits, whereas she was both unencumbered by a suit and entirely at home outdoors.
“Are they Tharsis security sent to bring you back to the Complex?”
“Doubt it.” Mik retreated some more, alongside the truck. “They would’ve brought their own pressure suits. These guys wanted me to think they’re from the Complex. But if they’re not from Tharsis …”
Dani finished the thought. “Shit, they’re from Hellas! They came here to grab you!”
A ball of ice formed in Mik’s stomach. “And make sure the Complex can’t re-engineer me. What the hell have they done?”
“Mom … Dad … no. No, no, no.” Dani sounded close to tears. Mik heard the whine of a hydrazine engine in the background. “We’ve got to get back there.”
For a second, Mik thought Dani had taken one of the all-wheel drive vehicles and headed back to the Research Complex on her own, leaving Mik to deal with the intruders on her own. Then the all-wheel-drive, with Dani at the wheel, came tearing around the truck, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it.
All four men were focused on her; their pressure suits severely limited their peripheral vision, and the thin atmosphere was insufficient to allow them to hear the high-pitched whine of the vehicle’s engine. She gauged her moment, then jumped to the side just as Dani came past and slowed down. Grabbing the handhold, she swung up onto the side of the all-wheel-drive. Dani kept going for about fifty metres, then stopped. Her shoulders were shaking, and Mik thought she might be crying.
“Change places,” Mik said. “I’ll drive.”
“I need to go and see what’s going on.” Dani sounded close to tears.
“Yeah, we need to do that.” Mik had been trying to stay logical, but her brain insisted on injecting worry about Professor Ibrahim and Kathy and the others. “Let’s make sure these jerks can’t follow us, though.”
Kicking up a rooster-tail of dust and fines, she pulled a fast one-eighty and gunned the engine. They blew past the four men and pulled up next to the other all-wheel-drive; Mik got out, grabbed the ignition key (which was rarely if ever removed) then got back in with Dani.
A moderately strong wind (strong for Mars, that is) came down the Valles on occasion, and Professor Ibrahim hadn’t wanted any more fines being blown down on the Complex than absolutely necessary. Accordingly, the worksite was about six kilometres from the Complex, and the road that connected them meandered between a few low hills. Mik was normally careful and precise in her driving, but on this day she attacked every curve like a racing driver. She knew exactly how to get every bit of traction out of the large wheels in Martian gravity and she pushed her capabilities to the limit, the hydrazine engine howling like a banshee.
They emerged from the last bend through a small cut in one of the hills to see a scene of utter horror. A bunch of suited figures stood before the frontage of the Valles Marineris Research Complex, with two lying on the ground as though they’d been dragged out through the airlock and dropped there. The buildings themselves … were alight. The large viewing windows were broken, and flames blasted out through the gaps, giving vent to huge roiling plumes of smoke. More people were carrying cases up the rise toward where the shuttle pad was; and in fact, Mik could see the shuttle resting there, behind the retaining walls.
Fire was normally impossible on Mars; in the open, anyway. Uncontrolled fire within the confines of an aired-up shelter was considered an emergency situation, and she’d been drilled in the various ways and means that something like that could happen. What she was seeing now was a runaway oxygen fire; someone had opened up the emergency oh-two storage and flooded the Complex with pure oxygen, then struck a spark. While she’d only ever heard of it happening by accident, she had no doubt that this was deliberate. Someone did this on purpose.
Her eyes searched the moving figures, and a sob escaped her. Professor Ibrahim’s silhouette was unmistakeable, and she could not see him among those outside the facility. If he was inside, he was dead. That was as simple as it got. Kyle Connaught was also hard to miss, being brawny and broad-shouldered. Nobody she could see was moving like him, and nobody was being treated like a prisoner.
“Mom … Dad … no …” She heard Dani’s whimper from beside her, and she wanted to join in, but right then, she had a stronger urge.
The cases that were being transported had to contain all the classified work that the Complex had under development. Including, and this was important, everything that had gone into making her. Images sprang to mind of people who would not think twice about committing murder to steal priceless industrial secrets actually creating and raising clones of her. Would those clones be treated as she had been, like a person?
She strongly doubted it.
“Hang on!” she shouted and turned the wheel. The all-wheel-drive responded nimbly, swerving off the road and attacking the slope like a hungry predator. She was halfway toward the group with the cases before one turned and saw her, and she angled her direction slightly so that she was heading more toward the shuttle pad than toward them. What they thought they were seeing, she didn’t quite know, but they froze for what seemed to be an eternity.
When one finally moved, it was to bolt for the safety of the retaining wall around the shuttle pad. He was clearly unused to running over rough ground while carrying two bulky cases; within a few strides, he was off-balance and had to slow down. By the time he got his feet under himself, it was too late. Mik gauged the distance to a nicety and clipped him with one of the wheels. The impact jolted the all-wheel-drive, but it sent him off his feet, sprawling on the ground and rolling over and over. The case flew off in a different direction.
Gritting her teeth, Mik spun the all-wheel-drive into a hard turn and arrowed toward the rest of the group. Designed with high clearance and the ability to drive over large rocks, the vehicle was clearly capable of running them all down.
“What are you doing?” screamed Dani, hanging on for dear life. Mik didn’t answer, being entirely preoccupied with driving.
The all-wheel-drive came with large front-mounted floodlights for driving over rough terrain at night. Though it was broad daylight, Mik flicked these on as she bore down on the rest of the group. She was absolutely willing to run them all down, and this must have communicated itself to the interlopers, because they broke and ran. The cases themselves were not overly heavy—Martian gravity was good like that—but they retained their mass and thus inertia, which made them awkward to run with. So they discarded their burdens as they bolted.
Mik cast an eye on the main group as she skidded the all-wheel-drive to a halt. “Grab the cases!” she shouted. “Put them in the back!” The men were starting to move toward them, but they had some distance to cover.
Dani didn’t argue; jumping out of the all-wheel-drive, she collected the cases and heaved them into the back seat of the vehicle a lot faster than Mik could’ve done. Mik already had the all-wheel-drive moving as Dani vaulted into the passenger seat again. She gunned it back up the slope toward where the man she’d clipped was starting to get to his feet. He saw her coming and raised one hand defensively, but she smashed him again with the same wheel, sending him flying off his feet. Maintaining control, Mik pulled up next to the last case. Dani didn’t even need to be told this time, jumping out and tossing it in the back with the others.
“Okay, what do we do now?” Through her faceplate, Dani’s expression was set as she got back into the all-wheel-drive, though tears were starting to make their way down her cheeks. “Are Mom and Dad alive? Do you think we can save them?”
Mik started the all-wheel-drive vehicle moving again. “I’m sorry,” she said slowly. “That’s an oh-two fire. It’ll be hot enough in there to melt pressure-suits. If these guys are willing to attack Tharsis property and destroy it like that, they’ll be willing to commit murder to cover it up.” She gunned the engine, heading back toward the worksite. “We can’t bring them back. But we can make these assholes pay for what they’ve done.”
“What about the ones that were lying down?” asked Dani desperately. “What if they were—”
“I’d say your dad fought back before they … did what they did,” Mik said, wishing it wasn’t true. “Those were their guys. The pressure suits weren’t the same pattern as we use.”
“So they killed them.”
Mik nodded, wishing she was able to cry. She’d never had to mourn anyone before, and it was totally messing up her emotions. Intellectually, she knew she had to keep it together until they were out of danger, but the other side of her wanted to scream and rage at the heavens. Somehow, she kept the all-wheel-drive on track, driving between the low hills toward the worksite.
“Do you think they’ve got guns?”
The question brought her back onto even keel, at least temporarily. Guns could screw everything up. She wouldn’t die from a pressure-suit puncture, but a bullet going through her would kill her just the same as anyone else. “I didn’t see any,” she said slowly. It kind of made sense. Guns weren’t really a widespread thing on Mars, and knives would kill almost as easily. They’d also leave less in the way of incriminating evidence.
She just had time to be shocked at herself for even being able to think like that before they rounded a curve to see the truck bearing down on them from the other direction. Adrenaline chased out everything else and she yanked the wheel to the side, swerving the smaller vehicle off the road as Dani shouted in surprise and grabbed for a handhold. The truck lunged toward them, but she slammed her foot on the accelerator and sent the all-wheel-drive bounding up the slope, out of the way.
“Keep an eye on them!” she shouted. “Tell me where they’re going!” The truck was too long to comfortably turn around on the relatively narrow road, even if the driver was used to the vehicle and the terrain. If it was her in the driver’s seat, she would either keep going until she hit a wider point or stop and try to reverse along the winding road.
Hanging on for dear life, Dani turned her upper torso so she could look back along the road. “They’re slowing down,” she reported. “I think they’re going to turn around.” Her voice was brittle, as though she were hanging on by a thread. Mik knew how she felt.
“Good. That’ll take time.” She reached a decision for what she was going to do. “Do you feel up to driving?” In her time at the Complex, she’d gone through any number of emergency drills where all the adults were ‘killed’ or otherwise taken out of action, so she had to decide what to do herself. Making life-changing choices wasn’t totally out of her experience, but this was far outside what she’d ever trained for. Still, it was better than nothing.
“Yeah.” Dani sounded on the edge of tears again, but she firmed her jaw and spoke strongly. “If they get hold of us, we’re both dead or worse. What’s the plan?”
Mik got the all-wheel-drive back onto the road and turned it toward the work site. She wasn’t totally sure that the people who had set fire to the Complex weren’t listening in on their radio chatter, so she took one hand off the wheel and tapped her ear, then held up five fingers, then four, then one. Channel 541 was clear off the bands that were used at the Complex, and Mik tended to use it when she wanted to have a private conversation with anyone.
The loader was still sitting in the middle of the work site, bucket poised in mid-air where it had been resting on top of the pile of rocks on the back of the truck. Mik pulled the all-wheel-drive to a halt next to it, and took the time to change channels. Jumping out of the vehicle, she reached into the back seat and heaved two of the cases out. “Get the rest,” she grunted. “Bring them over to the bulldozer.”
“Why? Are you going to bury them?” Dani grabbed two more cases and hustled in Mik’s wake to where the bulldozer was parked.
Carefully, Mik laid her two cases down in a row behind the wide tracks of the bulldozer. “In a way. Drop those and get the last two.”
Dani didn’t argue, letting the cases fall to the dusty ground and running back toward the idling all-wheel-drive. Mik slid them into position behind the first two. “Uh … you know they’ll just dig them up again, right?”
“Won’t do them any good. Put them behind the others.” As Dani returned with the last two cases, moving somewhat faster than she would’ve been able to with that sort of burden, Mik climbed onto the dozer and fired it up. “Once you’ve done that, get back out of the way.”
They were on borrowed time and she knew it, but she had to do this right, for the memory of Professor Ibrahim, Kathy, and the others. Cyberon is not stealing our research. As soon as Dani was back out of the way, Mik started the dozer moving backward, the heavy treads crunching down on the cases like the metal frames were made of light plastic. Once every case was under the track, she shut the bulldozer down, popped the instrument panel, and pulled out half a dozen components. Stuffing these into her pocket, she jumped down off the dozer.
“What was that about?” asked Dani as Mik headed for the loader. “Can’t they just start it up and drive it off again?”
“Not without the bits I took.” Mik bared her teeth. “They’re unique to the dozer. The only spares are back in the Complex. It won’t start without them, and I bet they didn’t bring any heavy-machinery engineers along.” She climbed up onto the loader and kicked it over, the hydrazine engine whining to life. “Get in the all-wheel-drive. We’re going to need to move fast, but first there’s something I’ve got to do.”
Aside from the construction shack, there was a hydrazine bowser used to fuel up all the work vehicles. Mik eyed it off, then scraped some dirt up and deposited it alongside the tracks to hide what was under them. Then she lowered the bucket a little, then drove straight at the bowser.
“They’re coming back!” warned Dani.
Mik risked a glance over her shoulder; sure enough, the men in the truck had figured out how to turn the thing around, and were just driving onto the worksite. “Okay, hang tight and get ready to follow my lead.” She ramped up the speed on the loader, ignoring caution. Gauging the moment just right, she swung the wheel and jammed the corner of the bucket into the side of the bowser, low to the ground. Pressurised hydrazine fuel spurted out as she shifted the loader into reverse and pulled it back in a tight half-circle.
The truck was coming on strong, but swerved away as the bucket swung toward them. It came to a halt, and two men jumped out. Their faceplates, no longer polarised, showed angry expressions. Each of them was now carrying a heavy wrench, no doubt taken from the truck’s toolbox. One headed for Dani and the other for Mik. With a shock of recognition, Mik realised she’d seen the one heading for her before. “Holy shit, I know that guy!”
“What? Hang on!” Dani gunned the engine, leaving the one coming for her in her dust. “What do you mean, you know him?”
Mik started the loader moving, though she had to swerve to avoid the truck as its driver tried to come at her from the side. The guy tried to swing his wrench at her on the way past, but she ducked away and metal clanged against metal. “He was a security hire from Burroughs, years ago. Wasn’t here for long. That must be how Cyberon found out about me!”
Motherfucker.” Now Dani sounded more pissed off than distressed. “Can I run over him this time?”
It was tempting, but Mik had other plans. “No. Don’t let them get too close. They might throw those wrenches. Let’s go.” Revving the loader all-out, she started on the road back toward the Complex. As the truck started to lumber in a large circle, she saw the men running toward it.
“Where are we going?” Dani followed along, right behind her, as she hit the road, moving the loader along at its best speed.
“Making sure these assholes don’t get away with what they’ve done. Just stick close to me.” She kept a lookout up ahead, concentrating on not swerving too wildly with the bucking, jolting loader. The scream of the hydrazine engine was vibrating through her hands as well as being actually audible through the air. She just had to hope that they hadn’t gotten any more of the vehicles out before they set fire to the Complex.
“You know that truck’s right behind us.” Dani was starting to sound worried again.
“They’ll have something else to worry about in a moment.” Mik hoped she sounded more confident than she was. Her plan was tenuous as hell, but at least she had a plan. And she hoped that all her simulator time was going to pay off.
“Are we going to hijack the shuttle?”
“Nice idea, but they’ll have people on board.” Mik spared a glance at the toolbox beside the seat, then rummaged in it until she found what she was looking for. “Okay, good.” Up ahead, she saw the shuttle landing pad emerging from behind a hill. “Follow me.”
Slowing down as much as she dared, she turned the loader and headed offroad, avoiding the bigger boulders. The last thing she wanted was for Dani to get hung up trying to follow her. Glancing back, she saw the all-wheel-drive gamely bouncing along behind her, Dani clinging to the wheel as she was jolted around in her seat. Behind Dani was the truck, but it wasn’t built for this kind of off-road travel. Especially with a load of rocks on the bed.
Over the small hill they went, then through a shallow ravine that must have been a gully back when surface water was a thing on Mars. Then they were climbing the rise toward the shuttle pad itself. Gritting her teeth, Mik opened the throttle to full and lowered the bucket a touch.
“Mik, what are you doing? Mik!”
The retaining wall around the shuttle pad had wide gaps in it to allow service vehicles to reach anything on the pad itself. Mik guided the loader through one of these gaps, aiming directly at the shuttle. She recognised the make from the endless simulator hours, and she was pretty sure she knew where the fuel tanks were. Leaving the loader aimed directly at the shuttle, she climbed onto the footplate and leaped outward.
Her landing was good, but she had far too much forward momentum to stop on a dime. Letting herself fall forward, she rolled over and over, then came to her feet again. Somewhere off to the side, she felt rather than heard a solid crunch. Dani brought the all-wheel-drive to a sliding halt beside her as she looked around; the loader had swerved a little but not a great deal, and the sharp edge of the bucket was buried in the side of the shuttle. As they watched, fuel began to pour out.
“Can we go now?” Dani turned her upper body to look over her shoulder. “I think you just pissed off a lot of people.”
“One second.” Mik still had hold of the emergency flare she’d taken from the toolkit. Pulling the tab, she threw it overarm toward the growing pool of rocket fuel on the landing pad then jumped into the all-wheel-drive. “Go, go, go!”
Dirt sprayed out from beneath the wheels of the all-wheel-drive as Dani applied pedal to metal. Mik hung on as they bucketed out through the gap in the retaining wall. Despite the tenuous atmosphere, she knew exactly when the fuel caught; there was a tremendous low-pitched whooom and a flare of heat on her back. Looking around, she raised her arm to block the glare of the fireball that had overtaken the stricken shuttle, scattering pieces far and wide. In the midst of it, the loader’s tank of hydrazine went up as well, adding its small part to the whole. Hanging on as the sturdy little vehicle bounced over the rocky slope, Mik watched the mushroom cloud climbing into the sky. You burn my life down, I burn your life down. Assholes.
“Okay, we can’t drive out of here, so what do we do?” But Dani was already steering the all-wheel-drive toward where they needed to go next.
“Rock-hopper,” Mik agreed with what she hadn’t said.
“The one Mom was working on?”
“Yeah.” With the extra-sized fuel tank Diamantina Connaught had installed on it, it had far greater range than the standard model. Mik figured she could fly halfway around Mars on it.
“Where are we gonna go?”
That was actually a good question. If Cyberon was bold enough to attack a Tharsis resource in broad daylight like this, was anywhere on Mars safe? “How about that place your parents were talking about that one time? That depot?” Just on the off-chance somebody was actually listening in, she didn’t want to spell it out for them.
Dani sighed. “Yeah. Good idea.”
They jolted down off the rise and tore across the flat, once more scattering the pressure-suited invaders who were currently running toward the burning shuttle. Fortunately, the rock-hopper ‘garage’ was a little ways away from the Complex proper, so it had not been subjected to the same treatment.
The all-wheel-drive slid to a halt and they jumped out. It wasn’t hard to figure out which rock-hopper Diamantina had been working on; it was bigger by half again than the rest of them. Mik clambered on board and began to decipher the new controls as she strapped herself in.
“Truck’s coming,” warned Dani. “They’re not going to the fire.”
“Damn it,” muttered Mik, and flicked over what she figured had to be the initial starter switch. Beneath them, the rockets rumbled to life, lifting the reworked rock-hopper off the ground. She wriggled the control sticks, getting a feel for how it worked. “This is not how I should be learning—”
“Truck!” screamed Dani.
Mik reacted instinctively, throwing the second switch open. The main rocket engine blasted into life, driving them straight up into the air. An instant later, the truck blitzed past directly under them, ramming into another rock-hopper and reducing it to tangled scrap.
“Okay,” Mik decided. “That’s the tutorial over with. Time to go.” Reaching under the minimal control panel, she flicked a hidden switch then glanced sideways at Dani. “Laser altimeter disabled. How’s your orbital mechanics?”
“I’ve been keeping up my studies.” Dani took a moment to think. “Phobos will be overhead in forty-five minutes.”
“Okay, then.” Mik gave the reconditioned ’hopper a bit more thrust. “Let’s go see if Stickney’s still there.”
Dani reached across and clasped her shoulder. “Let’s do that.” There was a catch in her voice.
Turning, Mik looked into her best friend’s faceplate and met her eyes. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
Dani sniffled. “I’m sorry about Professor Ibrahim and your friends.”
Mik took hold of Dani’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
“Thanks. That means a lot.”
Looking up into the sky, Mik opened the throttle some more. There seemed to be a lot more gradations on it than there had been before. She had it nowhere near full thrust, and the acceleration was gratifyingly strong. “Let’s go to Phobos.”
Dani squeezed her hand in return. “With you all the way.”
Riding on a pillar of flame, they ascended into the Martian sky.
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