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Stokes's Bristol Nightclub incident in detail (From: The Comeback Summer by Geoff Lemon)
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a place where misadventure could begin, you can’t go past Mbargo. The nightclub’s streetfront is painted a purple so bright you’ll see it in your dreams. Strings of giant sequins shimmer in the breeze. Its phonically inventive name is spelt in silver letters that climb its three-storey terrace facade. Inside are strips of burning neon, a few booths, floorboards so marinated in drink that they have an ingredients list. Bristol is a student city on England’s south coast crowded with music and nightlife and street art. This is Banksy’s home town, and the tourism board suggests in rather strong terms that ‘you would be a fool not to see his amazing work firsthand’. The same organisation describes Mbargo as ‘intimate’, which is fair for a place where you can catch an STI standing up. Students cram into its modest dimensions while people with names like DJ Klaud battle for billing with £1.50 drink deals over seven sloppy nights a week. To get a sense of the story about to come, consider that it’s the kind of place open until two o’clock on a Monday morning, and that at two o’clock on a Monday morning, Ben Stokes still thought it had closed too early. The Ashes of 2017–18 had disciplinary bookends. It was after that series that Australia’s two leaders went off the rails in South Africa. It was a few weeks before that Ashes tour that England’s biggest star windmilled his way into his own disaster. In the early hours of 25 September 2017, Stokes and teammate Alex Hales were barred from re-entering Mbargo after a night out on the piss. A Sunday thrashing of an abject West Indies in an ignored series at the fag-end of the season apparently required ample celebration. After arguing with the bouncer and hanging about at the door for a while, they wandered off to find a casino in the hope of more drinking. They’d barely made it around the corner before getting in the middle of a conflict between four locals. As is said on the internet, it escalated quickly. The 26 September reporting was bloodless. Withholding names, police stated that a man ‘was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm’ while another went to hospital with facial injuries. England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss separately confirmed that Stokes was the arrestee, adding that he had been released without charge and that Hales had gamely offered to ‘help police with their enquiries’. Administrators had a good chance of hiding behind that investigation, and the next day Stokes was named in the upcoming Ashes squad as expected. But that night the video emerged. Bristol student Max Wilson had shot it on his phone, then offered it to The Sun. What he thought was playing hardball was actually lowball: his opening price of £3000 was snapped up by a tabloid that would have paid ten times that. The Sun went on to make a mint by syndicating the rights worldwide. From a window above the fray, the vision showed six men on the street below performing the muddled choreography of a melee. One was right at the centre of it. One was waving a bottle, one dipped in and out, one tried to calm it. Two others floated around the edges. The central figure was unmistakable: red hair burning even in the streetlight as he launched into a series of blows against two of the men, falling to grapple with them on the ground, then following both across the street, swinging punches the whole way. Hales trailed behind, repeatedly and impotently shouting ‘Stokes! Stop! Stokes! Enough!’ The ECB could fudge issues that existed only in thickets of legalese, but not those captured in moving colour. Stokes was stood down from the next West Indies match, then suspended indefinitely. It emerged that he had broken his hand during the fight, something he’d done twice before while punching objects in dressing rooms. The response in Australia was fierce: Stokes was a thug, a lowlife, a selection that would disgrace England. It was not entirely coincidental that a ban for England’s best player would be handy for the Aussie team, but there was also a cultural split. In England, plenty of people still minimise pub fights as lads letting off steam. In Australia, heavy media coverage as a succession of young men were killed had inverted that tolerance. The discourse now saw any punch as potentially deadly and accordingly reckless. This was more poignant in a cricket context given that David Hookes, the dashing Test batsman and state coach, was killed in 2004 by a pub bouncer’s fist. The PR situation was bad for Stokes as details emerged of the injuries to the men he’d hit, and that one was a young war veteran and father. Stokes wasn’t officially removed from the Ashes squad through October but stayed behind when his teammates left, hoping for police to dismiss the matter in time for a late dash to Australia. His annual contract was renewed on the due date in case that came to pass. Then 29 October brought a twist in the tale. ‘Ben Stokes praised by gay couple after defending them from homophobic thugs,’ ran the headline. Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell had emerged. Not entirely out of nowhere: while Stokes had made no public comment, this story in his defence had initially been leaked to TV host Piers Morgan after the fight, as soon as the video appeared. Police body-camera footage played in court would later show that Stokes had given the same story to the arresting officer on the night. But no-one knew the identities of the fifth and sixth men in the video, and police appeals had turned up nothing. It was The Sun again with the breakthrough. Kai and Billy were perfect for a readership not keen on nuance. ‘We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys,’ said Kai, who was memorably described as a ‘former House of Fraser sales assistant’. The paper had the pair do a full photo shoot: layering the fake tan, showing off chest waxes, mixing Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton into a range of outfits. Their best shot had them standing back to back, heads turned to the camera, in a mirror-image Zoolander moment. Suddenly The Sun was the England team’s best friend. ‘Their claims could lead to the all-rounder being cleared over the punch-up and freed to play in the First Test in Australia next month,’ it gushed, then gave a tasting platter of quotes: ‘We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero.’ ‘If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.’ ‘We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.’ Would it be known forever as Kai and Billy’s Ashes? No. While the Bristol boys provided spin for Stokes’ reputation they didn’t influence the police. With charges still pending there was little choice – not given Strauss had previously sacked Kevin Pietersen for being annoying. Stokes remained suspended through the Ashes and a one-day series in Australia, and lost the vice-captaincy. It was January 2018 before the Crown Prosecution Service laid a charge. That charge surprisingly came in as affray, a crime that can carry prison time but is classified as ‘a breach of the peace as a result of disorderly conduct’. The men he had punched, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, faced the same count, charged as equal participants in a fight rather than Stokes being charged with assaulting them. Alex Hales was not charged, despite being seen in the video to aim several kicks when Ryan Ali was lying on the ground. Given the underwhelming standing of the offence, Stokes was cleared by the ECB to tour New Zealand, and kept playing until his trial in August 2018, which he missed a Test to attend. None of the three defendants would be convicted. The reasoning behind the charges was never released and was attributed vaguely to ‘CPS lawyers’. The service gave the case to Alison Morgan, a prosecutor of a class known as Treasury Counsel who usually handle serious criminal matters. Morgan had a scheduling clash and never ended up court for the case, but in 2018 and 2019 she would go on to win damages and admissions of libel from The Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph variously for incorrectly reporting that she had been responsible for the inadequate and inconsistent charging decisions. Morgan’s successor on the case was Nicholas Corsellis QC, who on the first day of trial was permitted by the CPS to request two assault charges be added against Stokes. ‘Upon further review,’ claimed a CPS statement, ‘we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate.’ This was patent nonsense from the service that eight months earlier had chosen the lesser charge. Any lawyer knows that no judge will allow new charges once a trial has begun, because the defence hasn’t had time to prepare. But such a request could deflect criticism of the prosecution service by technically making the judge the one who disallows the charge. Working through the story from the trial and the tape is complicated. You had a Ryan and a Ryan, a Hale and a Hales, a Billy and a Barry and a Ben. You had several versions of events as to who knew whom, who was drinking with whom, who had insulted whom and who had merely engaged in ‘banter’, a word that in modern Britain has to do an unconscionable amount of lifting. The reporting had constantly mixed up the Ryans as to who had which injury, who was in hospital, who had played which part in the fight, and whose mum had which stern words to say about it. Let’s agree that from now Ryan Ali is Ryan One, the firefighter who ended up with a fractured eye socket and a cracked tooth. Ryan Two can be Ryan Hale, the soldier who scored concussion and facial lacerations. Mr Barry and Mr O’Connell are best known per The Sun as Kai and Billy. In scorecard parlance we’ll leave the cricketers as Stokes and Hales. Amid the confusion, Stokes and his lawyers built his case in a straightforward way. The UK legal definition of affray is ‘if a person threatens or uses unlawful violence or force towards another person, which causes another person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their safety’. That means it doesn’t account for violence that harms a target, but violence that might frighten a theoretical bystander. The wiggle room for Stokes was with ‘unlawful’, because the charge excuses violence in defending oneself or others. This interpretation hinged on the beginning of the video, where Ryan One waves a beer bottle about and takes a swing at Kai. The version from Stokes was that he was minding his own business walking down the street when he heard homophobic abuse. He intervened verbally and was threatened verbally by Ryan One – something that Ryan One denied but that couldn’t be proved or disproved. In fear for his safety Stokes had to nullify that threat by bashing Ryan One before it went the other way. He registered Ryan Two in his peripheral vision as another possible threat, and again had only one recourse. Stokes also had to convince the jury to disregard testimony from Mbargo’s bouncer that he had been looking for a fight. A solid lump of a man, Andrew Cunningham had not enjoyed his patron’s attempts to get back into the club after the bouncer declined an offer of a bribe. ‘He got a bit verbally abusive towards myself. He mentioned my gold teeth and he said I looked like a cunt and I replied, “Thank you very much.” He just looked at me and told me my tattoos were shit and to look at my job.’ Cunningham described these words as coming in ‘a spiteful tone, quite an angry tone’, and said that Stokes still seemed angry as he walked away. These were details the doorman had nothing to gain by inventing, but each of them Stokes denied. By his own accounting he had drunk a beer at the game and three pints at his hotel, then ‘potentially had some Jägerbombs’ along with half a dozen vodkas at the club. He insisted that after all of this he was not drunk. If I may take a moment here to call upon the wisdom of experience – a person who cannot definitively say whether they have had any Jägerbombs has definitely had some Jägerbombs. A Jägerbomb is an experience that does not pass one by. Further to that, a person who says they have ‘potentially’ done something has definitely done that thing and doesn’t want to admit it. A person who has had between 15 and 24 standard drinks in one evening is shitfaced. A person who tries to bribe a bouncer £300 – three hundred quid! – to get into Mbargo – Mbargo! – is beyond shitfaced. If Stokes admitted that he was drunk then the prosecution could say he was out of control. He claimed clear recall of assessing a threat, feeling fear and deciding to protect himself with force. He confidently denied details from the bouncer’s testimony, like using the word ‘cunt’ or mentioning gold teeth. Yet on other details he claimed a ‘significant memory blackout’. He didn’t remember the punch that saw Ryan One taken away by ambulance. He didn’t remember what the Ryans had said to Kai and Billy, only that those words were homophobic. With no head injury, as one of the few people who hadn’t been hit, he had supposedly suffered this memory loss despite being sober. The version from Kai and Billy was compatible but vague: they had been walking along, they ‘heard … shouts’ of abuse from an unspecified source, then Stokes ‘stepped in’ and thus they avoided possible harm. They claimed to have been bought a drink by Stokes at Mbargo, although CCTV showed them meeting outside. The overall implication from both accounts was that the cricketers had been pals with Kai and Billy, while the Ryans as per The Sun’s headline were a roving band of thugs. The reality though is that the Ryans were the ones hanging out with Kai and Billy at Mbargo. Police discussed CCTV from inside the club in questioning and at trial. On that footage the four Bristolians bought drinks for one another, danced together, and Kai was noted to have variously touched Ryan Two’s crotch and Ryan One’s buttock. Ryan One told police that all of this was taken lightheartedly and wasn’t a problem. Indeed, when the Ryans called it a night the other two left with them. This much is clear from footage out the front of Mbargo, which shows Kai and Billy exit the club and start talking with a subdued Hales and a demonstrative Stokes, who are stuck outside. The vision was played in court to determine whether Stokes was antagonistic towards Kai and Billy, as he appears to impersonate them and to throw a lit cigarette their way. More interesting is that after a few minutes the Ryans emerge, and all six actors in the fight video briefly form a prequel in the one frame. Ryan Two pats Billy on the chest in friendly fashion with his right hand before clapping him on the back with his left. He moves past and does the same to Kai before leaving the shot. Ryan One stops to speak to Kai. They lean in for a moment, talking, then Kai turns and they walk out of frame together. Billy hangs around for a few seconds at the door and then looks after them and races to catch up. Stokes and Hales remain outside the club to remonstrate further with the bouncers. Whatever discord develops around the corner is between four men who left amicably together minutes earlier. There’s no way to know what caused that friction. If Ryan One did use homophobic slurs, he might have been drunkenly obnoxious for no reason. He might have had an insecure macho response to some extra flirtation. He might have thought unkindness was funny – ‘banter’ once again. Or he might have said something that was misunderstood, as both Ryans insisted in court that they had not used nor had the impulse to use any abusive language. What clearly didn’t happen was an attack by bigots on random passers-by. This kind of crime is regular enough that an audience understands the horror of it, and this is what was evoked by the public accounts of Stokes, Billy and Kai. All we know is that there was some verbal dispute among the Bristol locals, and that Stokes came along behind them and put himself in the middle of it. Ryan One responded to the interference aggressively and away they went. There are plenty of reasons to look sideways at the idea that Stokes was a saviour. Foremost, neither Kai nor Billy was called upon as witnesses in court. You’d think it would be ideal to have Stokes’ story backed up by those who benefited from his selflessness. But his defence team had developed the impression that the pair had shown a changeable recall of events amid a hard-partying lifestyle, and would be dismantled by the prosecution on the stand. That raises the question of whether The Sun coached their quotes for the 2017 interview. Despite missing court, Kai and Billy clearly enjoyed the attention. In 2018 after the trial they did a follow-up spread in the same paper about how poor Ben had been mistreated. They got a television spot on Good Morning Britain and glowed about his heroism. In 2019 The Sun wheeled them out once more to say that Stokes should get a knighthood. In 2017 they had ‘never watched cricket’ but by 2019 were supposedly volunteering sentences like, ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes.’ Whether they were paid for these appearances is not known, but the chance to be famous for a day can be lure enough. If you find this cynical, consider that on the night in question, the Bristol boys were so deeply moved and thankful for Ben’s intervention that they left him to be arrested and never attempted to find out who he was. Seconds after the video ended, an off-duty policeman reached the scene. You might think that someone grateful to a saviour would speak on his behalf. Instead, said Kai, ‘it all got a bit scary so we walked off. It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.’ They didn’t give their hero a thought for over a month while police issued multiple appeals for witnesses. As for Stokes, he told his arresting officer that ‘his friends’ had been attacked. After three minutes of chat outside a nightclub, these friends were so dear to him that he has never contacted them again: not after the newspaper piece, not after the verdict. He didn’t want to see how they were or thank them for their support. He didn’t mention them by name in his solicitor’s statement after the trial. The Stokes defence rested on Ryan One’s bottle, which he had carried out of Mbargo to finish a beer, not to use in a Sharks versus Jets amateur production. But once he turned it over to hold it by the neck it became a weapon. Intent and interpretation can change the material nature of things. Part of Stokes’ justification in court was that the bottle implied that the two Ryans might have ‘other weapons’ hidden away. You can understand how a jury could decide that created doubt. Not being convicted, though, doesn’t give the contents of the video a big green tick. It does not, as his lawyer claimed, vindicate Stokes. Looking in detail, Ryan One is belligerent but his movements telegraph a bluff. Hales is the person he’s gesturing at, but they’re several metres apart when Ryan One cocks his arm ostentatiously, showing off the bottle rather than bracing to swing. He skips forward but Hales skips back and Ryan One doesn’t follow. Kai stretches out an arm to impede Ryan One, who has a drunken stumble, nearly eats pavement, then staggers towards Kai and hits him in the back. That hand is still holding the bottle, but his strike is a side-arm cuff on a soft part of the body. It’s all pretty tame. This is where Stokes gets involved. Having moved across to protect Hales, he now takes three large steps to run around Kai and booms his first punch at Ryan One. They fall to the ground and the bottle clinks away. Stokes gets to his feet to punch down at the fallen man, while Hales arrives to kick him ineffectively then runs off across the street for some unknown reason. Ice-cream van? Stokes is soon back in the grapple having his shirt pulled up to show off his Durham tan. Ryan Two steps in for the first time to pull Stokes away, prompting a couple more random punches at this new target, then Stokes trips backwards over Ryan One and sprawls in the street. Hales chooses this moment to return and aim some solid kicks at the head of the man on the ground. Nothing so far is a triumph of moral philosophy or the pugilistic arts. But if it all stopped here, perhaps you could say it was somewhere approaching fair. Ryan One has behaved like a turnip and it’s not an entirely unjust world that would give him a whack across the chops. The antagonists have disentangled, Stokes has some distance, it’s time to dust off and go home. Ryan Two steps forward for this purpose with his palm raised in conciliatory style and says, ‘Settle down, stop.’ So Stokes punches him. It’s roughly his fifth punch overall, and he really winds up into this one. He misses so hard that he stumbles away into the shadows of the shop awnings along the road. Hales starts shouting for him to stop. Ryan Two backs into the street, still holding his palm up. Stokes closes on him from about five metres away, six large steps, to where Ryan Two is standing on his own. Stokes pushes him a couple of times, as Ryan Two keeps trying to placate him and saying ‘Stop.’ Stokes throws his sixth punch, largely missing as his target ducks. Ryan Two keeps pulling away and reversing, into the middle of the street now. Stokes follows him, grabbing his sleeve to drag him back. By this point Ryan One has found his feet and walked around behind his friend. Both of them are in the same line of sight for Stokes, and both are backing away. Stokes aims his seventh and his eighth punches, which Ryan Two tries to deflect, as Hales walks up behind Stokes to grab him. Stokes yanks away from his friend and switches to Ryan One instead, taking seven paces to grab him before throwing his ninth punch of the night. He grabs again; Ryan One blocks that arm and pushes himself back away from Stokes. Ryan Two again intercedes, putting himself between the two with his palms up and his arm extended. Stokes throws his tenth punch, a right-hander at the face of Ryan Two, then shoves him backwards. Ryan Two backs away once more, four paces. Stokes follows, steadies, lines up, then launches his strongest punch yet, his eleventh, a proper right hook from a solid base, one that cracks across the man’s head and gives him concussion. Ryan Two ends up flat on his back in the middle of the street, his hands still outstretched for a moment in useless protest until they twitch and drop to the blacktop. Stokes isn’t done. He once more shoves away the restraining Hales and follows Ryan One, who keeps backing away saying, ‘Alright, alright, alright.’ Five more paces from Stokes before another blow at the man’s head. Kai and Billy are now standing over the poleaxed Ryan Two. The video ends, but seconds later Stokes will punch Ryan One hard enough to knock him out too, before off-duty cop Andrew Spure arrives on the scene to bring down the curtain. When the body-camera footage kicks in some minutes later, Stokes is in handcuffs but Ryan One is still laid out in the street. Ryan Two has regained consciousness, folded his shirt under his friend’s head and is asking police for an ambulance. ‘At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others.’ This was how Stokes described that sequence to the court. An elite athlete with years of gym work and training to snap a bat through the line of a ball with astounding power and precision, swinging fists as hard as he can at men with none of those advantages. Punching so hard that he breaks his hand, and repeatedly shoving away a friend so he can punch some more. Frightened and threatened by two targets shouting ‘Get back!’ and ‘Stop!’ The off-duty officer testified that Stokes ‘seemed to be the main aggressor or was progressing forward trying to get to’ Ryan One, who was ‘trying to back away or get away from the situation’. The student who filmed the video can be heard on the tape at one stage exclaiming ‘Fuck!’ and testified that it was because ‘I felt a little bit sorry about the lad that had been punched and it looked like he had his hands up’. That tallied with the prosecutor’s depiction of ‘a sustained episode of significant violence that left onlookers shocked at what was taking place’. The defendant stuck to his strategy. ‘No, my sole focus was to protect myself.’ All up, in the 33 seconds of footage after he falls over, Stokes takes 35 steps forward to keep hitting two men who keep trying to get away. Not once is he hit back. After the verdict, Stokes’ solicitor positioned him as the victim. It had been ‘an eleven-month ordeal for Ben … The jury’s decision fairly reflects the truth of what happened that night … He was minding his own business … It was only when others came under threat that Ben became physically engaged. The steps that he took were solely aimed at ensuring the safety of himself and the others present …’ The statement was impossibly self-righteous and self-absorbed. If there was anyone to feel sorry for it was Ryan Hale, the second of our two Ryans. He’s the one who emerged from the club with a friendly arm around the shoulder for Kai and Billy. He’s the one who interposed himself to end the fight, then kept putting himself back in the firing line, trying to calm an intimidating stranger while dodging blows. For his show of restraint he got laid out regardless, concussed in the street, then was issued a criminal charge equal to that of the man who hit him, and described in national media as a violent bigot in an untested story to support that man’s defence. Lawyers for Ryan Two made a more convincing post-trial statement, noting that Kai and Billy, ‘neither of whom were relied upon by the prosecution or the defence team for Mr Stokes, have taken the opportunity to speak with various media outlets about the alleged homophobic abuse that they received in the early hours of September 25. Mr Hale has passionately denied this allegation throughout the course of this case,’ it continued. ‘It is upsetting to Mr Hale that although he was acquitted, the accusation that he was the author of such abuse remains. Both Mr Hale and Mr Ali were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes, and although Mr Stokes has been acquitted of an affray, Mr Hale struggles with the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service did not treat him as a victim of an unlawful assault.’Good question. Avon and Somerset police were the investigating force, and they were frustrated by the decision. Ryan Two was filmed clearly not hurting anyone, but police were instructed by the CPS to proceed with a charge. Hales (the cricketer) was filmed fighting but ‘a decision was made at a senior level of the CPS’ not to proceed. Police expected Stokes to be charged with assault but the CPS declined. It doesn’t take a wild cynic to think that placing the same lukewarm charge on three men for vastly divergent behaviour might ensure that none would be convicted, even as the trial would maintain the pretence that a defendant of influential standing had not been given a free pass. A couple of years down the line, the original interview with Kai and Billy has disappeared. All traces have been scrubbed from The Sun website, its social media history, and even from the Wayback Machine internet archive. Given its headline of ‘homophobic thugs’ and text that names Ryan Two but not Ryan One, the libel liability isn’t hard to spot. Later interviews with Kai and Billy take the passive voice – they ‘suffered homophobic slurs outside a Bristol nightclub’. The article that was once claimed to exonerate brave Ben Stokes now links only to a missing content page, with a picture of a dropped ice-cream cone and the phrase ‘legal removal’ inserted into the web URL. In terms of consequences, Stokes missed one tour. When he resumed his career in January 2018, the Australians hadn’t yet ruined theirs. Their year-long bans looked much more stringent. But the Stokes case dragged on in other ways. With no criminal liability, the Australians confessed promptly enough for the sporting world to give them the full length of the lash. Their situation was ugly but there was closure. Stokes got stuck in legal stasis, unable to be fully backed or condemned. Instead his issue was always present, a browser full of open tabs that the ECB swore they would read any day now. Through 2018 Stokes was back but he wasn’t back, in the sunglasses and finger-guns sense. In his return one-day series he nearly cost England a match with 39 from 73 balls in Wellington. His first Test hit was a duck as England got rolled in Auckland for 58. At Trent Bridge while Stokes was injured, England posted a world record 481 against Australia. With Stokes three weeks later at the same ground they made 268. He crawled to 50 from 103, the second-slowest any Englishman had reached that milestone in 20 years. That span covered Alastair Cook’s whole career. It was apologetic batting, acting out responsibility via the scorecard. Stokes was creeping back into the team like he’d been kicked out in a blazing row and was hoping to tip-toe to the sofa. It was December 2018 before the ECB disciplinary committee ruled on him and Hales. In a ‘remarkable coincidence’, wrote Simon Heffer in The Telegraph, ‘the punishment both players faced in terms of bans from playing at international level was covered by the amount of games they had already missed when dropped by England’s selectors, in the furore that followed the incident’. The verdict compounded the omissions around the case by not addressing the violence at its heart. Nor did Stokes, apologising only ‘to my team-mates, coaches and support staff’, and then ‘to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game into disrepute’. The implicit next step was to rebuild that reputation. It might have been easier had his court defence not meant that he wasn’t game to admit any fault at all. It might have been easier if he or his advisers had been willing to change tack once the trial was done. Imagine a world where Stokes had stood outside court and apologised for overreacting, for the injuries he’d caused, and for the time and energy he had sucked out of other people’s lives. That would have been a show of responsibility beyond a scorecard. When the time came around to assess forgiveness, it might have meant forgiveness was deserved.
This chapter was a labour of love, heists are hard. Big thanks to u/eruwenn for helping tidy up this bag of snakes. First / Prev / Next
“Ranjaz K’Lua, you thieving scumbag!” the Kah’Ree in the purple suit exclaimed loudly as he spotted them across the busy room. “As I live and skral, I never thought you would have the Jolos show your face here again!” Two J’Rami in suits detached themselves from the lobby wall, walking towards the Kittran and his friends. “Alfor, my old friend!” Ranjaz smiled broadly. “No need for the welcoming party, I’ve got your credits” —he gestured to Cygna— “and a sweetener, for all the trouble I caused last time.” Alfor paused, lecherous eyes assessing the Fae’Dan. “You know I have a thing for purple.” He chuckled at his own joke and waved the guards back to their posts. “How about we have a drink, and discuss your forgiveness.” He pointed to Thor and Eruwenn. “Brought your own security, or are these Gal. Fed. goons? Everyone knows about your probation.” The Kittran gave a broad grin. “I got a Tulseria-damned pardon, a new ship and a very lucrative opportunity.” The Kah’Ree smiled. “How’d a thieving cat like you get a pardon?” He gave Ranjaz an appraising look up and down. “Oh? Now, let me guess, you need something from me and my brother?” Ranjaz fired his finger guns. “You were always the smart one Alfor, that’s why you run the casino floor.” The Kittran stepped in close. “The item, do you still have it?” Alfor tilted his head back and away from Ranjaz. “Your little guarantee?” He looked back down at Ranjaz. “We have it somewhere safe. Had some unusual people come by after you got caught. Asked a lot of questions. Made a lot of threats.” His face contorted in anger. “We got audited thanks to you.” The Kittran smiled. “If only they knew you better, they could have simply paid you for the information.” “We give nothing for free.” The Kah’Ree gave a sinister smile. “House rule.” Ranjaz walked forward to put his his arm on Alfor’s back. “Let’s go see your brother. Have a few drinks, maybe gamble a little, and discuss our future riches.”
Ripley stood in the shadows of the staff shuttle bay, watching as the numerous employees of assorted races came and went. Loud laughter caught her attention, and a very strangely dressed Niham broke away from a small group and walked towards her. Ripley tried to maintain her low profile as the scantily clad female strutted towards her in long black boots with pointed heels that clacked loudly with every step. Deliberately avoiding eye contact the Awakened tried to will herself into the wall but it was too late and a voice called out to her. “Hey Darling! You must be the one I’m looking for.” Ripley shook her head. The Kittran had said the contact was an Ashi pirate captain, a master gambler and expert in procuring the unusual. “I don’t-” “Listen cutie,” she interrupted, “you’re the one lurking in dark corners drawing attention to yourself. I’ve got your security card. You tell that fluffy little stud he owes me. And more than a bottle of Fae’Dan wine and a good time, if you know what I mean.” She held up the card between her fingers, just a little out of Ripley’s reach. The Awakened considered the phrase ‘fluffy little stud’ and decided that, despite her hopes, this was probably her contact. “You’re Captain Whiplash?” The Ashi laughed genuinely, the jiggling of tightly squeezed breasts bursting at shiny black restraints making Ripley nervous. “Oh, Darling! Only my little pets call me that! You may call me Sho’Na.” Ripley was momentarily confused. “So, you aren’t a pirate captain?” “I’m anything they pay me to be.” She smiled at the silver-haired woman's naivety. “You really are new to this.” Ripley, caught off guard, simply nodded, then replied, “I’m a quick learner.” “Good for you, Darling.” Sho’Na handed over the card. “Just make sure you get paid up front, and don’t use your real name with clients. Ruins the mystique.” Ripley was unsure of what was being said. Turning the card over in her hands she saw that the holo-image on the front was of a male Arkellian. “This isn’t me?” “Honey, I was given half a cycle to get you a level three security card. Just be glad it’s a biped.” Sho’Na looked Ripley up and down. “Our mutual acquaintance told me you were some sort of master of disguise who could even trick Selva Blaster.” Ripley paused, then smiled. Her appearance had become such an integral part of her identity she had forgotten that it was entirely optional. “It won’t be a problem.” She looked at the card again. “Unless the owner comes looking for it.” Sho’Na gave another bosom-trembling laugh that threatened to spill out at any moment. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s tied up at the moment.” The Awakened considered the risk. “Hmmm, but for how long?” The few strips of shiny black material that comprised Sho’Na’s revealing outfit strained under her amusement. “Don’t you worry, Darling. He paid for the whole night.”
Eruwenn had reassessed her opinion of Ranjaz many times since meeting him. The criminal. The loyal friend. The lazy trouble-maker. All were true, but now she was seeing something new. He sat opposite Toran, the brother of Alfor, in a game of dalcho she wished she could have taken part in, but was equally glad she did not. At first she had thought the Kittran was outmatched, a few reckless mistakes costing him dearly as the Kah’Ree deftly selected his tiles. Toran was clearly a seasoned gambler, using a blend of the Remee Le’Bow Gambit and the Kowals’Kee Analysis she hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be dismantling Ranjaz’s tiles before he could even prepare his cards. A few fortunate dice rolls and he had taken a strong lead from the outset. The Kittran appeared desperate, playing any tile available to try and slow the defeat. It had all been a ruse, she saw it; Ranjaz had saved his best tiles and carefully thrown hands to manipulate the cards. In just a few rounds he would be able to dominate the board and raise the stakes, recouping his losses and changing the course of the game entirely. She had encountered few players who could manipulate the game so deftly, using memory and layers of strategy to corner their opponent. It was magnificent. Eruwenn couldn’t tear her eyes from the board as she stood beside Thor. The Awakened had shown no interest in the game, studiously watching the opposite door as Toran’s staff came in and out. When a waiter entered and began preparing drinks at the small private bar in the executive gambling room, Thor coughed. It was a strange thing for an Awakened to do, and Eruwenn finally looked up from the table. “Are you ok?” Thor nodded. By the time he had looked towards her, she had returned her attention completely to the game. “You don’t seem concerned about your friend?” he asked. The Anatidae watched as Ranjaz used a blind double feint, and the sheer audacity of such a move made her swallow hard. She didn’t look back to Thor, but mumbled a response. “I’m very confident in her abilities.” The waiter was methodically placing drinks by each of the players, but when they stood behind Ranjaz the Kittran surged to his feet, shouting, “Hey! No cheating Toran! Getting your waiter to look over my shoulder? That’s a dirty move I’d expect from your brother!” Thor had reacted faster than Eruwenn, pinning the arms of the Arkellian waiter in a vice-like bear hug. Toran slowly stood. He was big, heavily muscled, and the veins on his neck bulged as his anger rose. “Don’t accuse me in my own place.” He cracked his knuckles and glowered down at Ranjaz. “I run a straight game.” Fearlessly the Kittran walked right up to the Kah’Ree and stared up into his face from waist height. “Don’t try and intimidate me, you son of a Vogel.” Ranjaz puffed out his chest and began pushing the burly casino owner. “Nobody cheats me!” The blow caught Ranjaz across the cheek and sent him sprawling across the room. Eruwenn winced at the impact, but maintained her composure. Toran laughed. “Watch your tongue or I’ll add it to my collection.” He walked round the table and kicked Ranjaz in the stomach, glaring at Thor and Eruwenn, daring them to act. “Know your place trash. You’re at this table because you put credits up front. You are a dishonest thief, begging for scraps, and cosying up to me any my brother to get your little trinket back.” He returned to his seat. “Why would I need to cheat against the likes of you?” Ranjaz stood, brushing himself off. “Fine, fine.” He waved a hand and Thor dropped the Arkellian. Ranjaz tapped him on the chest. “My mistake.” He sat down and picked up his cards once more. “You’re right Toran, you run a clean game. I’m just a sore loser.” He shuffled the order of the tiles that were still face down on the table. “To show my sincerity, how about we double the buy for the rest of the game?” Toran snorted. “Double?” He looked at the Kittran, scrutinising his opponent. The game was already over; he had control of the board and his tiles occupied the three prime positions. Was the thief trying to buy his favour, he wondered? How much was the trinket he wanted truly worth? He decided it was worth testing. “Triple, and I’ll forget you dared touch me.” The Kittran swallowed hard, his ears flat to his head. Toran momentarily worried he’d pushed for too much but a decision seemed to be reached. “Fine. Triple.” The look of defeat was delicious to the Kah’Ree.
Cygna had done her part and lured Alfor to a private room away from his security. She had danced, skipped and side-stepped his groping hands so far, maintaining a playfulness that ensured he complied. This sort of thing was not new to her; she had spent time undercover in the past. Fortunately, there had been little call for it since she had joined forces with Eruwenn. Alfor’s eyes scanned her body once more. “The Kittran has very good taste.” He licked his lips, a small amount of drool escaping and running down his chin. He wiped it on his sleeve. “Now, I brought you somewhere quiet. How about you show me how sweet you can be?” The Fae’Dan smiled coyly and continued her dancing just out of reach, glancing to the doorway where Alfor’s two guards stood watching her. “With an audience?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly. With a sly grin he waved the guards out of the room. “Now come here and let me satisfy you like only a Kah’Ree can.” His eyes wandered over her body once more. Cygna smiled, her own eyes moving from the Kah’Ree’s hands to his shoulders, then up towards his neck. An interesting fact about the Kah’Ree was the thick blood vessels on the side of their neck. They often bulged when a Kah’Ree was angry or excited, like Alfor’s were as he leered at her. She danced closer. Another interesting fact was that their brains were not as efficient as those of other species, hence the requirement for additional blood flow; more oxygen per limited thought. He leaned forward, his eyes locked to her swaying hips. Cygna turned slowly, and his head tilted to appreciate her assets. The third, lesser known, fact about the Kah’Ree was that an interruption to the blood flow while they were in this excited state caused them to lose consciousness rapidly as their brain burned through the available oxygen. “My eyes are up here.” She smiled as he looked up at her with his head still tilted. He sneered. “Who ca-” The Fae’Dan struck the side of his neck with the edge of her hand, targeting the throbbing blood vessel with a powerful blow. The interruption to his brain's oxygen supply worked perfectly and he fell face forward onto the ground at her feet. She let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his unconscious body. “Thank you, that was particularly satisfying.” She walked over to the door and peeked out, finding the guards standing either side. “He said to order us some drinks.” One of the guards nodded and immediately put his hand to his lapel communicator. Back inside the room, Cygna used her foot to roll Alfor to his back and began searching his pockets. She came up empty. Her eyes caught a glimmer from his collar and she found a heavy gold chain, at the end of which was his security key. She removed it just as a knock came at the door. A deep voice from the other side called out. “Your drinks, boss.” The Fae’Dan quickly messed up her hair. Using the back of her hand she smeared her lipstick sideways, and then pulled the strap of her dress down off her shoulder. She opened the door and, to her surprise, was faced with an Arkellian waiter. The bodyguards noted her dishevelled appearance and shared a smirk, and she said, “Oh, I wasn’t expec-” The waiter pushed the trolley into the room. “Don’t keep the boss waiting, lady.” Before Cygna could reply they were inside and the door closed. “Relax, it’s me.” Ripley’s voice sounded bizarre coming from the male Arkellian form, and Cygna’s eyes went wide in shock. Her sharp mind quickly adjusted to this new information. Of course the Awakened could change their physical appearance; she had just never seen it. They all seemed quite attached to their chosen human forms. “Neat trick.” She held out Alfor’s key. “Did you get the other one?” Ripley nodded. “The Kittran played his part well. I didn’t see him take it, and didn’t feel it when he placed it in my pocket. Now that was a neat trick.” The Fae’Dan smiled. “I think I’ll pass on that dalcho game.” The Arkellian Ripley smiled. “Probably wise.” Turning, she slipped the key into her pocket and headed back out of the door.
Ripley entered the elevator to the owner's private offices on the top floor. Thanks to the distractions downstairs, the two large desks in the centre of the room were empty. She walked straight past them to the large leokas painting on the wall and swung it forward. Behind it was a Fae’Dan safe; she took out the two keys and a small homemade device the Kittran had given her. Attaching the device to the bio-lock and standing before the safe, she elongated her arms to reach both key positions at once. There was more than one reason she was the one chosen for this task. The device beeped twice and small lights above each lock lit up. She simultaneously turned both keys, and there was a satisfying clunk. She raised an eyebrow. The device had worked. The heavy safe door swung open and she began her search. Ranjaz had been very specific: while there was one item she had to get, she was to grab as much as possible to obscure their true target. Quickly grabbing as much as she could she retrieved the keys and ran back across the room towards the elevator.
Cygna hauled Alfor back onto the seat, putting him in a more natural position and messing up his hair. She looked away as she began unbuttoning his clothes, pulling his trousers around his ankles and opening his shirt up to bare his chest. From a secret pocket inside her dress she pulled out a lace thong, setting it on his head like a bandana. She also had a small box which she opened, inside of which was a replica mouth with lipstick that matched her own. Cygna carefully applied kiss marks all over his exposed skin before popping the fake lips back into the secret pocket. She took the Fae’Dan wine and partially filled two glasses, making sure to take a long drink from one and leave more lipstick marks. The rest of the wine was poured into the ice bucket. She heard the sound of voices outside the door. The guards were arguing with someone, refusing them entry, but when the name Toran was mentioned it was Ripley who entered, still in uniform but now looking much like her usual self. She smirked at the Kah’Ree in his derobed state. “I can see you had fun.” The Fae’Dan chuckled. “That’s the idea.” She looked at the Awakened in her true form. “You look… better.” Ripley cocked her head. “It would be strange if the waiter came back to deliver a message.” She tossed the necklace key to Cygna, who replaced it on Alfor’s neck. Reclining on the sofa and picking up her glass, Cygna took another long drink. “Get the other one back to Ranjaz quickly. This one won’t be napping much longer.” The Awakened gave an almost Ranjaz-like grin. “You could always hit him again.” Before the Fae’Dan could reply she had ducked back out of the door. She caught the eye of one of the bodyguards and gave a head tilt back towards the room. “The boss is really enjoying himself!” As the suited pair chuckled, the larger of the two got a message in his ear piece. “Hey, silver hair.” He grunted. “Boss has an important guest. Meet them in the foyer and bring them to the dalcho room.” Ripley was relieved – she needed a reason to get into that room. “On my way.”
Toran was seething as he watched as the Kittran flipped his final tile. Why would he have waited so long to play the Wings of Tulseria tile? His stomach sank, and he couldn’t hold back his anger any longer. “Damn you!” Ranjaz gave a full-fanged grin. “Looks like my luck turned at just the right moment.” “Luck!” Toran’s tile snapped between his fingers. Why had he let the damned cat goad him into constantly increasing their bet? The cycle had started with him owing the brothers a million credits plus interest, and now the infuritating Kittran had won nearly forty times that. “Nobody is that lucky.” “Woah!” Ranjaz held up his hands. “I would never cheat, well... certainly not a second time. After you caught me, I’d be a fool to try.” “Hmm.” Toran looked at the two behind the Kittran. The big one would be a problem, but the Anatidae looked to be nothing special. “How about I give you back your little trinket and we call it even?” “My trinket?” Ranjaz shook his head. “I had to convince you it was worth the million I owed. Why would you think I’d trade it for thirty eight million credits? I’ll pay what I owe, take my trinket and my winnings and leave.” Toran folded his arms and looked across the dalcho board at Ranjaz. “And why would I let you do that?” The atmosphere in the room changed as the two security guards changed their stance. “Transfer the credits back to the house.” Ranjaz dropped the grin, replacing it with a defiant glare. “What happened to you running a straight game?” “The game was straight. You won, didn’t you?” He leaned forward, his eyes cold and hard. “You’re just in no position to collect.” The Kittran was about to argue when the door behind Toran opened. He looked up as Ripley entered, and his eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t alone. “Toran, you bastard! You sold me out!” “For ten million credits.” Toran stared hard at Ranjaz. “Care to make a better offer?” Eruwenn’s eyes blazed with anger as the grey-suited Niham pulled up a seat and sat down beside Toran. “Now, now, you lied to me about having the item before. Don’t double cross me.” Sentinel Krast placed his hands together on the table, interlacing his fingers. “I’m not somebody who forgives easily.” He looked directly at Eruwenn. “Isn’t that right, former Councillor? A little far from your new Ambassador position, aren’t you?” Ripley stood back against the wall. She had no idea who the newcomer was, but this most definitely was not the plan. The golden green Anatidae walked forward to stand behind Ranjaz. “Oh, I had a little vacation time saved up, and decided to spend it with my good friend here.” She placed a hand on the Kittrans shoulder. “And what brings a Sentinel here?” Krast’s lips curled in what might approximate a smile. “I’m also acquainted with Mr K’Lua. In fact, we go back a very long way.” He turned to look directly at Ranjaz. “Now, return what is mine.” Toran looked from Ranjaz to Krast. “Yours? You don’t look like the tiara wearing type.” The Sentinel didn’t turn his head. “Ah, so you hid the data chip inside some shiny bauble. As inventive as ever, Mr K’Lua.” The Niham finally acknowledged Toran by looking at him. “Bring. It. Here.” The Kah’Ree sucked air through his teeth. “Well, seems like we have something mighty important, and two very interested parties.” He stood and walked to his two security officers, who drew their weapons in unison. “Now then, I believe you” —he nodded to Krast— “offered ten million. How about it Ranjaz, old friend? What’s your counter offer?” The Kittran had been sitting, silently seething at his double cross being double crossed. He looked at Krast. “Were you the one?” Toran was surprised at being ignored, but before he could reply Krast answered, “The one?” Ranjaz’s eyes narrowed, his ears alert, his tail swishing aggressively. “The one who took my friend!” he snarled as he felt Eruwenn’s hand holding him back gently. Krast’s eyes glittered as he saw the impotent rage in his opponent’s eyes. “Ah, the poor deceased human?” He smiled his mannequin-esque smile. “And if I was?” Toran snatched a pistol from one of his men and fired a blast at the ceiling. “Your quarrel can wait. Let’s settle our business first and you can kill each other after I’m paid.” He paused, then added, “but, not in my casino. Body disposal costs extra.” Eruwenn’s hand gripped Ranjaz’s shoulder harder, and he braced himself. In one smooth move she both threw him backwards and to the right, and kicked the dalcho table up and forward into Krast's face. The Sentinel fell backwards as a blast from Toran struck the table, but Eruwenn was already on the move, sidestepping left and ducking forward into a cartwheel. Toran's gun had been following Ranjaz, but as her leg swept down it knocked the weapon from his grip. Once she stabilized, her fist, already primed with momentum from the cartwheel, struck Toran below the ribs and knocked the wind from him. The guard, whose gun the Kah'Ree had been holding, lunged forward to grab Eruwenn but she simply deflected his hand, pairing his forward momentum with her rising elbow to swiftly render him unconscious. The second guard had just begun to raise his weapon when a huge fist struck him in his chest, sending him careening backwards into the wall. Thor loomed over him, shaking his head as he retrieved the energy pistol. “Too slow.” Ripley helped Ranjaz to his feet as Krast pushed the table off his chest. Toran was coughing and struggling to breathe as Ranjaz pressed the retrieved energy pistol to his forehead. “Double cross me?” He dragged the Kah’Ree forward. “I want to see the item, then I’ll pay what I owe.” The two of them awkwardly made their way back towards Krast, so Ranjaz could point the gun in his face. “Then we can talk about your body disposal fee.” Krast stood, and his phony smile was gone. “You can’t kill me. The Sentinels will tear this place apart, hunt you down and kill you. You think I came alone? My ship is in orbit and waiting for my orders!” Ranjaz grabbed him by the jacket, pulling him down to his level, and struck him in the face with the butt of the pistol. Thor cooly kept his stolen pistol pointed at Toran and the one conscious guard. By the third blow Krast’s face was bloody, his nose broken and he began to struggle against Ranjaz’s assault. A muted boom caused everyone present to stop in their tracks. Alarms began to sound and Toran swore loudly. He pulled out his communicator, ignoring Thor’s pistol. “What the hell was that!” He held the device close as he listened. “My office?” He patted his pocket. Finding his key in place, he looked to Ranjaz and then Krast. “Seal the casino! And where is my brother?” Ripley suddenly understood why the Kittran had told her to leave his device on the safe door. After a brief further moment of shock, which she kept from showing on her face, she realized that she had been carrying an explosive without being told. If they survived, Ranjaz was going to need to explain himself. Thoroughly. Eruwenn, Thor and Ranjaz had backed away to the opposite side of the room, standing by the door. Krast stood alone, holding his profusely bleeding nose. The opposite door soon opened to reveal scrambling casino security, with Toran and his guard standing nearby. The unconscious guard was carried out without comment, and the Kah’Ree turned to Ripley. “Why are you still here?” She nodded and slipped out of the door, leaving one less concern for the remaining three. “Alright, which one of your skrolg-licking bastards broke into my private safe?” Krast spat blood onto the floor, pointing at Ranjaz. “He’s the thief. You and I had a deal.” The Kittran smirked. “I’m a better thief than blowing up a Tulseria-damned safe. If I wanted to steal it, I would have done just that. I would not have announced my arrival and sat down to a game of dalcho.” Toran looked between the two of them. “He’s got a point.” One of his men handed him a pistol, and he continued to talk a little distractedly into his communicator. “Well, check everywhere!” Ranjaz stirred the pot. “He’s the bastard who double crossed me, why would he honour your deal?” Eruwenn nodded. “A government agent can’t be seen working with criminals.” Krast's face contorted in rage. “Don’t be a damned fool, Toran!” He pointed at Ranjaz. “This is clearly some convoluted distraction.” Toran shook his head. “They had the upper hand. You were the one getting your face ruined.”
Cygna watched nervously as Alfor began to stir. Things were taking a lot longer than expected. Finally, her signal came; it was not as subtle as she had been led to believe. As soon as the explosion went off the two bodyguards quickly came into the room, glancing from Alfor’s sleeping body to her. She staggered forward, wine bottle in hand. “We need more drinkshh!” The guard ignored her as he saw the condition of his boss. “Not again,” he groaned. “Toran will kill us for letting him get like this.” The second guard stepped out into the corridor. “I’m not dressing him! Last time he tried to kiss me!” Cygna paused, not having expected it to go this way. The first bodyguard walked out as well. “He pissed on my new shoes the time before that. I’m not moving him.” Their communicators went off and their faces became more serious. Bodyguard two spoke first. “Damn it. Toran wants him.” The first turned to look at the increasingly bewildered Cygna. “You!” He smiled. “You got him undressed. You can dress him.” Cygna spotted Ripley running down the corridor towards them, causing her confusion to grow further. The Awakened shouted one word. “Sentinels!” The Fae’Dan’s mind raced. The plan was clearly blown, and they had to get out. Fast. As the guards were now facing Ripley, she took the opportunity to kick one in the back of the knee. He fell forward, and as the second turned he was met with the upward swing of a wine bottle. The first guard discovered first-hand the shocking truth of how hard the knee of an Awakened could be, and both were unconscious by the time they hit the ground. Cygna smiled at Ripley. "Thanks." The Awakened gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. “A Sentinel turned up, so Ranjaz set off the diversion he promised. The other brother is busy trying to figure out whether it’s us or the Sentinels robbing him.” Cygna took on board the new information quickly, knowing she needed to help the others. “I have an idea. Lie over there and look dead.” She ran back into the room, where Alfor was groaning and starting to move. She slipped the chain from his neck and dropped it into the ice bucket, where it sank out of sight below the dark Fae’Dan wine. She began to slowly shake him. “Huh,” he grumbled, and slowly opened his eyes. “Wha.. what happened?” Cygna clung to him tightly. “Oh thank goodness! I thought they killed you!” “Killed?” Alfor’s head was pounding, his memory blurry. “Who-” He caught sight of his downed guards in the open doorway. “What the hell happened?” He began pulling at his clothes, and swiftly checked that his trousers were dry. “While we were.. You know…” He nodded; he was buttoning up his clothes. He didn’t remember, but he knew. “Some scary men burst into the room and shot you! I was so scared.” She hugged him tight, pressing herself against him. He put his arm around her. “What men? Be brave, and tell me what happened.” She looked up at him, trying to make her eyes as big as possible, adding a lip tremble to really sell it. “I don’t know! They wore grey suits. And one of them took your necklace!” “My necklace.” He clutched at his chest where it should have been. “Damn Sentinels! I told Toran we couldn't trust them!” He stepped into the corridor, where Ripley lay on the ground with a terrible energy weapon burn on the side of her face. He pulled out his communicator. “Toran.” He instantly got hold of his brother. “I didn’t answer because I was knocked out. Damn Sentinels took my key, killed some of our guys.” He looked around. “Nobody important, just some waiter.” He finally pulled the underwear from his head. “I’ll go to the security room and look at the video.” He ended the call and turned back to Cygna. “You stay here.” She smiled. “Sorry, we can’t let you check the security footage.” “Wha-” Ripley struck him from behind and he crumpled to the ground, her fake burn melting from her face. The Awakened looked around, rechecking that all was clear. “I think that’s all we can do; we should get out of here. Come with me, my shuttle is in the staff bay.”
Toran closed his communicator and motioned to a guard. “Search him.” Eruwenn wished she had some way to capture the look on Krast’s face when the remote detonator was pulled from his pocket. She'd have to hug the light-fingered Kittran later. The Sentinel grit his teeth. “That’s not mine.” “Sure, sure,” Toran agreed, while simultaneously shaking his head at the Sentinel. “Looks like you really didn’t come alone.” Krast was furious, yelling, “I’m telling you-” He broke off when Ranjaz shot him in the leg, falling to the floor. The Kah’Ree pointed his pistol at the Kittran. “Can’t let you kill a Sentinel in my casino, even if they did just rob me.” Ranjaz was surprised the Kah’Ree had believed them so easily. “What about us?” Toran sighed, lowering his weapon. “Take your winnings and get out. If you stole the thing once, I’m sure you can steal it again.” Eruwenn and Thor both made to leave. Ranjaz paused, knowing he might not get another chance. “And him?” The Kah’Ree looked at the Sentinel holding his wounded leg. “We’ll send him back to his ship. As much as I hate it, the Sentinels are untouchable.” Ranjaz raised his pistol. “He took my friend.” “And we’ll get him back,” Eruwenn said softly. “Then we’ll all deal with him, and the rest of the Sentinels.” Krast sneered and spat blood once more. “Your human is dead.” Ranjaz fired. Krast screamed and grabbed his other leg. “You bastard!” Toran and his men raised their weapons as the Kah’Ree yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” Ranjaz turned and followed the others out of the door, but just as it was about to close he poked his head back in. “Oh, one last thing.” Toran could be seen looking up just as the Kittran fired again, but he ducked out of sight before the true outcome of his shot could be seen. The shrieks of agony, however, followed the trio down the corridor as they broke into a run. Eruwenn spared a glance down at Ranjaz during their retreat. “What did you do?” The full-fanged grin had never been larger. “Made sure we’ll see him again.” On the floor of the dalcho room Krast was screaming in agony. He turned over to stare at the closed door. “I’ll kill you! I will hunt you down and kill every last one of you!” Toran spoke into his communicator. “Tell the Sentinel ship to come get their man. And, bring a doctor. A really good doctor.” He nudged one of his guards and finally let out a chuckle. After all, the Sentinels had just robbed him. “You double-crossing scum always get what you deserve.” The J’Rami guard raised an eyebrow. “Not sure anyone deserves getting shot in the balls.”
The Bollywood film ‘Dhoom’ (2004), misinterpreted as an action thriller, is in fact a rigorous allegorical analysis of economic policies, particularly in the Indian context in the early ‘00s.
Spoilers ahead. Connoisseurs of film are undoubtedly well-aware of La Nouvelle Vague, aka, the ‘New Wave’—an experimental movement in filmmaking with its origins in the French cinema of the 1950s, with an emphasis on exploration of personal themes such as existentialism, iconoclasm and absurdism. Although the ‘New Wave’ is considered to have met its chronological end in the late 1960s, to be followed by successive movements like ‘New Hollywood’, ‘Cinema Novo’ and ‘Dogme 95’, the influence of la nouvelle vague continues to be keenly felt in the artistic masterpieces of Bollywood production house YRF. Under the skillful hand of renowned auteur Aditya Chopra, the studio has produced a lineup of commercially successful arthouse flicks that continue the French filmmaking renaissance of the ‘50s, successfully infusing avant-garde storytelling techniques with high production values and modern Indian themes. Nowhere is this revolutionary vision more evident than in films like DDLJ (a masterpiece in abstract, absurdist storytelling), Mohabbatein (a sensitive examination of the taboo topic of attitudes towards adolescent self-gratification), Kal Ho Naa Ho (an ambitious adaptation of historian David McCullough’s book 1776), Jab Tak Hai Jaan (a religio-philosophical drama that engages in debate upon the tenets of Christianity, Shaivism, and the cultural taboo of Kala Pani) and, of course, the Dhoom franchise. As YRF’s most popular franchise, the Dhoom series has, with each installment, made great independent strides in cinematic theory and practice. Although—as read above—YRF films explore a wide, varying range of topics as a whole, the Dhoom franchise focuses exclusively on the examination and discussion of economic and socio-economic matters of policy and practice in the Indian context. Over the course of 3 films, the discourse acquires a rich depth, with the analysis of issues including the economic costs and benefits of national highway construction, the clash between entrepreneurial aspirations and the security of bureaucratic employment, the 2008 economic recession in the BRICS context, and the causes and consequences of non-performing bank loans and a profiling of defaulters of on said loans. Indeed, a first course on Indian economics at any prestigious institution may well be framed around careful viewing and discussion of the Dhoom films. In the careful hands of Aditya Chopra and Vijay Krishna Acharya (Dhoom 1/2/3, Tashan, Thugs of Hindostan), each Dhoom film achieves a delicate balance between the overt cops-and-robbers heist story and the covert exploration of complex economic schools of thought. As the 1st film in the franchise, Dhoom (2004) establishes the storytelling framework for the films to come, and by itself explores the challenges and opportunities presented by Indian economic policymaking in the early ‘00s. The film features an all-round star-studded cast, with support from Honorary Roadie & Stardust Awards nominee Esha Deol, Star’s Sabsey Award winner Rimi Sen, and Indian Telly Award nominee Arav Chowdharry. At the film’s helm are Lions Club Award winner John Abraham, Sansui Award winner Abhishek Bachchan, and Emmy nominee Uday Chopra. Series regulars Bachchan and Chopra play Jai and Ali respectively, Jai being a policeman and Ali a small-time mechanic with a penchant for fast bikes and disinterested women. Abraham essays the villainous role of Kabir, part-time restaurant waiter and part-time leader of a gang of biker thieves. The film begins with a series of daring heists pulled off by Kabir’s gang, relying on their high-speed bikes to orchestrate sudden thefts and promptly escape the scene soon after. Their exploits catch the eye of Jai, a lifetime appointee to the post of Assistant Commissioner of Police. Jai, however, finds himself out of his depth and through a series of accidents, makes the acquaintance of Ali, a mildly-seedy mechanic and bike racer. Initially reluctant to be associated with law enforcement, Ali is eventually induced to join Jai’s cause and attempt to chase down Kabir and his merry band of men. Dhoom is slow and deliberate in its setup, and the film’s early minutes are heavy on subtext and detail, therefore, it is essential to take in the plot in small increments, so as to be thorough with one’s analysis. In an allegorical sense, Jai, as a police officer, represents bureaucratic authority and the security, comforts and powers of government employment. Abraham’s Kabir, as a thief, is a laissez-faire capitalist, relying on his material advantage in the form of fast bikes and his manpower advantage in the form of skilled bikers to partake in a series of one-sided transactions with economic entities such as banks and government funds. In this sense, the act of robbery in Dhoom is merely a transaction between two private parties wherein one side gains an unfair amount at the other’s expense, absent external interventionism. In addition to being a free-market advocate, Kabir is also an employee at a pizza parlour, which seems to be the film’s attempt at exploring both the growing role of the service economy as a share of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the amorphous nature of employment within the modern ‘gig’ economy. Caught between the competing ideas of state-control and free capitalism, Chopra’s Ali is a stand-in for the directionless youth, lured by the safety and dignity of a government job, whilst simultaneously seduced by the potential for greater wealth presented by free-market capitalism. The film’s plot is overt in this depiction, with Ali simultaneously fearful of Jai’s authority, yet desirous of wielding said authority as an employed policeman. Furthermore, in an action sequence set in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar—a flea market specializing in illegally-hawked goods—Jai and Ali get into a fight with goons in the market, and are forced to make a hasty escape after being outnumbered. Ali bringing Jai to the market illustrates his ties to the informal, underground economy—a large, undocumented component of the Indian economy—and Jai’s subsequent fleeing the scene highlights the failed outcome of government attempts to regulate this grey economy by force and bluster. Initially at a loss for clues, Jai is eventually able to deduce that Kabir’s bikers arrange their heists in close proximity to highways, providing as the highways do quick getaways after. This is no doubt an allusion to the economic importance of the National Highways Authority of India’s flagship ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ national highway construction project. Kabir, the raw capitalist, is empowered in his capitalistic pursuits by the government’s infrastructure investments, and John Abraham’s moody expression throughout the film is in no small part perhaps due to the discontentment within Kabir’s mind about his enterprise’s dependence on resources provided by the state. Having deduced Kabir’s MO, Jai and Ali attempt to catch him in the act. However, Kabir and his gang appear to have substantially faster bikes than Jai and Ali, which is undoubtedly an allusion to the government’s perceived ineptitude and inability to generally compete with private enterprise. Left chafing and chasing the dust, Jai catches a lucky break when an overconfident Kabir offers him a clue about his upcoming crime, with the catch being that if Jai fails to avert it, he must recuse himself from the case and leave Kabir to his entrepreneurial pursuits. Kabir, the staunch capitalist, is here hinting at the idea of termination clauses in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), agreements between enterprises and governments for mutual benefit. Whilst the government naturally retains the right to sever the partnership at any point, Kabir clearly believes that he, as the private party, is also entitled to terminate the contract should the government, aka Jai, default on the agreed-upon terms. Formally known as the ‘Authority Default’ concept, Dhoom represents this idea in the form of a simple, easy to understand challenge between Jai and Kabir. Even as this layered conflict plays out between Jai and Kabir, Ali is enamoured by the mysterious ‘Dilbara’ (Esha Deol). Little is known about Dilbara, however, like other characters in the film, it may be reasonably assumed than she is also an allegorical depiction of an economic concept. Ali’s infatuation with her suggests that she is perhaps intended to be portrayed as a vague, undefined avenue of aspirational employment. Furthermore, the fact that she (as is later revealed) is in fact a part of Kabir’s gang, yet also harbours feelings for Ali, leads one to conclude that Dilbara represents a form of compromise between dirigisme, aka restrictive state-controlled economy, and laissez-faire anarcho-capitalism. The filmmakers leave the specifics of this compromise vague, however, Dilbara’s skimpy outfits perhaps represent the scantiness of opportunities presented by this nebulous alternative. Returning to the main plot, Jai, despite being forewarned, fails to foil Kabir’s next robbery, despite being able to take down one of his gang in the process. Left short of a gang member, Kabir attempts to recruit Ali, left sidelined by Jai following their failure to catch Kabir. The jilted Ali readily embraces Kabir’s neoliberal worldview and the duo jet off to Goa, where Kabir has his eyes set on one final score from a casino. Subtextually, the casino and gambling in general represent what is in Kabir’s eyes an essential component of his brand of capitalism—rampant speculation and volatility that may be manipulated to one’s benefit. There may also be an addition reference to British academic Susan Strange’s seminal 1986 work Casino Capitalism, a critique of unregulated banking and financial systems. However, Kabir is more likely than not to be derisive of such thoughts, and therefore, if this reference was intended, it may merely be made to indicate the filmmakers’ complete mastery over both Keynesian and Austrian schools of economic thought. The importance of dance numbers in YRF films cannot be overstated. Even as Bollywood music gravitates towards being little more than catchy jingles designed to elicit maximum publicity, the music and dance numbers in YRF films complement the plot perfectly, serving to both entertain and narrate. Dhoom is no exception to this tradition of excellence. On the eve of Kabir’s final heist, an inebriated Jai shows up at the casino, claiming to have left police employment and moved on. Kabir, however, is rightly suspicious, given as Jai is still a cop, and is merely attempting to lure Kabir into a false sense of comfort as a prelude to catching him in the act. This Jai accomplishes by putting on a song-and-dance in front of Kabir to convince him of his abandonment of state-sponsored socialism and his embrace of Kabir’s unrestrained capitalism. The song is entitled ‘Salamee’, a clever homophone of ‘salami’, a sausage that consists primary of beef. The consumption of beef was, in a landmark 2005 Supreme Court judgement, forbidden on grounds on anti cow-slaughter laws. Kabir, as an opponent of government intervention, would likely have been opposed to the idea of such a restriction being imposed upon him. Therefore, to show his solidarity to the cause, Jai takes to the stage in front of Kabir and sways to the refrain of “Naye kal ko aao kare, hum karein, karein/Salami, salami, salami/Kar le salami…”. The subterfuge is apparently successful, and a placated Kabir is lulled into a false sense of security by Jai’s reinforcement of his worldview. However, as mentioned, Jai’s conversion is little more than a ruse, and a hoodwinked Kabir is successfully caught in the act by Jai and Ali, who is revealed to have been Jai’s mole all along. The ever-slippery Kabir, however, weasels his way out of Jai’s clutches, and flees with his loot. Although Dhoom 3 would better address the phenomenon of loan defaulters taking flight from the verge of captivity, Dhoom too takes a cursory look at the occurrence, although Kabir does not quite embody a loan defaulter. He is merely the free-market capitalist, the robber baron caught flouting regulations and fleeing from the consequences of government intervention. A long chase sequence ensues, with Kabir fleeing but ultimately cornered by Jai and Ali at the precipice of a sea-facing cliff. Facing a choice between certain captivity and death, Kabir chooses to fly off the cliff with the last of his loot. In a literal sense, Kabir merely dies by falling off the cliff into the sea. In a figurative sense, faced with the prospect of his enterprise being forced to comply with ungainly regulations, Kabir chooses instead to offshore his business, and make for better waters, thus bringing his character arc to a natural and satisfying conclusion. A frustrated Jai bemoans his end, representing the government’s exasperation at ultimately failing to bring a rogue enterprise to heel. Ali, having seen his capitalistic expectations dive off a cliff with Kabir, chooses in the film’s final shot, to finally pursue the path to safe, steady, state-sponsored employment after all, asking Jai if he finally is a bona-fide police officer, as the film fades to black. The topical nature of Dhoom is a cause for admiration, even a decade and a half after its release. The film successfully ties together strands of economic and socio-economic thought from its time—the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ project received a major fillip in the first years of the new millennium, the service sector encountered a boom around the same time, as did the contribution of outsourcing to employment and economic growth. The rise of men like Kabir is perfectly timed in the post-License Raj years, as the country embraced capitalism over state socialism. Yet, the lure of stable, ‘safe’ government employment holds true, and powers men like Jai and seduces men like Ali. Dilbara’s unknown fate at the end of the film—left waiting for Ali by the side of a road—is representative of the uncertain outcomes of economic models with time. On a meta note, the Dhoom franchise’s casting of Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra in every film is a nod to the ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ of 2005, a flagship government initiative that guarantees employment for a certain number of days out of the year, in the form of unskilled labour. In summation, Dhoom rightly deserves its place as a seminal film in the annals of both YRF and Indian cinema. In its own right, it is a bold, experimental film that marries erudition to entertainment. It is also the progenitor of its celebrated franchise, providing the springboard from which future films would explore similar issues in an equally deft and precise fashion. To YRF, the Dhoom franchise, and Indian cinema, the film Dhoom is nothing short of a bottle of nitrous oxide, that when attached to a bike, propels it into the stratosphere.
So it’s been a few days since the update dropped so I think it’s been a good enough to let the update’s content sit and allow us to play around with everything. To address the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the island: it is very, very, VERY underwhelming. I already made a post explaining the problems with the island, so I’ll just keep it brief: it’s all run down industrial drug manufacturing and no resort town area thingy for the tourists at the party. It’s quite unrealistic thinking about the people there and where they’re going to stay. If they wanted to make the infrastructure of the island undeveloped, then make it be like Cuba, where it’s all old timey buildings with classic cars on the unpaved roads. It’s all off-road areas, which TBH are pretty cool if you wanted some off-road/rally cars to try out BUT OH WAIT YOU CAN’T BECAUSE THE ISLAND ISN’T ACCESSIBLE IN FREEMODE. I don’t know what Rockstar was thinking when they said “an entirely new location.” When you say it like that, of course people are gonna expect it to be in freeroam so they can have fun with their friends and hang out in their cars and whatnot, and no having tiny portion of the island where you can just do what you do in your nightclub and the Music Locker, and that is to just dance and drink and entertain yourself for 5 minutes. If you try to leave the island, the guards stop you and your character automatically walks back toward the party. You can’t even sneak or swim around the guards you are just stuck at the party until you decide to go back to Los Santos. From what some people say, it’s because of the limited hardware, and that the entire island is free to explore in freeroam on the XSX/S and PS5, but very few of us have those consoles, and those who do say that claim is false. It’s just either the game is old or that Rockstar just wanted to be dicks to us, and if they did know we were expecting a map expansion, then I’d like to believe the. They really did do us dirty like that. The very first prep/scout might be the worst mission in the entire game. All you do is take pictures of stuff you need for the heist, which is fine, except the stuff spawns in random locations and if you wanna fully complete the prep missions and get your crew completely equipped you have to find 4 of the stuff, like the bolt cutters and grapples. I like the idea of posing as a DJ’s entourage then sneaking out scope out the island. It’s cool, except for the fact the mission is goddamn awful. It’s a mandatory stealth mission, which doesn’t sound that bad, then you remember stealth in GTA is just so, so bad. “So what if it’s a stealth mission, just quietly take out everyone in your way.” That’s the problem: you can’t eliminate anyone in this prep mission, not even punch or judo chop or whatever on the guards. As soon as you get too close to any of the guards, you are spotted and instead of dying and respawning, you’re dragged back to the party (or airport, if you’re doing the prep after the first play through) and have to sneak your way back all over again. It gets pretty frustrating after awhile. To make it worse, if you’re spotted too much, you are thrown off of the island and wash up on the shores of Vespucci Beach, which doesn’t make sense geographically, since Cayo Perico is confirmed to be in the Caribbean and LS is next to the Pacific Ocean. After getting thrown off the island, you have to go back to the Kosatka, restart the prep, and do the mission all over again. The other prep missions are somewhat of a step up from the Casino Heist preps. For one, there aren’t any missions where you have go back twice for any of the equipment; it’s a one and done deal. The missions utilize different interiors from previous updates, like the CEO office, Import/Export garage, etc. and I find that somewhat cool. The missions themselves aren’t that hard, so they should be able to be breezed through. The heist itself was in many ways a step up from the Casino Heist, in a way. All the different kinds of approaches, entries, methods, setups, etc. made the heist very unique with different levels of replay ability. As annoying as the guards on the island are, it’s good that they spawn randomly, as to encourage more challenge and thought as to how to approach the heist, unlike the Casino where they all have fixed locations, and after a few play through you figure out the formula and breeze through it like no problem. The guards are still ridiculously hard to all kill, even with all the prep missions to weaken them done. They still have aimbot, not surprised there. There’s a juggernaut in El Rubio’s mansion, but it’s not that bad, since there’s only one that spawns, and you can just use explosives. It is a heist that encourages stealth, and is very unforgiving to those who fuck it up. The enemies are fairly weak if you do the preps, but they just swarm you everywhere, especially in El Rubio’s mansion where they flank you at all corners, and if you’re not careful, you can go through all your snacks and armors quickly. The amount of content released day one is very underwhelming, and the drip feed line up lowkey sucks. Half of the cars showed off in the trailers and promos were actually released on launch but the rest are to be released weekly over the next few months. I get it, Rockstar wanted to artificially extend the lifespan of this update, but did they really have to make us wait weeks for vehicles we can drive around during the heist? If they wanted to drip feed some vehicles from the heist itself, make it like the Manchez scout or that ATV cause no one cares about those vehicles, well, at least I don’t. Leaving out less vehicles from the heist to be released as drip feed would leave room for some more original cars to be added or different versions of cars that need updating, like the ARENA ZR380 PLEASE JUST GIVE US A CLEAN JDM VERION OF THAT CAR. The line up of original non heist cars is actually quite solid, still fitting the theme of the update. Cayo Perico gives off some Cuban vibes, minus the whole communism thing, so it would make sense some of the cars added would be classic cars from the 50s-60s, like the Fiat 500 (Brioso 300), BF Weevil (finally, they added a better version of the Injection), and Slamtruck (if that thing doesn’t allow us to put cars on it I’m gonna get very mad). The new clothes and outfits are nothing amazing, but there was a change I appreciate so much, and that is we can finally put body armor on other tops like hoodies, service shirts, other utility tops. Finally will I no longer have to use the merge glitch. The new armored vests tho kinda suck, since they’re just designer and don’t exactly fit anything. The new button down tropical shirts do look cool, I just wish we could unbutton them to give more of a casual tourist vibe. I just appreciate we have more ability than variety. The weapons were ok. The military rifle looks way too similar to the bullpip and advanced rifle, so it’s nothing really special. The Perico Pistol was a cool unlock for a random event that has a somewhat painful chance to get by finding a body in LS and searching it for a key, but the gun itself is just a golden marksman pistol, needing to be reloaded after every shot. I have yet to find the combat shotgun in the heist, but I imagine it’s just a cooler looking version of the pump shotgun. The music in this update was very meh. Didn’t like the songs on Kult FM too much, maybe because I’m not into rock that much and kinda used to listening to pop songs and some Broadway musicals here and there. Couldn’t really judge Still Slippin since I need to be in a specific area of the map to listen to it, I haven’t been around Mirror Park in awhile, so I just went back to putting the music on mute and turning on blast LMP on Spotify (Owl House fans you know what I mean). It doesn’t really help that Rockstar is drip feeding radios and music too, since Still Slippin won’t be broadcasted to the entire map until a few more weeks. Maybe when it’s finally released for the entire map then I’ll take a listen. That one Moodymann song they played for the trailer goes hard and I’m sure his other works go hard too; too bad no one goes to the Music Locker, which is literally a stripped down version of our nightclubs under the casino. Come to think of it, music and nightclubs are a major part of this update, making me think Rockstar just wanted to do an After Hours Pt. 2. Overall, the Cayo Perico was had the potential to be one of the best updates the game has ever seen: a map expansion for us to explore, but we were given a heist with ruthless AI and mediocre to subpar content to make up for it. As it stands, it might be one of my least favorite updates, not living up to the community’s expectations whilst being quite content dry.
I’m waiting for the call that officially ends my banquet career.
Since 2017, I have worked in a major casino as a banquet server. It was terrifying at first. It was SO FANCY. I went from selling ice cream and coffee to setting a ballroom full of 50 ten top tables with like eight pieces of silverware. There was so much to remember and I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it. We did all sorts of events. Car shows, basketball hall of fame, Make-A-Wish gala, American Cancer Society, baseball auctions, Miss America, epic Christmas parties... it was mostly just corporate events but even the most simple ones, like banquets for nurses and teachers, were fun. It was every type of food service you could possibly imagine — hand passed appetizers, plated meals, family style meals, and exquisite buffets like you’ve never seen. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. Even the most basic meals were incredible. You never knew what your job was going to be, or who you were going to work with when you walked in, and that was the scariest part to me. One day, you’d be on the soup station. The next day, you’d be working with a partner to serve a six table section and walking across a giant ballroom with a tray of ten piping hot dinners while trying to remember who had the gluten allergy. Or you could be scooping gelato. Or building buffets to perfection. Or passing around trays with bacon wrapped scallops and raspberry and Brie tarts. Or clearing while 500 people have their cocktail hour. Once you got used to something, they’d throw you into something totally new. It took me about a year and a half, plus a lot of anxiety attacks and considerations of quitting, but I eventually got the hang of it. It was an on call job, so sometimes I’d work 40 hours, and then not have any work again for two weeks. That’s why it took so long to learn everything. And there were 75 other people in the department, so sometimes, it was scary to find out that you’d be working with the OG server who’d been there for fifteen years and will chew you out if you mess anything up, yet sometimes YOU would be the one to have to explain to someone new why all the coffee mug handles absolutely had to be facing the same way, and still correcting them anyways. It was hardcore teamwork. There were so many ups and downs, but it was a fantastic gig. We were paid extremely fairly. It never mattered what my job was; it could have been the hardest or the most boring task, I’d do it gleefully because I knew I’d be making a good paycheck regardless. Oh, and did I mention that 75% of the time, we got to eat the leftovers? Yeah. They’d have giant displays of shrimp over ice sculptures — and while it was disheartening how much food got wasted (or “sent to pig farms” as they told us), it was the best thing to ever happen to me. Now that I think about it, did I really love this job, or was it just the endless shrimp? Hard to say... The physical gains were powerful. Lifting a 60-pound tray on one shoulder while walking across a huge ballroom doesn’t sound fun, but holy shit, was I fit!! I would easily walk ten miles during a shift. It was painful a lot of the time, but it felt sooooo good to be active. The mental gains were astronomical as well. I made it up the seniority list. Every year I was making a little bit more money. Returning to events I had done in the past was super exciting, because being able to look back on where I was as a shy and sickeningly anxious newbie, now to someone who was helping all the newbies feel as comfortable as I wish more people had done for me... it was truly a unique and wonderful feeling. It felt like where I was meant to be. I originally wanted to move out of state, but this job kept me close. I had full intentions of staying for as long as I possibly could. I didn’t get enough hours and had to work other jobs the whole time, but at the rate I was moving up, it could have been my only job in a year or two. I could have lived an EXTREMELY comfortable life only working four days a week at a job that I absolutely loved. They had just built an 80 million dollar convention center — on top of the 5,300 people capacity ballroom — which meant there were WAY more work days on the horizon. The last time I worked was in the beginning of March. It was a summit for a large real estate company. Over 1,200 people from all over the country (and let’s be honest, probably a covid hotspot before we even knew it). Bougie ass people. I stood in one place with a tray of wine for hours, and then immediately had to serve a seven table section with a new guy who, while enthusiastic and willing to listen to me, had no idea what he was doing. It was the only event that I had cried at in the past two years I had done it. I almost cried at this one (because it just got so, so crazy) but I didn’t! And that, to me, was progress! But now, coronavirus is here to stay. Tightly packing ten people to a table, with fifty tables, and thirty servers weaving in and out of the aisles, touching plates with food, grabbing glasses to fill wine or water, trusting thousands of people to serve themselves on a buffet... none of those things are safe anymore. None of it. Most of these events were not local, they were national, so you’d have people from everywhere. They kept telling us that although all of the spring and summer events were cancelled, that come September we’d have work again... but we all know that was never going to happen. Now the casino I work for has finally come to the hardest and most heartbreaking decision... it’s time to lay everybody off. Things are never going to be the same again. No more banquets. No more cocktail hours. No more weaving through 800 people to get dirty plates out of the room all while listening to rich people’s conversations and judging their expensive outfits. No more bonding with my coworkers in the back while the group is having a speaking presentation. No more late nights and cranky mornings. No more guessing who had the most cocaine in the room. No more wine service. No more uppity contacts. No more pushing six buffet tables through a busy casino to get to the other side of the property. No more five-table dessert buffets. No more giant paella. No more shucking oysters and sliding them down an ice luge into a martini glass. No more silverware rolling quotas in the thousands. No more sweating my ass off while I constantly refilled a buffet. No more waiting for the last person to leave so we could all go home. No more linen. No more BEOs. No more polishing wine glasses. No more endless shrimp. It’s all over. That is so many people out of work now. Cooks, dishwashers, EVS, audio and visual, house men, bartenders, bar backs, and of course us servers and our captains and shift leaders. Do you know how many people it really takes to put on these events? It’s a lot. I knew this was coming, but I didn’t want to think about it yet. Now I’m waiting for the phone call. And I know that one day I’ll find my place again, but I just feel so lost now. I wish I could say I’ve spent the last six months brainstorming my new career path, but I’ve really just been sad. TL;DR: I was a banquet server at a beautiful casino for three years and after a lot of hardship, it became what I thought was going to be a lifelong career. Now I’m being laid off. Edit: If you know, you know. But please remember rule #2 of this sub! And thanks for the kind words, friends.
Hey all. Here’s another post with another person’s ideal additions to the game. And yes, I want bugs to be fixed, too. I just wanted to write up a list of things besides bugs, since we all know they exist. I’ve organized these by categories to an extent, but some of them certainly overlap. Gameplay: * Decisions that affect the game. I understand that can be difficult given the multiplayer nature, but it is not impossible, and very much needed. * Phasing. This builds on top of the former. Phasing would allow us to see different things in certain places depending on where we are in the story and what we’ve done. This was already sort of implemented with Wastelanders and interiors, but it could be expanded upon to really improve the game. If I make a decision that blows up another faction’s town, then the town should look destroyed to me, but intact for someone who did not destroy it. World of Warcraft does this very well. When you enter certain zones, you’re kind of just instantly phased into a zone that is tailored to you and your game. Your party members are still visible on your map, and if they’re at the same point in the story, they remain visible to you and you all see the same things. If they’re not, then they remain visible on your map, but invisible in the actual game and are phased into their own version of the zone. I know the fallout engine is old, but so is WoW’s, and they’ve had to work on it a lot over the years. Phasing was only implemented back in 2014, I believe. * Mail and banking systems. It drives me insane that I can’t send items to my alts, or even other people. It’s also maddening that I can’t access an account-wide stash. Some of my characters have exactly what the others need, but the only way I can transfer it over is by being a FO1st member and then hoping I can log in and out fast enough on a private server to pick up some stuff that I dropped on the other character. That’s not a great system. Plus, think about how fun it would be to RP as a mailman in Appalachia. Just leave some goodies in mailboxes and skip off. * Better Survival. I can appreciate trying to balance survival needs without crippling us if we forget to sleep or eat, but… survival adds so much to the game. We’re in a desolate wasteland, trying to rebuild society while also trying to find edible food, drinkable water, and not get destroyed by a giant mutated bat. I’ve always found RPGs so strange in that they rarely force you to actually take care of your character. You’re just this invincible adventurer that never has to eat or drink or sleep or even hit the john. We have to restore mana, but not our bellies? When Fallout started including survival elements, it made the game next-level for me. FNV was so much harder and exciting when I needed to find food without a cazador killing me every five seconds. FO4 was incredible with all the crafting and cooking and dying before I found a bed. FO76 has the advantage of not needing to save, so survival can really be implemented without making the game as difficult as previous entries have been. Recently, the food and water debuffs were nerfed, which is the opposite of what should have been done. With all of these amazing recipes in the game, there should be a need to eat them. We should need our water purifiers. We should need a bed. We should be weakened if we don’t take care of ourselves. Diseases should actually hurt us. Survival has been one of the unique, and brilliant traits in Fallout as an RPG, and it should be expanded upon, not shrunk down. * Fishing. I’ve seen a lot of people asking for this, with a small amount saying they wouldn’t like it. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to use the feature. Fishing could be so freaking fun. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Action button to cast, action button to reel in. However, with fishing tournaments, unique loot, new food recipes, new weapons, new enemy encounters, and more, fishing would quickly add a fantastic experience to the game. There’s gotta be mutated fish in those waters, and I wanna catch them. It’s always puzzled me that this wasn’t implemented in FO4, honestly. All of Far Harbor was fishy, and yet, there were no fish. We could also have fish nets/traps in our camps; something we can put in the water and use to catch fish over time. I loved the idea of trappers in FH, and this would also allow some great RP. * Mini-games. Holotapes of games that we can play on our pip-boys are cool! It’d be even cooler if we could place arcade machines in our camp like we could do in FO4. Maybe in a future settlement, there’s a casino. Let’s wager some caps and go for it. Got a deck of cards? Cool, let’s play some Caravan while we wait for an event to pop up. * Achievements. I love the challenges. I know not everyone does, and that’s fine. I like having to work toward weird little goals. An achievement system could add to the current season passes and challenges. I don’t know exactly what it would do, but I know that I would like seeing a banner pop up saying that I’ve achieved something, and then be able to show off my achievement somehow with a trophy or something. Obviously, Scoreboard does this in a way already, it would just be cool to have other types of achievements to display. * Better farming. If I can plant a wild blackberry at my camp, I should also be able to plant a pumpkin or cranberry or anything else. Maybe we have to complete a questline to plant certain things, that’s totally fine! I like the idea that certain ingredients and plants are more rare and difficult to attain. It only makes sense that we should be able to plant them in our camp, too, though. * More maps. This one is obviously something that should grow overtime. I know there's hints that we may be able to go to other states fairly soon, and I really hope that's true. It sounded like they will be places we've visited in past games, which is an awesome idea. I would love to see new areas, though! We've yet to visit really anywhere in the south, but there's a ton of potential for the Fallout down there, I think! Roleplay and Combat: * More clothes. I dunno about y’all, but I like to make characters based off a combination of name, outfits, “occupation,” and then their build. So, for instance, a mailman as mentioned above would be wearing a postman outfit (model exists in fo4 already) to fit his theme, and then maybe specialize in thrown weapons. I mean, that sucker should be able to just chuck stuff at their enemies (will expand more on throwables later). But, there’s no mailman outfit. For all the gunslinger fun, there’s really not a whole lot of cowboy-esque outfits. The “western” ones are decent, but the pants look pretty weird on the characters for whatever reason. Some more cowboy outfits would be great. More flannels, please, holy moly. We’re in Appalachia. There should be flannels everywhere. I want to run around as a lumberjack and just decimate people with an axe. There’s so many fun possibilities for characters, we just need more clothes to make more unique looking builds. * Display character names. Please, please, please. What is the point in naming a character and coming up with a story and theme and build if everyone just sees “biscuitlicker42069” in the game??? It makes no sense. There is absolutely no reason to not show character names. If we want to play with people again, we just add them. Still don’t need to know their account name. And, please allow us to rename characters. Other games simply charge a fee to rename your characters. I’d love if this were a free feature, but whatever, do what you must, just allow us to change their names. If we can change everything else on the spot, we should also be able to change their names, especially if their names are being displayed. * Special/perk resets. Let us go to an NPC and wipe everything so that we can easily rebuild characters. My first character was alllll over the place. Now I’m having to spend twice the amount of time I would by just starting a new character to be able to move his build around and make him actually viable. I don’t want to delete my first character. I just want to rebuild him (and maybe change his name). * Give us more than 5 character slots. Why???? Why are we limited to 5???? I make alts on alts in every single game. I’m an altoholic. It’s a problem. But usually a game at least lets me make like, 10 characters per server. Not 5 account-wide. There are so many different builds you could try in this game, yet you’re forced to choose 5. I want my throwables mailman. I want my bloodied chef. I want my junkie cowboy. I want my irradiated barbarian. I want my power armored energy heavy gunner that works in the mines and collects ore in his excavator set. I want a stealth archer. I want a sniper. I want a fisherman that stabs mirelurks with harpoons and a pole hook. I want a farmer that runs around with a flaming pitchfork. I want a hippie musician that pacifies animals but demolishes humans with a guitar sword. I want a character that worships cryptids and only uses primal weapons. I want a bartender that just launches molotovs. There’s SO many things that we could do with all the perks and all the very cool weapons out there. We should have more character slots to be able to try these things out. * Better throwables. As is, throwing knives are great until about level 20. Nothing makes them do more damage. Sheepsquatch quills have poison damage, but that’s it. Throwing weapons are really untapped right now. They could be so much fun. Meat cleavers are so savage, and taking my chef around with a rolling pin, or ripper, or flamer, or meat hook, and then also launching meat cleavers at enemies would be incredible. More perks that improve explosives and throwables in general are really needed to make them usable. * More Factions. I don’t particularly care for the BoS, or the Enclave. I still enjoyed running around doing errands for MODUS, and I’m sure I’ll still enjoy the BoS quests. I didn’t like Paige’s attitude upon first meeting him. I did like Meg, though. And I enjoyed completing the Wastelanders quest line with both of them. Getting to work with these four factions is great. I’m a huge fan of working with factions and even playing multiple sides in my Fallout playthroughs. With that said, it’d be awesome to see more factions. Community: * Hub cities. Crater and Foundation were steps in the right direction, but not many people hang out there. Hub cities would be great for trade and teaming up, and make the game feel more alive. * On the same note, perhaps an Auction House. I love vendors, don’t get me wrong. They bring people to your camps, and that’s awesome. But maybe we could have like themed weekly auctions. You can only auction certain types of items that fit the weekly themes. I dunno. Just a thought. * Chat so that we can talk in a trade channel in the city, or a zone’s general channel, or with our party, etc. * Dedicated servers. Now, I love being able to server hop. But the game desperately needs some sort of structure like this. Being able to hit up your friends and say, “Hey, I’m playing on Rob-Co tonight, let’s all head there,” would open up a lot of multiplayer options, including the auction house as mentioned above. It’d also definitely make clans/guilds more of a thing, which is a big plus. This would also!!!! Really!!!!! Help!!!!!! Server disconnection issues!!!!!!! Even if we still D/C, we can just log back into the server we were D/C’d from! No more losing loot or missing events because we got disconnected in the middle of a fight! Just log back in and continue! (That’s not to say that server stability improvements wouldn’t be welcomed, though…) * Allow more players in the servers. I don’t know if this was a design choice, or a necessity due to the engine, but I really want more players in the servers. Sometimes the maps are depressingly empty, so I server hop, and find a ton of people on a different one. Allowing us to pick dedicated servers and allowing more players on each server would really build an even stronger community. * This one is probably controversial, but, Level Caps. It’s so unbelievably weird to me that we’re allowed to level willy-nilly infinitely. What’s the point of that? Why are there players in the thousands? We never should’ve been allowed to level past 50. I think we should be reset down to 50, allowed to rebuild our characters for free (then pay caps to an npc to rebuild afterwards), and then steadily increase the cap over time. When “expansions” or DLC come out, then we get an increase, with fresh new (or old if you needed an old one) perks and special points that we can add, instead of having to take a point from somewhere else. This is how pretty much every other online game works, and it would make leveling a lot more exciting when the cap increases. * Instances/Dungeons. The game really needs more of these. A lot more. Give us more end-game content. Give us a reason to need certain builds. Give us a reason to need a power armored 2H melee build, a stealthy ranged build, a medic build, a commando build, etc. all working together. Currently, teams are just kind of there. They’re almost never necessary. No roles are filled. It’s not like we have a tank, 2 dps, and a healer. But we could, so easily, and it’d be so, so, so tight. The game has incredible potential. It really does. It is so unique. It has fascinating, deep lore that most of us have been invested in for years and years. The setting is breathtaking, and I can’t wait to see where else we go. However, it kind of scratches the surfaces of survival, RPG, and MMO, without really developing a solid foundation in any of them. I really feel adding some, if not all, of these things would help counter that. I’m looking forward to playing this game for years to come and seeing how it progresses. I played WoW for around 11 years (and will probably hop back into it soon to try out the new expansion), and I absolutely love being able to invest time into games like that and see my hard work go toward something. WoW felt like a second home. Many of us play video games for enjoyment, for an escape, for the feeling of success, for community. FO76 is a brilliant game capable of doing the same for a very, very long time. And that’s a good thing! We probably won’t see Fallout 5 for another decade. This game will be our wasteland home until then, and sometimes homes need some renovations and additions. I may add more bullets or points to this list if I think of more, and will be sure to add a note when/if I do. I would love to hear what you all think, and what additions you would like. I want to thank everyone that works on this game. I know it probably hasn’t been even remotely easy. I know that Covid has probably been affecting your lives, too. I know that at times, it probably seems like nothing you do will ever make the players happy. I know that your passion for games may be weakened at times because of the stress surrounding your jobs. Your work is greatly appreciated, though. You are bringing an experience like no other to us. You are providing these moments of joy. These escapes. The setting for our communities. Thank you for everything you’ve done, and everything you continue to do. You are appreciated.
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