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FIRE and Kids – The cost of raising children in Australia

This post has been inspired by this recent podcast featuring three of the biggest names in the Aussie FIRE blogging community, and the follow on discussions in the Aussie Firebug Facebook group about how much it costs to raise kids in Australia. As all three acknowledge they don’t have kids so it’s not something they really have any experience with.
As someone who has two young kids I thought it would be useful to write about it from my perspective. Obviously my situation isn’t the same as everyone else’s, there are plenty of people who would be horrified with how much we’ve spent, and others who would wonder how we manage to spend so little. Everyone’s situation is different, so what works for my family wouldn’t necessarily work or others.
My oldest child has only just started school this year so I can’t really speak from experience beyond the 0-5yo age range, but I’ll talk through some of the typical costs, what we have and haven’t spent money on so far, and what we’re anticipating in the future.
The costs people actually talk about The first two things that almost always come up when people start talking about the cost of babies are prams and carseats. Yes, you can spend a lot of money on these things if you want to, prams in particular. From a quick look at Baby Bunting the most expensive pram there is nearly 3 thousand dollars, and I’m betting that with a few accessories you can easily get over that mark.
No, you do not need to spend that much on a pram. Yes you can probably pick one up on the cheap from Kmart or Target etc for well under a hundred bucks, but it’s probably not going to be as sturdy or hold much of the gear you take with you. Happily a pram is also the sort of thing where you can pretty easily and safely pick one up secondhand or get a hand me down from someone else.
We bought a Babyzen Yoyo, which is basically a small sized pram although it still has enough storage room for us. It folds up so that you can take it on a plane as carry on luggage, is quite light, extremely maneuverable and very sturdy. I’ve taken it running plenty of times, it’s even got a Parkrun PB of 22:06!
This thing is absolutely gold. Unfortunately it’s priced as though it’s made of it as well. There wasn’t an option to get one second hand because it had only just been released so we had to pay full whack. I think we spent over a thousand dollars on it including all the accessories and the lie flat and sit up seats etc.
It was worth every cent. It’s been going for 5 years and 2 kids and is still in great shape, we’ve never had a problem with it at all. My wife tells me it is one of the best things I have ever bought her, although we both use it obviously.
And at the end of the day a one off cost of $1,000 for us as a family is going to have basically zero impact on when we hit FIRE. Plugging the numbers into a compound interest calculator and using 7% annual return over 30 years I miss out on $8,000, which is about a month worth of returns on my target portfolio. I can live with delaying retirement one month for about 5 cumulative years of having a really good pram that works great for us.
Similarly you can spend a fair chunk of money on car seats. This is one of those things that I wouldn’t want to get second hand because you can’t see if they’ve been broken or not and safety is a huge priority for us and presumably everyone else.
Happily car seats don’t tend to cost that much, you can pick one up for a couple hundred bucks or less pretty easily. If you do that it tends to be one for a much shorter age range, say 0-2yrs whereas I think you can get ones which will take your kid from 0-8 but they cost a lot more. In any case per kid you’re probably looking at a thousand bucks total, and this could easily be a lot less.
Again it’s not going to make any appreciable different to us reaching FIRE. So as easy as it is to point at this sort of stuff as being ridiculously expensive and over priced etc, it’s really not going to make much of a difference to most people. Sure you don’t want to spend any more money than you have to, but you also want to make sure you’re getting something that works for you.
The other one off costs There are also a bunch of one off costs for babies and young kids like cots, beds, mattresses, baby carriers etc. From what I’ve been told you want to buy a baby mattress new, but that’s only about a hundred bucks at Target, potentially cheaper elsewhere. We have an Ikea cot which cost about the same, you could easily get one second hand or likely for free just by asking around your friends who will probably be delighted to get it out of their house.
Some people do co-sleeping in which case you don’t need the cot and mattress although you may like to kid yourself that your baby will actually sleep in their own bed, maybe even through the night. It’s nice to pretend sometimes!
As kids get older you’ll need a proper bed for them, again you can probably pick this up second hand pretty cheap and a mattress can be easily had for a couple hundred bucks. So none of these things are really going to have much of an impact so long as you’re a decent saver already.
The big costs you see When you don’t have kids it can be great to live in a studio flat or one bedroom apartment in the inner city close to all the bars and restaurants and all the rest of it. You can stay in your local area and have plenty to keep you entertained, there is probably a supermarket nearby and plenty of public transport so you may not need a car either.
Once you have kids, it’s likely going to be a different story as your priorities change. It may be that you’re happy renting with kids, but lots of people tend to prioritise stability and security when they have kids and that means owning your own home in most cases. I’m not saying everyone will want this, but a lot of people will.
So now that you have kids you almost certainly want a second bedroom and if you’re planning on having more kids maybe a third or fourth etc. Obviously kids can share bedrooms for a while at least but sooner or later they will probably want their own space, as will you.
You’ll also be wanting parks with playgrounds nearby and somewhere you can easily take your kids for a walk or kick a football around, ideally in a good school district which can add a couple hundred thousand dollars to the cost all by itself if you’re in Sydney or Melbourne. And if you want to live somewhere cheaper but send the kids to a good private school, well that can cost anywhere from the low thousands to multiple tens of thousands per year.
Similarly if you didn’t have a car before, you will very likely want one now. I’ve mentioned before that we drive a base model Corolla which works just fine for us so far, but you’re still probably looking at $20k plus if you buy one new, mid teens if you want one used. If you want an SUV or a luxury model car, be prepared to fork out a lot more.
In the same vein if you were previously going on lots of holidays and plan to keep doing so, well you now have at least one more plane ticket to buy, might need a bigger hotel room etc. As I talked about in this post about big ticket items, that all comes at a real cost. We bought land and built a house, so I can say that we spent roughly $100,000 more on that than we would have otherwise.
The ongoing costs There are also a bunch of ongoing costs for kids as well. They need to be fed, they need clothes and shoes, they need medicine, and a bunch of other stuff that costs money. I wrote here about a bunch of things that we do to keep costs down, but the reality is that you still have to fork over a decent chunk of change.
On top of all that contrary to what you might have been told public school is not free, there are a bunch of things that you have to chip in for here as well. We’re not at the stage that we’re forking out a fortune in extra utility bills etc but we certainly use the washing machine a lot more than we would if we didn’t have kids, there are extra lights and tvs etc on so there are extra costs there as well.
There are also a bunch of extra items that you don’t really need to spend, but probably will. For us this includes stuff like swimming lessons, some sports like AusKick (AFL) and Junior Blasters (cricket), occasionally taking them to a theme park or zoo etc. They also get birthday and Christmas presents, and if they get invited to other kids parties they take a store bought gift with them.
The above is about what I think our 5yo costs us at the moment based on our spending, our 2yo is probably about two thirds of that due mostly to her not eating as much and not getting swimming lessons yet, as well as not being in school or doing sports.
I’ve left the holiday line blank because this is hugely variable. Last year we did a trip to the UK and it probably cost us about $3,000 extra between the two of them, next time it will be another couple thousand dollars more because the youngest one will need her own seat rather being on someone’s lap for the flights.
So our spending for our eldest is about two thirds of the costs quoted in this article for a 6yo girl, I would assume that apart from a boy maybe eating a bit more the costs should be fairly similar. The main difference compared to our costs seem to be education and transport.
Also, it was somewhat shocking to me just how expensive swimming lessons are! This is actually at our local council aquatic centre and is the cheapest in town. We do get to use the pool whenever we want, but that only tends to be once or twice a week at most. At least the lessons will hopefully only be for a few years for each child, although after that we may be forking out for something else instead.
The hidden cost of kids The biggest cost is often actually one that doesn’t show up as an expense, the opportunity cost of one parent giving up paid employment entirely for a while or doing part time hours (I’ve used the phrase giving up paid employment here because looking after kids and a house is definitely work!).
If we say that you’re giving up a full time paid job that’s at minimum wage of roughly $20 an hour for 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year, then that’s $38,400 a year ($33,605 after tax and medicare levy) that the family is giving up for however long this goes on for. If you’d otherwise be earning more than that, then the opportunity cost each year is even higher. On top of that there is the hit to your career and future earnings, because those are definitely going to be impacted as well.
If you’ve got two kids that are separated by two or three years and you as a family want a parent at home until they go to school, well that’s 7 or 8 years of missing out on that money which works out as around $250k based on a full time minimum wage job. I’m pretty hopeful that my wife would be earning more than minimum wage as well so for us it’s even more than that. On the plus side, she gets to spend more time with the kids although that probably feels like a mixed blessing some of the time!
Alternatively if both parents want to keep working then there will likely be childcare costs for the first 4 or 5 years and then before and after school care, as well as missing out on spending time with their kids. Because we haven’t gone down this route I don’t know exactly how much it costs, I do hear plenty of stories about it being $100 a day minimum around where I live and it’s a lot more in capital cities. There are subsidies available for this, but you can pretty easily be spending tens of thousands each year on childcare while they’re young and then once they’re old enough before and after school care.
You may be lucky enough to have grandparents or other family nearby that are happy to help out with this if they live nearby, but that won’t apply to everyone and it’s unlikely to reduce the cost entirely.
The costs that are yet to come At the moment our kids are still young and fairly inexpensive. Between the two of them they tend to eat roughly what a grown adult eats, but from what I’ve been told that will change fairly dramatically as they get older. They’ll need new clothes more frequently, more shoes, potentially play more sports, go on more school excursions, you get the idea.
Education could be another factor. There is a public high school that will be built in the next few years quite close by, and assuming that it’s decent our kids will likely be going there. But if it’s not, then we’ll have to look into private schools which can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands.
There will be extra curricular stuff as well. Given my wife and I are both horrible at music it seems unlikely that our kids will be doing extra lessons there, but there are plenty of other areas like sport or extra educational activities that we’d be considering. I know a few parents who have kids who are in elite sports programs (as in regional or state teams) and the costs here can very quickly add up, likewise if extra education is needed or wanted then that’ll be an extra expense.
Government and other assistance I know that depending on your circumstances that there can be government assistance in the form of Family Tax Benefit, childcare subsidy and possibly other programs as well. We don’t get any of these which is fine, we don’t need them and they are presumably meant to be for those who do. If you’re not sure if you should be getting any of these then Centrelink does have this payment finder.
We did get the one day a week Kinder program for 3yos and 3 days a week Kinder program for 4yos, although these both also came with costs of roughly $1,500 a year so it actually cost us money, again this is fine, just a reminder that it isn’t actually free.
Depending on your employer you may also be able to get parental leave for a while, and there is a minimum payment which they have to make so long as you’ve met some requirements. Some employers may also have some continuing support with subsidised childcare and the like. None of this was applicable to our situation but at least some of it will likely be available for others.
So what’s the bottom line? For us the biggest actual one off cost so far has been the bigger house and land that we purchased because we wanted our kids to be able to have plenty of space inside and outside the house. That cost about a hundred thousand dollars more than we would have paid if it were just the two of us. All the other stuff like a pram, car seats, cots/beds, mattresses and all the rest of it have been maybe $5,000 total, which is tiny by comparison.
The opportunity cost has been bigger than this though. When we had our first child when we were in Hong Kong my wife wasn’t working much anyway as there just weren’t that many jobs she could do and my wage easily supported both of us so she was doing some very casual part time work and so not doing that work afterwards didn’t impact us much.
In Australia though she probably would have been earning at least $40,000 a year after tax, so we’ve foregone almost $200,000 on an after tax basis there. Which as I’m sure you can imagine has a pretty big impact on when we will hit FIRE, particularly given we’ve got another few years or her not being in paid employment at all and then likely only working part time after that. So I would guess we’ll be looking at forgone earnings of at least $500,000 by the time all is said and done, and it could quite easily be a lot more.
The actual ongoing costs of the kids so far haven’t been too bad. Between the two of them it’s about $8,000 a year at the moment, although we would anticipate that this will go up a fair bit over time as they start eating more and getting into more extra curricular activities. I get that this is spending that isn’t a necessity, but do I really want my kids to miss out on a bunch of fun stuff so that I can retire a year or two earlier? No, no I do not.
So far the total costs look something like this. You can see that by far the biggest cost has been the earnings that we’ve missed out on because my wife has been at home looking after the kids and doing the household stuff (yes I do some of it because I think it’s important that we share the jobs and to role model stuff for the kids, but the reality is that she is at home a lot more than I am and does more of it). Buying a bigger house and land is next, and the actual costs of feeding and clothing and all the other one off stuff for the kids is a tiny proportion of the actual cost.
All up I’m hopeful that we can keep the ongoing costs to somewhere between $125k and $150k per child from birth through to age 18, although if private school is necessary then that will push up the costs a fair bit. This is less than half of what this article suggests, so although it sounds like a lot of money it’s actually fairly frugal by comparison.
To put it in perspective, it’s basically spending about 7 or 8 grand a year on each child. There are plenty of people out there who spend more than that on food alone, let alone the rest of their living expenses.
As I said earlier travel costs are on top of this, and this can increase the costs quite a lot! Travel is a huge part of the reason we’re pursuing HIFIRE, and we want to be taking the kids on plenty of holidays while they’re growing up.
That’s obviously discretionary spending to a large extent, but we do have close family living overseas who we want to see every couple of years or so, and it’s not fair to expect them to always be the ones travelling. I would guess that we’ll be looking at about $50k per kid in travel costs by the time they turn 18. That’s about 3 grand a year, which doesn’t sound wrong based on the cost of international travel. It may be less than that which would be great, but could also be a fair bit more.
So all up for the two kids we’re looking at about a million dollars from birth to age 18. About half of that is the foregone wages from not working, which is by far the biggest impact. The actual cost of the kids is about another 30%, then travel is 10%, another 10% for the bigger house and land. And then right at the end is less than 1% for the one off stuff like prams and baby seats and cots etc.
How could we spend less? Obviously there are other things we could be doing instead to keep the cost down. The biggest expense is the wages that aren’t being earned because my wife is looking after the kids and the household stuff. We could have chosen to have her work and instead pay for childcare and after school care etc.
If we did though then she wouldn’t get to spend as much time with the kids (which she tells would be welcome some of the time!) and there would be a lot more house work and shopping that would need to be done after work or on weekends for both of us, we’d potentially eat out more often as it’d be more of a hassle cooking meals each night, as well as a bunch of other tradeoffs.
So having her stay at home was our preferred method, and thankfully we’re in the financial position where we can afford to do it that way. Other people make different choices, or they’re unfortunately not in a position to make a choice, they need both partners working or if they’re a single parent have to do it this way.
We could have also gone with a smaller house and less of a backyard. I shared a bedroom with my brother for part of our childhood and we both managed fine. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly doable, and we could have saved a lot of money by having a smaller house. Again we chose not to because we wanted a bigger house and a decent sized backyard for them to be able to run around in and we can afford it.
We don’t have to travel, although it’d be a bit rough expecting family to travel overseas to see us every year or two and then not reciprocating. Still, that would save a fair amount of money.
It’s pretty hard to say how things will work out with the actual costs of raising the kids. I know roughly what we’ve spent so far, but it’s pretty difficult to know what we’ll be spending in future as they get older. They’re likely to be eating a fair bit more food, s they grow they’ll need new clothes and shoes, they’ll presumably be playing sport and doing other extra curricular stuff which will all cost money.
$150k per kid from 0 to 18 seems like it’s a lot less than what it costs most people, but then we already live a fair bit more cheaply than most others so maybe it’s about right.
At the end of the day we’re happy with the choices that we’ve made so far, but there has certainly been some room to have spent less money than what we have, or to have had more money coming in through both of us being in paid employment. Obviously it has an impact on when we will hit our FIRE number, but I’d rather take a little bit longer to get there than to make different tradeoffs along the way.
Have you got kids or are thinking about having them? How do you think it will impact on your FIRE journey?
Original post with pretty charts, pictures, tables etc is here.
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Memorial Tournament Preview Blog

Since Riggs, Trent, and Frankie have turned their golf positions at Barstool into less blogging and more playing with themselves and selling $50 cases of soda, I decided to take a dull, butter knife stab at a preview blog for this weekend’s Memorial Tournament.
Last Week
Real quick let’s talk about how much we should all hate the PGA after Sunday’s off-air debacle, and then about some questionable feature groups this week. For weather reasons on Sunday, the Workday final round tee times were moved up so players could finish before incoming storms. Great, that all makes sense. But somehow the PGA was not able to broadcast the round on TV, and when they did have to kill the live broadcast, they didn’t even mention where to go watch the rest of the tournament. THERE ARE NO OTHER FUCKING SPORTS ON, WHAT COULD CBS HAVE MADE PRIORITY OVER THIS FINAL ROUND? No seriously, someone please tell me because I would love to know what aired on CBS from 11 am to 3 pm instead of live sports. Can we also talk about how terrible the Thursday/Friday coverage is every weekend on all networks? You usually get 2-4 featured groups you can stream online from 9-3 (even these groups you often need NBC Sports Gold to watch), and then get maybe 3 hours of full coverage in a TV broadcast. There is legitimately a channel called the Golf Channel, who are airing a shitty preview/talk show while you are missing coverage. Here’s a fucking mad idea - put live golf on the golf channel before the major networks get prime coverage.
Then we got a look yesterday at the featured groups for the Memorial. How do you fuck this up? If you are younger than 70 and even sporadically watch golf, you could do this job better than whoever does it for the PGA. Here’s the formula: Brooks Koepka makes a joke about Bryson Dechambeau using steroids one week ago = you put them in the same group. Golf has so little drama because all these guys are friends and making millions of dollars even when they aren’t winning. Fans need these storylines/rivalries to be buffed up, not ignored because they might hurt Bryson's feelings.
This Week
As far as a course preview, we get a strange twist this week with the players coming back to Muirfield, who just hosted the Workday Charity Tournament. I’ve been watching golf for a long ass time and cannot remember the last time this happened, but it’s not a major headline at all so maybe this does happen on occasion. Either way the setup this weekend will look different than last weekend, with much faster greens, thicker rough, and some changes in tee box locations. I think we see some youngeinexperienced players struggle with the change in green speeds, especially since they just played these same greens and they were rolling like carpet (stimpmeter will go from 11 to 13.5). My gut tells me the winner is either a veteran or someone who didn’t play here last week. This would rule out guys like Hovland, Burns, Merritt, Niemann, etc.
Finally, we have to mention that Eldrick Tiger Woods returns to the field this week. I’m looking at his +2000 odds and hate the value because we have no idea where his game is at right now. That being said, Tiger has won the Memorial five times and placed T9 last year, and T23 the year before. I will root for Tiger to win every tournament he enters, but I won’t look at a future for him at these low odds, and for his first post-break golf since The Match.
Now let’s go over wagers this weekend and what you should look for. I am usually not a fan of betting on outright winners, before any golf has been played. The odds always look so good but you will rarely have a profitable year trying to bet winners every week. That being said, here are some of the best value picks IMO.








My pick: once again reiterating I will likely not bet on a Sunday winner before Thursday starts, but if I was I would put my money on Justin Rose +4500 or Xander Schauffele +2500.
Thursday Matchups
Easily the best way to bet on golf, and in my experience the most profitable. Here are a few picks I’ll be making before Thursday. Currently I am 4-2 betting matchups (last 4 PGA events) and I’ll track my picks moving forward. If I get to Jack Mac or Reags level of bad betting, I promise I’ll retire and not pretend I know what I’m talking about. I’m only going to pick matchups in the featured groups for Thursday. Nothing worse than betting on someone like Marc Leishman, and having to refresh the golf cast simulator thing instead of watching live play.
Dechambeau (-115) over Thomas (-105): everything is so planned out and calculated with Bryson, and his sit-out at the Workday feels like a part of his plan. Fucking hate rooting for this kid, but I see him coming in fresh against JT who blew an enormous lead last weekend.
D. Johnson (even) over Morikawa (-120): my favorite first round matchup bet. It seems counter-intuitive going against the guy who won at this course a few days ago, but don’t forget the major change this week will be how the greens roll. And Morikawa is 150th on tour in strokes gained with the putter. Lock it in.
Take a flier - round 1 leader
I don’t think I’ve ever bet this prop but I’ve also never written a golf blog before so let’s take a shot here. I’ll put a half unit on it as well: Rickie Fowler +4000
Rick's finishes at the Memorial the past 3 years: T14, T8, solo 2nd. In 2017 when he placed 2nd, he shot an opening round 66. I also feel like I see him in the mix a lot in early rounds, but can’t quite put together those low weekend rounds.
That’s all I’ve got. Sorry it’s not funny but it’s better content than we’ve gotten out of Foreplay.
Let’s make some money and blow off work Thursday and Friday.
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Bankroll Management Part I

Bankroll management is arguably the most important concept to understand to maximize your chances of success (or rather, minimize your chances of failure).
Consider this scenario: You magically become a world-class handicapper and can win 55% of your bets on -110 lines. Did you know that with a $1,000 bankroll and flat betting $100 per game at -110 lines, you would go broke ~14.0% of the time after 100 bets? After 1,000 bets the chances of you going broke are a more staggering ~31.0%.
Why does this happen? Despite a positive expected value, you’re betting too much. And this gives you a high risk of ruin.
Kelly Criterion
With a 55% win rate on -110 lines, the Kelly Criterion states that 5.5% of your bankroll is the ideal wager size to maximize the median return of your portfolio. So, what if we flat bet $55 instead, which represents 5.5% of our bankroll. What’s our risk of ruin then?
After 100 bets? ~2.0% After 1,000 bets? ~13.0%.
Better, but still significant risk of ruin.
Some might be surprised to see any risk of ruin at a 5.5% bankroll allocation. One of the assumptions, however, that the Kelly Criterion relies on is that bet sizes are a percentage allocation of your portfolio and not a fixed amount. Among sports bettors, a fixed bet amount is frequently referred to as a bet “unit”.
Bet Units vs Bet Allocation
Record: 72-53 +13.7 units
Patriots -7.5 2 units
Sports bettors love to measure their performance or display their picks as a function of “units”. Most people use it and because of its widespread adoption, it’s easy to communicate between parties. Since it’s become the de facto unit of measurement for sports bettors, it is widely accepted that the best way to practice bankroll management is to 1) determine your wager size and 2) never deviate from that bet size.
Let me explain the risks behind that strategy and why Cleat Street doesn’t recommend it.
Flat Betting $55: Expected Value of 1,000 Bets
We all know how to calculate the expected value, or EV, of a single bet. All you need is three inputs:
1) Payoff of a win (Pw): $50
2) Payoff of a loss (PL): -$55
3) Probability of winning (p): 55.0%
EV Equation
So - if we want to determine the EV of 1,000 bets, can we just multiply $2.75 x 1,000 and get an EV of $2,750?
If you had unlimited funds, then yes. While there is variance around our expected win percentage, our ending bankroll would be normally distributed with a median of $3,750 ($1,000 starting bankroll + $2,750 EV). Without the constraint of going broke, the distribution of the ending bankroll looks as follows:
Bankroll distribution
However, most of us don’t have unlimited funds. We are constrained by our bankroll, so we must account for the possibility that we lose our entire bankroll at some point between Bet #1 and Bet #1,000. As a result, we might not get the chance to finish making all of the bets.
Monte Carlo Simulation – Flat Betting
To determine the likelihood and impact of going broke at some point between Bet #1 and Bet #1,000, we can use a Monte Carlo simulation. We simulated the 1,000 bet opportunities 10,000 times resulting in the following risk-return profile:
Risk of Ruin: ~13.0%
Expected Return: ~4.8%
Median Return: ~ $2,645
Expected Portfolio ROI: ~265%
Without the benefit of an unlimited bankroll, the risk of ruin decreases our EV by nearly 5%, decreasing from $2,750 to ~$2,645. Starting with a bankroll of $1,000, our median ending bankroll is ~$3,645 but has a distribution as displayed below:
Ending Bankroll Distribution
Bet Allocation of 5.5%: Expected Value of 1,000 Bets
When you bet a percentage of your bankroll, the expected value calculation changes a bit. Your payoff outcomes are now framed as a percentage:
1) Payoff of a win (Pw): 5.0%
2) Payoff of a loss (PL): -5.5%
3) Probability of winning (p): 55.0%
EV Equation
To determine the EV of 1,000 bets, however, we cannot just multiply 0.275% x 1,000 and get an EV of 275%. This is because each bet compounds on one another when you are betting a percentage of your bankroll.
Ok – so instead we determine the expected value by saying that you expect to win 550 bets (55% x 1,000) and lose 450 bets (45% x 1,000) and calculate by compounding the returns as follows:
Median Calculation
The above computation reflects the median of the distribution of outcomes as well as the most likely outcome. Yes, the most likely outcome is that you win exactly 550 games, which would generate returns of $2,967. However, this scenario happens only 2.54% of the time. [1] The rest of the time, you either win more than 550 games or less than 550 games.
[1] Binomial probability inputs: Prob (Success): 55%, Num. Trials 1,000, Num. Successes, 550.
Binomial Probability Calculator
We get the following risk-return profile:
Risk of Ruin: 0.0%
Expected Return: 5.0%
Median Return: $2,967
Expected Portfolio ROI: ~297%
“So you’re telling me, I have no chance of losing my entire bankroll, and I can increase my EV? That sounds too good to be true.”
You’re right – the above metrics are true, but they don’t tell the whole story. Although the risk of ruin is zero, there are many scenarios where you could still walk away a loser. To properly assess, we need to take a closer look at the distribution of outcomes.
Lognormal Distribution
The returns generated by using a bet allocation bankroll management strategy follow a lognormal distribution. A lognormal distribution is frequently used to describe the price of financial assets and effectively states that 1) the lowest that your bankroll can go is zero, and 2) your returns have a long-tail to the right.
Visually, the distribution of the ending bankroll after 1,000 bets looks odd when plotted on a linear scale:
‍5.5% Bet Allocation - Linear Scale
When plotted on a logarithmic scale, however the distribution appears normal (hence the name “lognormal”):
5.5% Bet Allocation - Logarithmic Scale
As you can see in the distribution above, there are scenarios where you still walk away a loser after 1,000 bets. In fact, betting 5.5% of your bankroll in this scenario will lead you to losing money approximately 20 percent of the time. To properly assess the risk-return profile, we’ll have to take a deeper look at the full distribution of outcomes in Part II.
What we’ll find is that although the Kelly Criterion is a betting strategy that maximizes median wealth in the long run, there are still considerable risks that may not make it ideal for most bettors. An underlying assumption is that it requires you to know your true win probability, which is impossible. In Part II, we explore Kelly Criterion in further depth and show how you can use the same principles to tailor a bankroll management strategy that better fits your risk appetite.
Bankroll Management Part II will be posted tomorrow
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Top Ten Greatest Male Players in Challenge History - No. 4 - C.T. Tamburello

Honorable Mentions - Abram, Dan S., Jamie, Mike M., Theo V., Turbo, Wes
No. 10 - Alton Williams (Real World: Las Vegas)
No. 9 - Mark Long (Road Rules: USA - The First Adventure)
No. 8 - Darrell Taylor (Road Rules: Campus Crawl)
No. 7 - Derrick Kosinski (Road Rules: X-Treme)
No. 6 - Kenny Santucci (Fresh Meat)
No. 5 - Evan Starkman (Fresh Meat)
No. 4 - C.T. Tamburello (Real World: Paris)
 
C.T. carrying the Johnny Bananas backpack is the greatest highlight ever recorded in Challenge history.
 
Before the backpack moment, we hadn’t seen C.T. in three years. He was rumored to be forever banned after almost killing Adam King on the Duel II. On Cutthroat, when T.J. announced the heavy hitters twist and C.T. came walking out the dark, challenge fans all around the world were not prepared for what they were about to witness. C.T. was finally let out of his cage and Johnny Bananas became absolute prey.
 
If there were ever to be a logo for the Challenge, a visual image of the C.T.-Bananas backpack moment would be it. Picture this: Replace the Jerry West silhouette in the red and blue NBA logo with a white silhouette of C.T. mid power-walk and Bananas in the back of him imitating a backpack. Then, replace “NBA” with “MTV”. Now, you got your MTV Challenge logo. C.T. being at the front and center of a hypothetical challenge sports logo makes perfect sense considering C.T.’s athletic performances changed the landscape of the Challenge from a regular game show to the series becoming known as America’s Fifth Sport.
 
C.T. is the Peyton Manning of the Challenge.
 
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in the history of the NFL. C.T. is the greatest regular-season competitor in the history of the Challenge.
 
Peyton Manning only has two Superbowls (and won his second one in his final season in the NFL, while being a shell of his former self). C.T. has three championships (and won his final one while being in his worst physical shape ever).
 
Both, Peyton Manning and C.T.’s regular-season career numbers lead you to believe that they should have had twice as much championships than what they currently have. However, their own blunders (C.T.’s boneheaded mistakes and gassing out right before the finish line on the Exes 2 final = Peyton’s choking) throughout their careers hold them back from reaching extreme success in the post-season.
 
To continue this comparison, Johnny Bananas is Tom Brady (6 championships). C.T. is the more natural athlete and talented challenger between him and Bananas, but Bananas has had the better legacy (Peyton’s the more talented QB between him and Brady, but Brady accomplished a greater legacy).
 
C.T. has seven of the greatest regular season competitive performances that didn’t result in championships.
 
The Inferno: In C.T.’s rookie debut, the higher end competition consisted of Abram, Darrell, Mike Mizanin, Shane and Timmy. C.T. won 4 life shields. C.T. led all the males in life shields and actually won more life shields than the higher end competition as one whole collective (Darrell, Mike Mizanin, and Timmy each won one life shield, totaling up to 3). C.T. was the best performer of the season as a rookie. He made the final challenge, but his Real World team lost to Road Rules in a close race.
 
Inferno II: C.T. was the life shield king. He racked up 6 life shields this season in one of the most competitive male casts to ever be assembled in Challenge history. C.T. led the season in life shields again, Landon came in 2nd with four, Mike in 3rd with three, and Derrick came in 4th with two. C.T. made the final, but he and the final remaining Bad Asses got blown out the water in a triathlon.
 
The Duel: C.T. won three missions and landed in the top 2 seven times. In C.T.’s third season, he was the second best competitor behind Evan, who won six missions (but half of them were due to having the superior partner in Jodi in comparison to C.T. having Diem). Despite being a top 2 performer, C.T. got disqualified against Brad in the final male duel and didn’t make it into the post-season.
 
Gauntlet III: C.T. was co-captain of one of the most dominant regular season teams ever, the G3 Veterans. C.T. was either the best or second best athlete on the team (along with Evan, the other team captain). C.T.’s performance in Piñata Pit (which I delve into later) proved what a freak of nature of a competitor C.T. was.
 
Rivals: C.T. managed to win two missions and landed in the top three overall six times with an average partner (Adam). Rivals C.T. was the scariest. The whole season was based around J.E.K. and friends trying to take him out, because he was such a force to be reckoned with. C.T. lost right before the final because of Adam’s performance in the T-Bone elimination.
 
Exes: C.T. and Diem won two out of eight missions, only second to Bananas and Camila’s three. C.T. and Diem made the final, but got second place. C.T. and Diem had the lead the whole final, but C.T. collapsed moments before the finish line.
 
Dirty Thirty: C.T. was competing in his 11th season and still putting up the best scoring numbers in one of the toughest male casts ever assembled. C.T. won 6 missions. That’s the most out of all males on Dirty Thirty (Not a single other player won 5, Hunter won 4, Nelson and Leroy won 3, and the rest have 2 or less). C.T. made the final on D30, but got third place because his gas tank can’t keep up with the other two finalists.
 
C.T.’s ATG Physical Strength, Aggression, and Athleticism is the most lethal combination in Challenge history.
 
If the Challenge were to ever have a Madden-esque video game, C.T.’s player rating regarding his athleticism and strength would look something like: STR: 99. SPE: 99. AGI: 99. A prime C.T. was a cheat code. The Bananas Backpack moment attests to this. Below are some other missions and eliminations where C.T.’s strength and athleticism proved to us he was of a different breed.
 
In Piñata Pit (G3), players from both teams had to jump in a mud pit, retrieve a ball, and return it to the starting line. The mission was played in rounds. Each round, there were fewer balls than there were players. Players were getting eliminated round-by-round. The game of Piñata Pit came down to the two best players on each team, Veteran C.T. and Rookie Derek McCray. You’re probably reading this wondering who Derek McCray is. I don’t blame you. Let me give you some background information on him. The moment Derek M. first stepped into the Challenge, he was immediately viewed as a competition threat, even with no performance log to back for it. Derek M. came into the Gauntlet 3 with instant respect, based off the fact that he had been recruited by more than 200 colleges for his football talent. Considering Piñata Pit contained all the aspects of a game of football: running, tackling, stripping a ball away from an opponent, and taking it to the end zone, the average betting man would’ve bet on Derek to score and win it for the Rookies. Challenge fans, however, knew to bet differently. When the final round went underway, Derek reached the ball first, but C.T. was inches behind Derek as he gained possession of the ball. C.T. then proceeded to slam him to the ground effortlessly and Derek literally yelped as he was getting manhandled. C.T, with what looks like half an effort, popped the ball out of Derek’s arms and took it back to the end zone to win it for the Veterans. In Piñata Pit, C.T. basically took the manhood out of a Division 1 athlete.
 
In the T-Bone elimination (Rivals), C.T.’s “Choo! Choo!” train almost killed Johnny and Tyler. It’s the biggest near death experience in Challenge history. I have a theory: We haven’t seen C.T. in a physical combat elimination ever since for good reason. I’m positive that’s a calculated decision by the Challenge Gods, not one that’s left up to chance.
 
C.T. faced off against Leroy in Wrecking Wall (FA), an elimination where both players had to punch through a 30-foot dry wall to make holes to climb up until they were able to reach the bell at the top. First player to ring the bell won. Leroy is an elimination beast; he’s won 8 career eliminations because of his physical strength and athleticism alone. He was no match for C.T. though. Anyone who watched the Duel 2, knows C.T.’s punching power is nothing to be played with. His punching power knocked out a whole wall on that season.
 
In the Flying Leap mission (Duel), players, one at a time, had to jump back and forth from one end of a platform to another that was suspended from a crane 20 feet above water. Numerous flags were hanging from poles located on both sides of the platform. Players had to grab as many flags as possible within a three-minute time limit; Whoever collected the most flags won. C.T. won Flying Leap with flying colors. He was the only male to not land on his body when jumping or not use any running momentum to assist his jumping sequences. C.T. instead showed us his athletic prowess, by setting his feet, loading his hips, exploding and jumping across, landing on his feet every time. Everyone on the sidelines watched in awe. C.T. made it look like a walk in the park.
 
C.T.’s All-Time Great Intelligence.
 
C.T. is the perfect two-way player. He not only has the brawn, but he has the brain as well. His long history of solving puzzles makes him an ATG intelligent male player. Below are some of C.T.’s greatest moments in which he had to put his brain to work.
 
C.T. eliminated Evan in Ascender (Duel), an elimination game in which players had to climb up a rope, pull a handle at the top of the rope, to release a basket containing puzzle pieces. The players then had to climb back down the rope to assemble a tiling puzzle similar to a tangram. C.T versus Evan was the second last male elimination on the original Duel. Up to that point, Evan was the clear #1 best competitor of the season and C.T. was the second. The two best players were going mano a mano. Evan got raddled under the stage lights (got caught trying to cheat), and the brain of the cold blooded killer, C.T. solved the tangram with ease.
 
In the Rivals 2 final, C.T. completed the puzzle checkpoint in a flash that Johnny/Frank fell behind in. Upon seeing the puzzle, C.T. straightaway figured it out because the puzzle was one that he played when he was hungover at a breakfast country club.
 
In the Final Redemption Challenge on D30, players had to read a code that provided a combination to a lock that contained puzzle pieces. The first two players to retrieve and complete their puzzle would return to the game, while the rest were eliminated. C.T.’s competition in this challenge was Dario, Jordan, Leroy, and Bananas. C.T. was the first male to successfully figure out the code and complete his puzzle, and re-entered the game as a result.
 
C.T. eliminated Darrell in Knot So Fast (Invasion). It was the last champions elimination of the season. The grandest stage of them all was set and the two all-time great champions had to rely on their strategical intelligence to win this one. Darrell put up a good fighting effort in trying to undo C.T.’s knot, but it looked like a physically impossible task. It actually was. According to Darrell on Challenge Mania, C.T.’s knots were so tight that production had to cut them off with machetes after the elimination was over. C.T. broke the Knot So Fast elimination. That’s how intelligent C.T.’s strategy was. The elimination win versus Darrell gave C.T. a spot in the finals, where he faced off against underdogs Cory and Nelson, who were fifteen years younger and in the athletic prime of their lives. In the final challenge, C.T. still managed to acquire his second season win and proved to the rest of the Challenge world that the underdogs were no match for the champion of champions.
 
C.T. has the All-Time Greatest Eating Abilities.
 
Eating is such an important trait to have in the challenge. It’s often identified as the most difficult portion of the final challenge each season. Players hate it. We’ve actually seen players quit in the final before because they couldn’t stomach eating disgusting things. We’ve seen C.T. devour all types of disgusting things without looking fazed in the slightest, that makes you question whether or not he has taste buds.
 
Remember the pickled fish soup in the Rivals 2 final? C.T. drank his like he was chugging a beer, while everyone around him was vomiting all over the place. Wes couldn’t bother to even taste his drink, so C.T. chugged it down for him.
 
In the Exes 2 final, C.T. ate the deer head and sheep blood as if it was everyday dinner. When he finished his plate, C.T. decided to go for seconds and helped Diem finish up her plate as well.
 
C.T.’s eating abilities are inhumane. Not only is C.T. known for downing disgusting foods in final challenges as if it were nothing, but he’s also known for winning regular season competitions where you had to eat a ridiculous amount of food (Toss Your Cookies v. Shane, eating the entire birthday cake on Race to the Altar in Exes).
 
C.T.’s first championship and third championships (Rivals II and WOTWII) were social-political clinics.
 
C.T. played his first eight seasons without winning the big one. It wasn’t until Rivals II, his ninth season, where he finally got his first challenge gold medal. As usual, C.T. crushed it on the field, but off the field, in the Challenge house, he played one of the best political-social games I had ever seen. On Rivals II, the opposite sex had control over the votes on male elimination days. C.T. was wooing all the girls, and they thought they were going to be apart of the next love big story on the Challenge. C.T. was never voted in because at least one player within four of the female teams had a fling with C.T. or were falling heads over heel for him on Rivals 2 (Anastasia, Cooke, Diem, and Nany).
 
On War of the Worlds II, C.T. was a member of the U.K. Team. He was apart of Cara’s Cult/The Royal Family. The physical shape C.T. was in this season was his worst ever, so him not ever being considered for elimination by his own team is mind blogging. C.T.’s social game was on a whole another level this season. My favorite C.T. moment on WOTWII is when he turncoats on Cara’s Cult right before the final and saves Tori from elimination to strengthen U.K.’s team for the final. C.T.’s political-social finesse on WOTWII rightfully earned him his third championship.
 
C.T.’s social-political skill, in general, deserves more recognition. Every time I hear people talk about C.T.’s eliteness, people only bring up the competition juggernaut and not the social-political mightiness he’s established over the course of his sixteen season career.
 
C.T. has only done three less seasons than Johnny Bananas, but he’s been in 11 less eliminations. Other than the first Rivals, I don’t recall there being a time where he wasn’t at the top of social structures. He has a whole catalogue of seasons where he was either pulling strings from the top or aligning with the biggest playmakers that were ones doing the pulling (i.e: Inferno 2 – CT was in a four person alliance with Derrick/Brad/Darrell where there duties were to not nominate each other in the inferno selections; The Duel – CT/Evan/Derrick/Brad each were paired with the best athletic girls and controlled the chain selections; Exes 2 – in an alliance with Mark/Robin, Johnny/Camila, and DunbaPaula that ran the game till the very end).
 
C.T. made history twice on Invasion and War of the Worlds II.
 
C.T. won his second championship 22 seasons after his rookie season. He debuted on the original Inferno, which took place in 2004, and won Invasion of the Champions in 2017. That’s a span of 13 years. C.T.’s Invasion win broke the previous record of the longest span between a rookie debut and championship win, that was held by Johnny Bananas. J.B. won his sixth championship 16 seasons after his rookie season. He debuted on the original Duel, which aired in 2006, and won Rivals 3 in 2016 (a 10 year span).
 
C.T.’s new breaking record was broken again by none other than C.T, just a few seasons later. C.T. won War of the Worlds 2, which took place 27 seasons after the Inferno, and 15 years later.
 
C.T.’s Overall Assessment.
 
If you read up until this point, I’m guessing a lot of you probably refuse to agree with my opinion of C.T. being the fourth greatest male challenger ever. Here’s my argument: C.T. is the greatest Challenge talent ever, but he doesn’t have the greatest legacy. Like mentioned earlier, he’s the Peyton Manning of the Challenge and I don’t consider Peyton Manning the #1 G.O.A.T. of Football (Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, and Tom Brady fit that bill better). In my eyes, Bananas, Jordan, and Landon are those three guys. The combination of their talent, winning percentage, and accomplishments fair just slightly better than C.T’s.
 
C.T. has just three championships in a sixteen season career. The rest of my top three have won just as much in a lot lesser time (Jordan, Landon) or doubled his wins in the same type of lengthy career (Bananas). C.T.’s temper and poor decision making tossed three years of his absolute prime down the drain (Inferno III, Gauntlet III, Duel II) and his inability to perform in the clutch tossed another year (Exes). That’s five seasons where the ultimate competitor, C.T., missed out on championships.
 
On the Inferno III, C.T. is cast on the Bad Asses; He was the best player on the cast, but he gets sent home the first night in South Africa because he punches Davis. C.T. would’ve been a lock for the final this season, he threw another potential championship out the window.
 
In the Gauntlet 3 final challenge, Big Easy cost C.T. and all the other final remaining veterans a championship win. You’re probably confused as to how this is C.T.’s fault, but he actually had a major hand in letting Big Easy ride to the final. If you go back to the first gauntlet deliberation where Johnny got sent in against Evan, Johnny plead to the rest of the Veteran males that Big Easy should have to go in, because he was going to lose them a final. C.T., who was the leader of the team, didn’t buy into Johnny’s plea; He had personal dislike towards Johnny and his reason for not throwing Big Easy in was because he loved partying with him. What’s the logic in that? C.T., the whole season was preaching about “trimming the fat” (getting rid of the girls on their team) and never worrying about Easy once was a horrific example of how to play a winning game. Prime C.T. was always finding a way to be the author of his own demise.
 
On the Duel 2, C.T. went into cannibalism mode. C.T. would’ve legitimately smashed Adam’s head and ate Adam’s head if it wasn’t for like thirty cast and production crew members successfully capturing him (and then tranquilizing him and putting him in his cage). There’s no guaranteeing C.T. would’ve won the D2, since the top crop of males this season was stacked. But this is an absolute peak C.T. we’re talking about, who’s in contention for the best men’s competitor all-time, so a championship victory is never out of the question.
 
In the Exes final, C.T./Diem lead the whole way until the final run up the mountain. Right before the finish line, C.T.’s tank ran out of gas (mirroring Peyton’s ability to choke in the playoffs) and he delayed winning his first championship for even longer.
 
C.T.’s competitive abilities (ATG physical strength, aggression, athleticism, intelligence, and eating) and his championship success in his career’s second half are sufficient enough to get him into the Challenge Mount Rushmore, but the four seasons he tossed down the drain in the first half of his career are a little too detrimental to have him in the top trinity. I think about it like this: Would I consider drafting Prime C.T. (Inferno - Free Agents) as my first pick when constructing a team in an-all time draft? Nope. He, was easily #1 in terms of competitive talent, but he was a complete hothead with bad decision making and only won one championship in ten seasons. Would I consider drafting Dadbod C.T. (Invasion - Total Madness) number one? Not at all. He’s won two championships in six seasons, with a phenomenal social-political game, but his competitive abilities are half of what they were before. Every version of C.T. comes with a small albatross that keeps him from having top three legacy.
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The Last Precursor 003: The Terrifying Terran

The Last Precursor is a brand new HFY-exclusive web-serial which focuses on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. With his species all but extinct and only known as the ancient Precursors, how will Rodriguez survive in this hostile universe? Make sure to read Parts 1 and 2 first if you missed them!
Previous Part
Part 001
.......................................
Several kilometers from the Bloodbearer, aboard the Assault Ordinance Platform, 'Dragon's Breath.'
Orgon the Unkillable paces back and forth on his ship's bridge. The Kraktol Fleet Commander reveals his impatience as he turns to his Chief Tactical Officer.
"Officer Soren! What have you found?"
The red-scaled Kraktol swivels in her chair to face her Commander. She pounds her chest and lowers her head. "Kyargh! Commander, I have completed my fifth scan. I am still unable to penetrate the Precursor vessel's hull. I know nothing of its occupants, nor its internal technology. The metal composing its body is far denser than any alloy we have on file."
A flash of anger appears on Orgon's face. "Don't give me excuses. Give me results! I called off the attack on Tarus II for the sake of capturing that errant vessel. If we don't obtain that Precursor stealth craft, the Thülvik will have my head!"
Behind Orgon, a slightly shorter Kraktol with bright yellow scales approaches him.
"Commander."
Orgon turns to look at the newcomer. "First Officer Megla. Tell me you have good news."
His first officer nods. "I have calculated the age of the unknown Juggernaut-class Precursor ship. The scorch marks lining its shell appear both numerous and ancient. Preliminary readings show it has resided within this nebula for tens of millions of years."
The Fleet Commander cocks his head. "Tens of millions of years? So... could that mean...?"
"Aye, Commander. I believe the vessel is an unclaimed Precursor relic. If we are lucky, we might have a chance at obtaining it for ourselves."
For the first time in an hour, Orgon's expression brightens.
"Huhuhu... remind me to grant you a medal of commendation when we return. No! Three. Haha. This news is most fortuitous, indeed!"
A gleam of greed appears in Orgon's eyes. He falls silent as his thoughts turn inward.
Such an advanced piece of Precursor technology... if I obtain it, the Thülvik will surely promote me to the highest rank! Perhaps she shall even take me for her mate! Huhuhu...
After a moment, Orgon frowns.
No. Aren't I thinking too small? The Juggernaut warship is a thousand times more incredible than our best vessels. If I were to obtain it... why would I hand such a powerful and priceless artifact over to the Thülvik? Huhu... wouldn't it be better if I took it for myself? Even in the Core worlds, my might would be uncontested! Those damned Mallali haven't anything of comparable might.
The Commander forces a neutral expression while noticing the look his First Officer gives him.
I must keep such thoughts to myself. If the crew were to learn of my mutinous intent, they might turn against me. First, I should secure the vessel, and only then will I turn my attention toward those worthy to stay at my side.
Commander Orgon harrumphs to clear his throat. "Graugh! Since the vessel is unclaimed, I believe now would be the ideal moment to approach. If we delay for too long, the fugitive Kessu may take over the vessel's control systems. The last thing we want are the descendents of the filthy Sky Cats to-"
"Commander!" Officer Soren shouts, her voice rising an octave. "We're being hailed! The origin source is... the Precursor vessel. The Juggernaut!"
Orgon's words halt in his throat. A sense of unease grabs him, making him turn to face the primary viewscreen, where his officers sit.
"The vessel itself? Damn! Don't tell me the Kessu have already made their move! Everyone, return to your stations. Officer Soren, put the hail onscreen."
"Yes, Commander! Kyargh!"
Orgon's First Officer and the others nearby take to their seats, while Orgon himself remains standing. His crew turns to face the viewscreen, using their numbers as a show of strength.
Click.
The viewscreen shifts, revealing six bipedal aliens, all of them bald on their bodies, except for the tops of their heads. The one in the middle sports fur under his lips and around his chin, making the Kraktol all feel a sense of confusion.
Hm? Orgon thinks. I do not recognize this species. They are not Kessu.
Of the six assembled aliens, five of them wield highly advanced energy rifles, far mightier than anything aboard the Dragon's Breath. None of the Kraktol crew misses this distinction.
"Greetings. I am Fleet Admiral Rodriguez, head of the United Terran Coalition, servant of the Divine Emperor Malathus the Third. Who are you, and why have you brought a fleet of battleships into my space? Are you planning to declare war upon me?"
The bipedal alien speaks with authority, making all of the Kraktol bridge crew feel a hint of respect toward him. His voice does not shake, nor does his conviction waver.
Orgon the Unkillable folds his claws behind his back. He straightens his posture while meeting 'Admiral Rodriguez's' gaze.
"Graugh! I am Fleet Commander Orgon of the Kraktol, follower of the Thülvik. I am unfamiliar with your species, alien. Are you native to this region of space?"
The alien doesn't respond for a moment.
"...You could say that. My people are known as Terrans. Humans, if you like. I will repeat my earlier question. Why have you appeared before me with a fleet of death machines? Are you attempting to intimidate me?"
The Kraktol Commander shifts his feet. Several questions pop into his mind upon hearing the Terran's words.
Death Machines? Compared to the vessel these aliens control, my fleet can hardly be considered a nuisance. Why does the Terran pretend he is at a disadvantage? Damn. What is a Terran, anyway? I have heard of no such species in all my years! Don't tell me some scavengers from the Core stumbled upon this vessel before me! If they've taken over its weapon systems, I won't have a chance at seizing it for myself! The Thülvik will behead me for sure!
Orgon casually raises his palm; the universal gesture for deference. "Ah, my apologies, Admiral Rodriguez! I was unaware the vessel you reside upon had already been scavenged. You see, I am a Rodak of many talents. I was pursuing a group of fugitives who stole valuable technology, when they entered this nebula and stowed away aboard your vessel! I wasn't certain if your Precursor vessel had been claimed by anyone, and now it seems my question has been answered. Might I implore you to hand over the thieves who took our technology?"
Several seconds of silence follow.
Admiral Rodriguez's eyes flick to the side, as if listening to someone else speak.
Not long after, the Admiral blinks in acknowledgment. "I see. You were in pursuit of a species known as the 'Kessu.' Is that correct?"
"Graugh! Yes, you are a very discerning Terran, Admiral Rodriguez. If you would be so kind as to return my stealth-craft, I will be on my way."
"According to information I've just received, the 'Kessu' you speak of have not stolen any such technology. They claim that the vessel is theirs. Are you able to provide proof for your accusations of theft?"
Commander Orgon's eyes flicker. "Hmm... the thieves stole not only the vessel, but many important documents related to its ownership. How about this? I can provide you with a substantial number of Core credits in exchange for the return of that vessel. You see, if I do not retrieve it, I will suffer a great humiliation. As one who is wise in the ways of negotiation, you understand what I mean, yes?"
"Mmm."
The Terran nods.
"Certainly, I do."
"Excellent!" Orgon says, as he clasps his claws together. "I can guarantee you a fruitful friendship with the Kraktol if you choose to cooperate with me today. Additionally, regarding your Juggernaut vessel, my people would be willing to offer a fortune in credits for the transference of its ownership. You need not rush to a decision, Admiral Rodriguez, but I hope you will consider my request! Why be a scavenger when you can live as a king?"
The Terran frowns. "I am confused regarding a few matters, Fleet Commander Orgon. If you would be so kind, would you mind explaining a few things to me?"
Orgon falters. "Graugh. Yes?"
Admiral Rodriguez continues. "You keep using the term 'Precursor.' It might be that my translation interface is not working properly. Would you mind explaining what that term means?"
Several question marks appear over Orgon's head. Is this alien not from a species our translator recognizes? Perhaps 'Precursor' means something different in the Terran's native language.
"Ah, yes, of course! I will be happy to explain. Maybe your people have a different word which refers to the former super-civilization that once ruled the Local Cluster. Most Core-worlders refer to them as the Precursors. They were the ones who created the ships you and I currently reside upon!"
The Terran nods. "Ah, so that's what you mean. Yes, I believe I understand. You mean the species which perished many tens of millions of years ago, correct?"
"Graugh! Yes, that is exactly right."
Commander Orgon shakes his head inwardly. This Terran seems intelligent, but he does not even know the universal term for the Precursors! Perhaps his people are nomadic, merely flitting about from one dilapidated outpost to the next.
Admiral Rodriguez narrows his eyes. "Next, you implied that I was a scavenger. What did you mean by that statement?"
Orgon's internal laughter comes to a sudden stop.
The Terran's cold expression chills his blood, reminding him of the one time in the past he screwed up and pissed off the Thülvik.
Ancient Rodaks! The look on the Terran's face could freeze a star solid! Have... have I inadvertently insulted him?!
The Kraktol Commander suddenly becomes acutely aware of how much more powerful the Terran's scavenged vessel is compared to his. Even if 99% of its weapons might be nonfunctional, the remaining 1% could atomize his fleet with ease.
"...Ah! Perhaps there was another mistranslation! Graugh... what poor decorum of me to choose my words so flippantly! Let me rephrase my question, great Admiral Rodriguez! Ah... might I ask in which way you procured the vessel you currently reside? The Juggernaut Precursor ship, I mean."
The Terran Admiral's expression doesn't change. "That is my business, and mine alone, Commander Orgon. My crew numbers more than fifty thousand. All of them are highly trained, elite warriors. We are not scavengers who obtained this ship through ill-means."
Orgon's scales shiver as the Terran's eyes threaten to bore holes in his natural armor. "Y-yes! Of course. Naturally, I misspoke! Forgive me, for I know very little regarding the ways of your people, the 'Terrans.' For you to acquire such a priceless Precursor ship, I am sure you must have explored far and wide across the galaxy. It seems you would not be willing to part with it for a reward as trifling as credits, yes? Perhaps some form of equivalent exchange?"
The Admiral's reply drains the blood from Orgon's scales. "My vessel is not for sale, Fleet Commander Orgon. As for the fugitives who have slipped aboard, they must have done so under the cover of the plasma storms pervading this sector. I will end our communication here and re-establish contact with you later. If I find that your claims are true, I will consider selling their ship to you for a fair price."
Orgon's dampened spirits immediately experience a full revival. He clutches his claws together and nods politely. "Oh, yes! Yes, we will give you any sum you wish-"
"But..." Admiral Rodriguez says, cutting off the Kraktol Commander. "...If I should find that your claims are false... only the Divine Emperor's command will save your fleet from my wrath. For your sake, I hope that you have not attempted to deceive me."
Orgon's words jam in his throat. He quickly folds his claws behind his back to hide their shaking. "Y-yes... of course, Admiral Rodriguez."
Without another word, the viewscreen turns black as the Terran disables the connection from his side.
All of the crew aboard the Dragon's Breath remain perfectly still. The atmosphere becomes so tense that one could hear a pin drop.
Still trembling, the Fleet Commander takes a few steps back and sinks into his seat.
I'm finished.
Commander Orgon's eyes turn vacant.
If I don't retrieve the stealth-fighter, the Thülvik will behead me for abandoning our mission to annihilate the Kessu.
If I don't retrieve the Juggernaut-class Precursor vessel, I won't have the power to make myself the new Thülvik.
And if that Terran speaks to the Kessu aboard his ship, he's likely to find out the truth and destroy my fleet. He's... he's not a mercenary, nor a scavenger.
The Kraktol Commander's eyes slowly close.
He's a damned zealot. He must belong to a species that thinks of themselves as virtuous protectors of the innocent.
Orgon raises his fist and smashes it against his chair's arm.
"First Officer Megla!" Orgon roars. "Dig up every piece of information you can find about these damned Terrans... these filthy humans!"
The First Officer jumps out of her seat and nods. "Kyargh! Yes, Commander!"
"Chief Tactical Officer Soren! Draw up a plan of attack! If that Terran turns on us, I want a shot at seizing his vessel! I don't care how little!"
The Tactical Officer nods. "Kyargh! I will do as you command."
Finally, Orgon turns to his Chief Navigation Officer. "Gorlax! Send a report back to the Thülvik regarding what we've found! Encrypt it with the highest security! We must keep this vessel's existence a secret! If the Buzor learn of its significance, they might come here before us!"
Gorlox, like all the other officers, merely nods. "Graugh! Yes, Commander!"
Quickly, the whole bridge gets to work following Orgon's orders. As they do, the Fleet Commander leans back in his chair. A look of animalistic rage appears in his eyes.
You dare to threaten me?! Filthy Terran. I'll wipe your whole species from existence!
.......................................
After ending the call, Admiral Rodriguez exhales deeply.
"Is there a problem, Admiral?" Irene, the blond-haired Bio-Entity asks. "Your discussion with the Kraktol designated Orgon appeared most fruitful."
José nods. "Yes. Assuming that crocodile-creature's words were true... it seems humanity has, indeed, gone extinct. The chances of finding some long-lost colony are remote. Additionally, I've learned that the galaxy is aware of neither our appearance nor our proper species' name, or else the Fleet Commander would have recognized me immediately. At the least, someone aboard his bridge would have."
"Umi," José continues, "keep an eye on the enemy vessels. If they move so much as a half-step closer, inform me at once. Additionally, monitor their transmissions. Something tells me the Commander isn't as meek and polite of a fellow as he pretended during our chat. I suspect he'll call for backup, and soon."
"Orders confirmed," Umi replies. "Admiral Rodriguez, I have downloaded the data stores from the Kraktol vessel. Their primitive security measures were unable to prevent my access. Would you like to take a look at what I've found?"
"Later," José says with a wave of his hand. "Right now, I'm curious about that stowaway vessel Orgon mentioned. Why didn't you inform me of its presence?"
"You have only just awoken from stasis," Umi says. "Due to the nature of your hibernation, I deemed the refugees unimportant. The vessel they reside upon is a relic of the ancient United Terran Coalition war fleet. Its fleet signature identified it as an ally, and therefore, I decided it was a low-priority compared to the Kraktol fleet."
Admiral Rodriguez turns away from the viewscreen. "I see. Bio-Entities, please return to the tasks I gave you. Umi, I want to know more about the 'Kessu' vessel. Who are the Kessu, and why were they fleeing the Kraktol? I don't intend to step between two warring factions, even if their technology is lightyears weaker than the Bloodbearer. After all, Ramma's Chosen must never interfere in the matters of other factions. We have been and will continue to remain politically neutral."
Umi's voice softens. "You are the last living member of Ramma's Chosen, Admiral Rodriguez. For the sake of your mental health, I feel the need to remind you that there is nobody left who will punish or reprimand you for doing as you please. As you are the current highest-ranking member of the United Terran Coalition, I do not even technically have the right to refuse orders contradicting Ramma's creed."
José nods. "I know, but keep those thoughts to yourself. I am unable to change my state of mind so easily. From my perspective, I was a mere Private amongst a strict military hierarchy only one day ago. This whole situation makes my mental state somewhat difficult to readjust."
"Understood. I will not bring up this matter again unless I deem it a Priority One need. Admiral Rodriguez, do you have any further orders?"
The newly minted Admiral strides through the Bridge's exit doors, leaving behind the five Bio-Entities. "I do. Pull up anything regarding the Kessu that you can find. Use the information you lifted from the Kraktol and cross-reference it with whatever news you've obtained from our stowaways. I want to quickly piece together the galactic situation outside this plasma cloud, as well as find out how much of what the Kessu and Kraktol have given us checks out."
Umi beeps in confirmation. "Orders acknowledged, Admiral. The requested operation will take me fourteen seconds to complete."
José smiles. "Good."
...
Twenty minutes later, after José has strolled down the Bloodbearer's hallways while taking his time, he arrives at the rear of the ship, its hangar bay. The gigantic open area features five levels of interceptor and assault corvette storage space, with more than 200 miniature battleships already docked and room for another hundred. José steps through the entrance to the hangar and pauses as he glances around.
Unlike many areas José has passed, including the mess hall, the hangar bay appears especially clean and pristine. Every inch of its interior sparkles and shines, making him frown.
"Umi. How has the hangar bay maintained its cleanliness for 100 million years? Are the Bloodbearer's janitors still functional?"
"Affirmative, Admiral Rodriguez. However, out of a complement of three hundred and seven Filth Expunger Units, only twelve remain functional. Five of them remain inside the hangar bay, where they have continued working since the crew entered stasis."
"Hm. I'm not complaining. Better to have twelve than zero. Send a few of them to the dirty sections of the ship. I'll work on repairing the others when I have time."
"Orders acknowledged, Admiral."
With a satisfied nod, José strides along a catwalk some three hundred feet above the hangar floor. Its reach spans the length and width of the entire hangar, with multiple vacuum tubes at recurring intervals for reaching the levels above and below.
"Seven hundred meters from your position, Admiral: That is where the Kessu's vessel resides. Turn seven degrees to your right and look for the arrow-shaped craft."
José follows Umi's direction. After confirming his destination, he quickly strides across the catwalk and stops at a vacuum tube, intending to ride it to the bottom. However, due to a hundred million years of wear and tear, it fails to open, leaving him stranded.
Umi speaks, her robotic tone containing a smidgen of embarrassment. "My apologies, Admiral. I did not realize the vacuum tubes were out of operation. There is a ladder one thousand and two hundred meters starboard of your current position. You may use it to descend-"
"No need," José says, waving Umi's concerns away. "I'll just jump."
The synthmind's voice jumps an octave. "Admiral Rodriguez, I understand that you are one of Ramma's Chosen, but a 300-meter fall will-"
"It won't do anything," José laughs. Without another word, the human swings his legs over the guardrail and jumps off the catwalk. His body plummets to the metal floor below, where he crashes into it feet-first with a clang!
José straightens his posture and shakes a bit of numbness out of his legs. "Hm. I'm a little out of shape."
"Admiral..." Umi says, her tone revealing audible annoyance. "You are the last Terran. Please do not take such risky actions with your life. The effects of extended cryosleep can result in drastic weakening of both your muscles and bones. Had you broken a limb, I would have limited methods at my disposal to retrieve your body and transfer you to sickbay. My assistant bio-entities are presently few and far between."
"Relax," José says. "I'm fine. I know my own strength. I once fought a group of Void Roamers on Ataraxia II, near the Third Spiral Arm. When they surrounded me, I leaped from a cliff ten times this height and survived. Don't underestimate Ramma's Chosen."
"Those circumstances were different-"
"I don't want to hear it. End of discussion. Now, please behave yourself as I introduce myself to the Kessu. I'd like to make a good first impression with our potential allies. We could use some influential connections in this hostile galaxy."
"Admiral. Regarding the Kessu... they are not an advanced culture. You should temper your expectations."
"Oh? Then why were the Kraktol acting as if the Kessu possessed a vessel lightyears more advanced than theirs? Perhaps you are underestimating our stowaways."
Umi's tone shifts to one of exhaustion. "...Affirmative, Admiral. You are... possibly correct..."
If José notices the discrepancy between Umi's words and tone, he doesn't mention it.
Instead, the human saunters the remaining 100 meters toward the Kessu's ship. Once he nears it, he raises an eyebrow.
"Oh? I thought you said this vessel came from the 14th Era? Its appearance mirrors craft from ten eras beyond. Were you, perhaps, mistaken?"
"Negative, Admiral. The Slipstream is a specially designed craft capable of adapting its shape and appearance by borrowing the design elements of other advanced vessels. Theoretically, it could mimic many aspects of the Bloodbearer, given enough research time."
José's expression shifts to one of surprise. "Ohh! An adaptive-type science vessel! I've heard of these! Supposedly, they can improve their programming and adjust their hulls over time to obtain ever-greater levels of utility. Admiral Baruchen mentioned the researchers at Rylon V made a few prototypes during our chats in the past. How fascinating. Well, why don't I introduce myself?"
With a bit of a spring in his step, José strides toward the entry port of the Slipstream. As he nears, the craft's entry bay lowers, revealing its interior. Before José can jog up the ramp, a host of strange, cat-like creatures appear at the top. The Admiral slows to a stop, as do the unfamiliar aliens.
Admiral José's heart skips a beat. These must be the Kessu! I bet they're also the 'Sky Cats' the Kraktol mentioned before. And no wonder! They look like large, bipedal breeds of various feline species from my era!
Slowly, the Kessu shamble down the ramp while keeping their eyes locked on the hulking, nine-foot-tall human at the bottom of the Slipstream's ramp.
As they draw near, a cat with colors resembling a panda, one who leans on a walking staff, raises his paw.
"Nyarr mrow meow prraw?"
A bio-chip embedded in José's brain translates for him. "Greetings. I am Nyoor of the Kessu."
A shiver runs down José's back.
These... these Kessu... they're...
He swallows a lump in his throat.
...too damned cute!
Next Part
.......................................
Author Note:
Klokinator here! I am also the author of The Cryopod to Hell. The Last Precursor takes place in the [Cryoverse] which TCTH spawned. You do not have to read TCTH to enjoy TLP. However, I highly recommend it if you enjoy HFY themes, but be warned it will take some 200 parts to get to the relevant HFY elements due to the nature of the story. (A similar structure involving very few humans fighting against vicious demons that have taken over the galaxy.)
If you like this story, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
Thank you!
submitted by Klokinator to HFY [link] [comments]

Cryopod Refresh 240: Commander Phoebe's Strategy

Phoebe Hiro, now the Head Commander of the Anti-Demon Resistance, paces back and forth in front of six hand-picked leaders of the various warfronts. Her guests sit on rocks set in the middle of the field not far behind the warp-gate encampment's western wall, while all of them face her and listen intently to what she has to say. Their names and ranks become unimportant as she looks at them with the eyes of a hawk. To the Hero's Wife, these people are merely weapons she must carefully wield in defense of humanity and its monster allies.
In the front row sits General Chadwick, Princess Brunhilda, and Corporal Hurent, along with Blinker, the monster queen. Behind them sits Lieutenant Samuel and Elder Skarde.
General Chadwick, Neil's number one. A black-haired Norwegian with a thick, three-inch-long beard. He wears a long, thin black coat, one designed to allow the air to cool him during the summertime, while his navy-blue military uniform underneath gives him a commanding presence. Chadwick's six-plus-foot height, in addition to his giant muscles and rotund belly, makes him stand out among all the others present. In social situations, he is the one who defeats his drinking opponents, while in grave situations, he is the strong and silent type.
Brunhilda, the Felorian princess. A chocolate-skinned, well-proportioned warrior with long white hair and countless white tattoos across her face and body. She wears only an animal-skin bra and loincloth, revealing her muscled abs and arms. As a tribeswoman, her domineering attitude comes not from stuck-up haughtiness, but from two decades of careful grooming by her parents, the former King and Queen of planet Feloria. Having bowed and acquiesced to the demons her whole life, she now sits and faces the Hero's Wife with a grave expression, knowing she may soon perish in battle while protecting her planet's tribes. At the least, she may enable a new future for her people, one where they no longer cower at the feet of their demonic oppressors.
Corporal Hurent, a decorated veteran with several military accomplishments. Her black hair sits in a ponytail, draped over her left shoulder, while Blinker sits on her right. Combined with her smooth, olive-green military uniform, and lightly bronzed white skin, she appears almost like a shorter, more tomboyish version of General Chadwick. Not bothering with makeup, she has a 'harder' edge to her appearance than Phoebe or Brunhilda, yet her eyes reveal she longs for the war to end. Battle is not in her nature, but merely her current call to action.
Blinker, the Monster Queen. She wears a tiny little set of cream-colored battle armor, crafted in advance by her mother two years prior. Her bright red hair contrasts with the white armor to give her the appearance of a cute little Valkyrie. When combined with her moth-like wings, the trifecta completes itself, making her resemble a battle-angel. Blinker sits on Corporal Hurent's right shoulder, the two of them somewhat close thanks to their interactions over the past few years.
Lieutenant Samuel, a hard-nosed man with a violent past. The ebony-skinned soldier sports several dreadlocks and a mean scar going across his forehead. He rests his elbows on his legs and leans forward, a look of intense concentration on his face. Combined with his camouflage-fatigues, he looks ready to step into the jungle and disappear amongst its foliage. Few of the leaders gathered have anywhere near the same intense look in their eyes, a testament to how much he hates the demons and what they've taken from him.
Finally, Elder Skarde, one of several tribal elders from the planet Locklorn. As their designated envoy, Skarde speaks for all the people of his world. His skin appears the darkest of all, giving him a rich, coal-colored hue capable of blending in with the night. Skarde's carefully maintained, short-cropped hair combines with his purple and gold robes to give him the air of a merchant king, one with money flowing like rivers. A peaceful man, Elder Skarde nevertheless sets aside his misgivings for the sake of his world. While he might prefer seeking peace with the demons and forgiving their transgressions, he likewise would never consider rolling over and letting them destroy his extended family. He draws a hard line in the sand, one he will never let the demons cross.
With all six of the most important leaders assembled before Phoebe, the recently promoted Tarus II Commander begins pacing back and forth.
"Thank you all for coming. I'd like to have gathered more people, but it's probably best if you simply relay today's briefings to the relevant subordinates. We don't have much time to waste, so I'll get right down to business."
Phoebe shoots a glance at the walls of the warp-gate encampment, listening for a moment to hear if any battles have broken out due to the warp-gate's unexpected opening. Luckily, everything remains quiet and calm.
"I don't know how long we have before the demons clear out the Core, but I do know they will, eventually," Phoebe begins, as she returns her attention to those assembled. "The question afterward is how long we have until the demons get the warp-gates back online."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Commander, one thing has been bothering me. We destroyed the computers which control the Core's warp-gates. How can the demons reactivate them? Without the Core's server infrastructure, won't it be impossible for the demons to calculate Tarus II's travel vectors?"
The Corporal's question, prodding at the very nature of warp-gate travel, elicits several nods from the other leaders. After all, from what they understand, calculating the relative position of a planet in the vastness of space, its orbital position, its current facing, and the exact position of the warp-gate on said planet should be impossible without a vast amount of computing power to assist.
However, to the assembled leaders' surprise, Phoebe shakes her head. "Our opponent is no ordinary demoness. She is Ose, the Emperor of Infiltration, and the creator of warp-gate technology. Co-creator, technically, but a distinction which matters little in this context. I've spoken with Samantha on several occasions regarding Ose, and everything she's had to say about our enemy's abilities left me feeling shaken and worried. Ose's brain functions on a level far beyond ours, with unmuddled thoughts capable of computing information thousands of times more quickly than anyone else. She is, essentially, a living bio-computer."
Continuing, Phoebe adds, "Further, my husband once used Solomon's Crown to calculate the jump-vectors from Tarus II's warp-gate back to the Core. Kar watched him do it. If Jason can perform such a feat, I imagine the creator of warp-gate technology can do so as well."
The Commander's words end that line of questioning by the other generals. They fall silent and listen as Phoebe continues with her original train of thought.
Phoebe clears her throat. "Ahem. The battle for the Core was over far faster than anyone, especially Neil, first thought possible. Our enemies caught us off-guard with their new, armored soldiers. It seems likely they won't have any more of those terrifying Baron-level bastards available to hit us with, but we should naturally prepare for them. In the meantime, shifting to open terrain instead of the enclosed corridors of the Core will benefit humanity's forces greatly. Our weapons work best when engaging our enemies from a distance. The further they have to travel, the more time we have to kill them before they close the gap."
After pausing for a moment to rifle through her bag, Phoebe pulls out a tiny dime-sized device and presses it against the side of her head, just above her right ear. A small red LED on its side blinks twice once attached, then turns off. Afterward, she pulls out a baseball-shaped mechanical object, then lightly tosses it into the air. Elder Skarde and Brunhilda both reflexively flinch when the device doesn't fall to the ground, but instead stops in midair and hovers next to Phoebe.
"This is my Hovering Personal Assistant. I call him 'Happy.' Happy helps me with all sorts of things, but today, he'll be helping all of you to understand my thoughts."
Phoebe concentrates for a moment. She transmits images from her brain through the device stuck to her head and into Happy. In turn, the hovering metal baseball bobs in the air for a moment before beaming out a projected image of Tarus II's landscape, primarily the 20-mile range around and between Hero City and the warp-gate encampment.
The other leaders watch in fascinated silence as Phoebe points toward a small mountain range just over a mile north of the warpgate encampment. "This location is known as the Sphinx Mountain Range, and is going to be a critically important asset we must protect once the demons invade. How many of you have visited it before?"
Elder Skarde and Samuel both shake their heads. General Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Blinker all offer hesitant nods, while Brunhilda's are the most emphatic of all. Upon noticing the recognition in the Felorian Princess's eyes, Phoebe smiles. "Brunhilda, what makes you so familiar with that region?"
"I enjoy climbing mountains to gaze at the world from their vistas," Brunhilda replies. "Since that region offers a breathtaking view of the distant ocean, I have scaled it numerous times."
Phoebe's smile stretches further. "Did you ever happen to notice the artillery battlement I built there?"
A look of surprise appears on Brunhilda's face. The Felorian Princess scratches her head sheepishly. "Ah, no? What do you mean, Commander Hiro?"
"Three years ago, Jason and I worked together to build several fortifications for Tarus II. One of those happened to be a network of long range auto-cannon installations in the Sphinx Mountain Range. Observe."
Phoebe's robo-assistant, Happy, releases a cute high-pitched chirp. "Beep-boop!"
Immediately, a second hologram appears, one of a gigantic gun more than a hundred feet tall, with three cannon barrels aimed diagonally into the sky. The whole thing rests upon a square turret base, with rotatable joints and motors allowing it to adjust its firing angle and distance. The menacing weapon makes all of the leaders gathered raise their eyebrows in surprise.
"Wow!" Blinker gasps. "Phoebe, you built that thing? It's huge!"
Chadwick stands up and walks closer to more carefully scrutinize the artillery cannon. "Very impressive. Why have I heard nothing about this?"
"Because it's one of my many secret weapons," Phoebe says, a tricky smile playing upon her lips. "I call it a King Cannon. We've always worried about demonic spies in our ranks. Bad actors among our fellow humans and monsters might also be an issue, too. I built these cannons in absolute secrecy, telling only Jason and Solomon. Not even Samantha knows of their existence."
Elder Skarde snorts. "Just as well."
"Samantha will never betray humanity," Phoebe snaps, glaring viciously at the elder. "Don't think I've forgotten some of the hurtful things you said. I'd advise you to keep your mouth shut about her if you don't want my foot shoved where the sun doesn't shine."
Chadwick remains silent. As one of Neil's closest confidantes, he too has no trust for the succubus. Still, he knows better than to disparage her in front of Phoebe, especially given the circumstances.
"Ahem," Lieutenant Samuel clears his throat. "If I may. You mentioned cannons, plural. How many of these have you built?"
Phoebe turns away from Skarde to look at Samuel behind him. "Ten. They function by firing shells over long distances which explode shortly before striking the ground. These explosions release hundreds of iron rods, each one capable of stabbing through even the heaviest armor. No demon will be able to withstand a shelling from the King Cannons. I have several other types of ammunition present as well, including explosive munitions, poison gas, and acid for melting flesh. Needless to say, we must ensure our troops don't get caught in the crossfire."
"And," Phoebe adds, "that is one of the biggest problems we face. The King Cannons are explosively powerful and more than capable of turning tens of thousands of demons into puddles of blood. However, they lack precision. They're a double-edged sword capable of harming our soldiers. I plan to use them only if our troops fail to prevent the demons' advance from the warp-gate. That's why I will now move on to the next strategic point."
Commander Hiro disables the hologram for the King Cannon while Chadwick takes his seat. She returns to the original hologram, the one showing Tarus II's topography.
"On the north side of Hero City we have ten Covenant ships to protect. On the south side are the Pyramids. On the east, we have a mixture of forested woodlands and some hilly terrain. Between Hero City and the Warp-gate Encampment, we have the Horned Forest, with all manner of vicious predators hiding amongst its trees, and the vast open plains where we will most likely engage with demonkind if they take over the encampment. Looking at the encampment itself, we have the King Cannons to the north, Tarus II's great ocean to the west, and finally the southern side."
Phoebe clears her throat. "Here, we run into another problem. Some of you may not be familiar with the southern region, as we rarely go there. It's filled with canyons and ravines deep enough to kill anyone if they should stumble inside. The deepest one reaches half a mile into the planet's crust, so, needless to say, not many people go there. However, it is also home to another of my secret facilities."
"Another?" Corporal Hurent asks, her jaw turning slack. "Just how many facilities have you built?"
Phoebe's smile dims. "Too many to handle on my own, but not enough to guarantee our safety."
That reply makes the Corporal close her mouth and nod along silently. Phoebe continues by activating another hologram, this time showing a massive network of buildings carved into the side of a ravine. The facility stretches far enough into the distance that it goes past the edge of the hologram where nobody can see its end.
"By the Creator..." Lieutenant Samuel mutters. "You've been holding out on us."
"Indeed. This facility is one I haven't even told Jason about. I built it by myself."
Phoebe's casual attitude stuns everyone present. Blinker jumps off Corporal Hurent's shoulder and flies over to Phoebe. "What?! How could you build all that by yourself? That's impossible!"
While the fairy buzzes around the hologram with wide-open eyes, Phoebe chuckles. "Believe me, I did. Don't you remember six years ago, when Jason used to build houses and apartments for people with his Wordsmithing? I created a tool that could synthesize simple square structures out of energy, one which could project and build walls, ceilings, and floors. I built this facility with an upgraded version of that device."
A huge, giddy smile spreads across Chadwick's face. "Absolutely amazing. I never imagined we had a facility like this at our disposal, nor that you would be its sole builder. What is its function, Commander Hiro? Why did you build it in such an out-of-the-way location?"
"It's not out-of-the-way at all," Phoebe clarifies. "This facility's purpose is to create war-machines capable of leveling battlefields, and so I needed it somewhere close where I could send them barreling toward the front lines within minutes. That Planet-Walker I demonstrated earlier came from here, as well as many similar machines. I wanted to ensure we had extremely powerful trump cards prepared, should the demons ever invade. Secrecy was even more important, as I couldn't chance the demons learning of their existence."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Hold on a moment. Regarding not only this robot-creation-facility, but also the King Cannons, how can we train enough people to pilot and control your machines? Those cannons look like they will require countless soldiers to aim and fire them, while the robots you've constructed will doubtless require intense training to use them to their fullest capacity. Have you trained anyone in secret as pilots? Or, perhaps... might these machines be fully autonomous?"
"Neither," Phoebe replies. "The Planet-walkers and other mecha are, indeed, autonomous, but I will require pilots inside them for target designation purposes. Each robot is capable of basic decision-making, but a human in the cockpit is our surest bet for strategically taking out demons wherever they appear. As for the King Cannons, the situation is similar. I will require a few personnel to man them for the sake of designating targets, but their roles will be minor. A bigger issue comes from fuel and munition supplies, which is the next thing I'd like to mention."
Phoebe waves away the southern facility's hologram, returning to the topographical Tarus II map.
"Look here. The King Cannons are immensely powerful, but they are also fragile. Once the demons figure out the cannons' location, if they choose to attack them, they can easily destroy them. I've protected the King Cannons, as well as my southern facility, with holographic obfuscation technology. Even up close, it's nearly impossible to locate the cannons, but every time they fire, the stealth net will go down for a moment, revealing their position. This will make it easy for the demons to find and destroy them."
Blinker nods. "Like Ose's mansion."
"Additionally," Phoebe continues, "the King Cannons have limited ammunition available. I always envisioned them as being supplementary to Jason and Hope's power, giving us a powerful area-attack, but with the Wordsmiths missing, they will end up being our primary suppression device against the demons. If so, then we'll need to establish munition supply lines to keep them continuously firing at all times. The supply line will come from the east side of Hero City up along the northern border until it reaches the Horned Forest. From there, it will continue until it reaches the Sphinx Mountain Range, where the personnel we place can take the shells and reload the King Cannons. At any point, demons might disrupt this supply line, thus rendering the cannons useless. Without ammunition, they will be little more than giant, decorative statues atop the mountains."
Brunhilda pipes up. "So, you wish for me to take control of protecting the King Cannons?"
"That's right. While the number of personnel required to operate the King Cannons is minimal, we will need a substantial number of troops available to guard the mountains themselves from demonic attacks. Think you're up to the task?"
"Naturally," Brunhilda replies.
Phoebe nods. "Good. I have some positive news to report as well, which you all will doubtless find comforting."
She touches the hologram and draws a circle around the warp-gate encampment. "I came up with a temporary fix for the burrower problem. I didn't want them to easily breach our lines by burrowing under us, so I cobbled together a few experimental devices. I call them 'seismic mines.' They detonate when they detect seismic activity nearby. If the Burrowers try to dig a tunnel near a seismic mine, they will perish a quick, explosive death."
Blinker lands on Phoebe's shoulder. "When the heck did you make those?"
"Today," Phoebe says. "Took me about eight hours. I only synthesized a couple hundred of them, and I attached them to mechanical moles to ensure they end up deep beneath our feet. However, given my limited amount of time, I only managed to surround the warp-gate encampment with them, as well as place a few beneath Hero City. Once a few Burrowers explode, they'll doubtless be able to continue forward, unabated. Luckily, the sensors will still give me an idea of where they're headed."
"You think of everything." Brunhilda says, admiration in her eyes.
"I wish that were the case. I'm only human, so I can't anticipate a demon's thought processes. Doubtless, Ose is sure to find a gap in our defenses. Don't get starry-eyed on me, not unless we actually survive this awful war."
Once again, Phoebe points at the holographic map. "Look over here, to the west of the encampment. There are thirty-seven miles of unprotected land between here and the ocean. If the demons escape in that direction, they'll be able to spread out and go around our borders, as I haven't built any defenses in that area. The King Cannons can certainly fire that far, but their accuracy and coverage will decrease substantially. Lieutenant Samuel, I'll rely on you to keep an eye on the western and southern sides of the encampment, while Princess Brunhilda will be in charge of guarding the Sphinx Mountains to the north. We cannot let the demons stake out a safe haven to the west. If they do, they'll likely summon countless portals to the Labyrinth, removing our chokepoint advantage. We have to keep them pinned down at the Tarus II warp-gate, or else they will rapidly overwhelm us with numbers."
Samuel nods. "As long as I get to kill bloodskins, you can count me in."
Phoebe frowns. "Demons, Lieutenant. Demons. Enough with the god-damned slurs."
"I don't care if you like my language or not," Samuel says, his face emotionless. "Bloodskins killed my brother. They butchered him like livestock. Don't preach to me that compassion nonsense. In my eyes, they're all filthy animals in need of extermination."
"Demons tortured my people for countless generations," Elder Skarde chimes in. "We have known nothing but fear and subservience to the bloodskins my whole life. Commander Phoebe, you may feel some twinge of compassion for the murderous wretches, but we do not. We only fight the bastards because of the horrors they've exacted upon us. If you want our help, then you will find a way to deal with our feelings."
After seeing the other two leaders stand up for their beliefs, Chadwick adds his two cents. "With all due respect, Commander, how many demons do you know who are righteous and pure? One? Ten? A hundred? You may have the utmost faith in Belial and others like her, but we do not. I have fought alongside Neil and Hope countless times when rescuing human slaves from the core. Some of the things I saw..."
The General starts to fall silent, only to notice a look of curiosity in the faces of Elder Skarde and Princess Brunhilda, both of whom have never stepped foot in the Labyrinth except for its Core.
"I saw a young man who was half-dead," Chadwick mutters, his voice low. "the poor kid had all the skin on his back melted and fused together. His bloodskin tormentor pressed him against a wall after burning him, then left him there, with his skin stuck to the stone. When Hope found him, the boy was half-dead and delirious with pain. It took Hope fifteen minutes of Wordsmithing to heal the boy's injuries. The lad later killed himself because of the lasting mental pain we couldn't erase."
General Chadwick glances at Phoebe, noticing with interest that for once, she doesn't appear angry at his words. "That boy was not the exception, but the rule. The bloodskins treat us worse than cattle, worse than bugs. They enjoy our suffering. I see no way we can ever truly cohabit with them. Perhaps you might be capable of picking out one or two decent ones, but the rest are all irredeemable, violent psychopaths. We must eradicate them for the good of the galaxy."
Despite a three-pronged verbal assault from Samuel, Elder Skarde, and Chadwick, Phoebe appears unmoved.
"Do you think I don't know all that?"
Commander Hiro tilts her chin up slightly, allowing her to look down upon the still-seated Chadwick.
"I'm well aware of the atrocities demons have committed. I am not Jason, and as such, I don't believe in trying to save all, or even most of them. My husband is a good man. He tries to look at demons as sinners, those who were led astray early in their history. They were born from bloodshed, and so that is all they know. Or so Jason claims."
Phoebe raises her hand and waggles a finger. "I do not think the same thoughts as Jason, General Chadwick. I do not believe demons are necessarily redeemable, but I do believe that they are not irredeemable. That is why I find myself disgusted when you refer to them with such gross, offensive slurs. Not because I think your hatred is misguided, but because as long as we treat them as inherently evil villains, we will never have even a chance to mend the rift between our species. Hate the demons and wish for their deaths all you want, for I will not stop you from thinking such thoughts. However, please understand that we humans must be better than our enemies. We must show them with our conduct that, so long as they own up to their actions and accept the appropriate punishment, we will always be willing to forgive, if not forget their pasts."
The Commander falls silent, allowing her words to germinate in the ears of those present. Blinker sits on her shoulder silently, saying nothing, while Brunhilda and Corporal Hurent stew in their own private thoughts.
General Chadwick rubs his knee contemplatively. "Hrm. I do not fully understand why you so often choose to defend the demons. Perhaps I never will. I merely wish you would not try to dissuade people from referring to the demons as 'bloodskins,' like they deserve."
"'Deserve' is a strong word, General," Phoebe retorts. "From what I've gathered, humanity stomped on the faces of the demons countless generations ago, and they retaliated in kind. Do we not deserve hatred from them as well?"
"That is a different situation entirely."
"So you claim," Phoebe snaps back. "But, if you so desperately wish to lump all the members of a sentient species under one definition, I suppose I cannot stop you. We haven't time to sit here and wax philosophical about our beliefs, so let's just hold off on the comebacks for today. If we survive this invasion, we'll return to this discussion at a later time."
Chadwick nods. "Very well."
Elder Skarde and Samuel both share a glance with one another, revealing neither of them plans to change their minds, but at the least, they fall silent to allow Phoebe's continued debriefing.
"Right. Let's finish this, then," Phoebe says. The Commander disables the Tarus II topographical map, and instead summons a series of images of various soldiers standing at attention, all of them wearing basic military uniforms with T-REX's strapped across their chests.
"I've finished doling out the new exosuit models I prepared in advance. Allow me to debrief you on their functionality."
The first trooper's image shimmers and shifts, adorning him in a shiny silver armor, one which all of the generals are familiar with.
"This is the basic T-REX, a mass-produced model with no obvious flaws that merely enhances the average human warrior's speed and durability to beyond that of a Demon Lord. It also helps with aim assist on projectile-based weapons, and features a low-level pilot-assistance mode capable of augmenting its wearer's dodging capabilities mid-battle. An excellent suit for any beginner, but one the demons have long grown used to seeing."
The next trooper also shifts his appearance, appearing in a silver-and-red exosuit with a few utility modules attached to its arms and waist. The red coloration extends in a cross-like shape across the trooper's chest.
"This is Mark I of the Clinician battlesuit. It has lower strength and speed than the basic T-REX, but in exchange, it features greater durability and advanced pilot assistance support. I designed it with our battlefield medics in mind. We can't rely on rescue devices to save all of our downed troops, so having field medics on hand will be essential to saving as many lives as possible. The Clinician also features several medical devices capable of prolonging a dying soldier's life, including nano-injectors to seal and repair wounds."
Corporal Hurent, one of the more technically-minded of the leaders present, nods appreciatively. "I'd have liked to have a few of those on hand when we fought in the Core."
"As would we all," Phoebe replies.
The Commander moves on to the third exosuit, one with an identical silver coloring scheme to the first exosuit, but with four 'struts' sticking out of its back.
"Previously, we've had to rely on Harpies for their excellent battlefield mobility and flight capabilities. Now, we have another option. The Mark I Hummer is our first flight-capable battlesuit, but I've only managed to manufacture fifty of them, so far. The wing struts on the back allow for limited durations of swift flight, but extended amounts of hovering capabilities. Think of them as mobile sniper platforms, rather than flying assault weapons."
"I can already imagine several uses for the Hummer," Chadwick says, his voice low.
Phoebe doesn't reply. She activates the next hologram, revealing a truly menacing-looking exosuit, one with gold and black coloration, a metal horn on its helmet, and two others on its shoulders. With much bulkier armor than the previous exosuits, as well as a long impaling rod sticking out above each wrist, it looks like a nasty melee-capable battlesuit.
Audible gasps go up among the leaders present, making Phoebe smile.
"This is the Mark I Rhino. Truly exclusive, I've only made twenty of them. Each is a precious asset, featuring fifty percent thicker armor than other exosuits and razor-sharp nanite rods for 'sticking it' to the demons. Advanced cooling capabilities also make it effectively immune to flame-based attacks from all but the most extreme sources. I designed them for frontline usage, improving the power of each of our best commandos. Naturally, I hope you'll be the first to try one out, Samuel."
Lieutenant Samuel grins evilly. "Oh, yes. I'll be able to do a lot of damage with one of those."
"I'm sure you will. Let's finish with the last two suits, both of which you should all be familiar."
This time, the holographic trooper shifts his appearance into a stealthy jet-black exosuit, one with the same sleek design as the basic exosuit model, but fewer 'cracks' it its surface. Most notably, four long, metallic 'tendrils' stick out of its back and writhe around like an ant's antennae.
Chadwick blinks in surprise. "A Spectre? We have hundreds of those already, don't we?"
"Correct. This Spectre is different, though, as it's a second generation exosuit. I'm sure all of you have noticed the odd-looking tendrils on its back. I call them 'Needlers,' and they will be key for maximizing the Mark II's improvements over the first generation. In addition to greatly improved passive stealth capabilities in shadow, the Mark II Spectre can initiate Level III cloaking at will, granting it five minutes of near-perfect stealth capabilities. Most importantly, it now features nearly infinite Level II stealth capabilities, meaning it can remain invisible indefinitely so long as the user keeps their movement to a minimum. It will be excellent for setting up ambushes."
"What function do the 'Needlers' perform?" Brunhilda asks. "They look like headless black snakes."
"More than you can imagine," Phoebe replies. "The Needlers allow the user to scale walls and cliffs, assassinate multiple enemies at once, manipulate tools, and countless other such feats. Think of them as four additional limbs, each one stronger and much more flexible than your arm. They can wrap around an enemy's neck to choke him out, or they can pick locks by deforming their shape... the possibilities are endless."
"Amazing as always, Miss Hiro," Chadwick says, bowing his head respectfully. "If we had these suits during the Core invasion, perhaps we could have defeated the demons instead of suffering such a terrible loss."
Phoebe purses her lips. "Not necessarily. The Spectre suits sacrifice durability and defensive capacity in exchange for speed and stealth. Their offensive-power is also sub-par, making them only good for assassination and espionage. In a giant arena like the Core, Spectre pilots would have perished the fastest."
"Ah. I'll defer to your expert opinion, then," Chadwick mutters, slightly embarrassed.
Phoebe clears her throat. This time, when the last trooper shifts his appearance, looks of surprise appear on Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Samuel's faces.
"Hm?" Samuel says. "Isn't that...?"
"Yes," Phoebe replies. "It's the suit Neil wore during the Core invasion: The Thundercat Mark II."
The final trooper hologram changes to reveal a bright blue, red, and golden exosuit, one with a bulky golden gauntlet on its left wrist. Three Wolverine-like blades stick out of the gauntlet, suitable for ripping and tearing, while the trooper also sports a vicious-looking nanosword in his right hand.
"Another Mark II," Chadwick marvels. "It's much flashier than the Mark I, particularly with its coloration. You must have given Neil one before the battle."
"His bodyguards too," Phoebe affirms. "Neil didn't get much time to learn its many functions, and sadly, neither will our troops. However, I'll tell you right now what to expect. The Transforming Exogauntlet on its left arm is a powerful utility item comparable to the Spectre's Needlers. It can become a hammer, a blade, a shield, or anything you need for the situation at hand. Merely describe a shape, and Centurion will attempt to replicate it."
Phoebe gestures toward the holographic trooper's right hand. "This nanosword is equally dangerous. When combined with the Thundercat's reinforced defensive capabilities, it will allow its pilot to fight on the front lines alongside our Rhino-wearing troopers. Since the Thundercat Mark II is a modification of the Mark I, we already have several thousand of them available, along with the new Spectres. I advise you to quickly debrief your troops about the additional functions of these new exosuits, as we won't have much time to train them in their various intricacies once the demons invade."
After taking a long, deep breath, Phoebe exhales.
"Alright. Let's wrap this up. Any questions?"
Chadwick runs his fingers through his beard. "Do you have anywhere you'd like to station us?"
"Ah! I almost forgot. Thank you for reminding me."
Phoebe re-engages the topographical map and points toward the southern side of Hero City.
"Over here, this area is part of the southern prison complex, where I've created a specialized Demon Containment Facility. We must ensure the demons don't locate Beelzebub and Artorias. Keep them locked up at all costs. Corporal Hurent, I'm putting you in charge of defending the prison."
The Corporal nods. "Yes, Commander. I'm already familiar with their layout, as I took our prisoners there earlier."
"Good. I'll need you to pull double-duty keeping an eye on Hero City's eastern flank, too. The south and east sides are among our most vulnerable, so if the demons break containment from the warp-gate, I want to know at once if they reach our flanks."
Phoebe turns her attention toward the others. "Princess Brunhilda. As stated before, you're in charge of protecting the King Cannons and their supply line. Samuel, you're in charge of guarding the southern and western side of the warp-gate encampment. Chadwick, I want you on command duty for the vast majority of our main forces, particularly between Hero City and the encampment. However, Elder Skarde, you may have the most complex job of all."
Elder Skarde frowns. "In what way?"
"You'll be our final defensive line. You will protect Hero City, especially the north side's Covenant ships. You must ensure Burrowers don't make it past our defensive lines, and that any Warpers get taken out before they can circle around to our flanks."
"I will do my best," Skarde replies.
Blinker hops off Phoebe's shoulder and flies around excitedly. "Ooh, ooh, what about me? What do I get to do?"
Phoebe smiles. "Are you fully healed?"
"Yeppers! Samantha got me all fixed up! Kar's still healing, though. I dunno when he'll be ready to return."
Phoebe's smile deepens. The memory of what Blinker told her before the debriefing, regarding Daisy, leaves butterflies in her stomach. However, for some reason, she keeps her mouth shut and doesn't mention it in front the other leaders.
"That's good. I'm glad we have Samantha at times like this. Well, even if Kar isn't back, I hope we can rely on you for support against the demons wherever they appear."
"Duh!" Blinker giggles. "I'll smush 'em flat! Those big red dummies won't know what hit 'em!"
Phoebe pokes Blinker's stomach playfully. Just watch yourself out there. If anything happened to you, it would devastate Kar."
Blinker rolls her eyes. "Psh. Don't you know who I am? I'm the Monster Queen. I'm strong as heck!"
Despite the fairy's tough words, Phoebe's eyes grow distant. "Yeah. But... be careful. Kar already lost one wife. I don't want to imagine what losing a second would do to him. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you."
With one last, heavy sigh, Phoebe turns to the assembled leaders. "Alright, dismissed. Get out there and make Neil proud. If he's still alive, we'll mount a rescue operation once we survive this war."
Chadwick rises off his rock and raises an eyebrow. "You suddenly sound more confident than before."
Phoebe nods. "Neil always says a leader must look strong for his troops. I can only hope to live up to that ideal."
"As can we all. Words to live by," Chadwick mutters. With a nod of the head, he turns to leave. "I'll see you on the battlefield, Commander Hiro."
"Likewise," Phoebe replies.
The waning sun begins to fade behind clouds to the west, setting on the world of Tarus II and bringing the cover of darkness. As the humans disperse, with Blinker riding on Phoebe's shoulder, they all gaze at the setting sun with wistful eyes.
.......................................
Artwork time!
Basic T-REX.
Clinician T-REX.
Hummer T-REX.
Rhino T-REX.
Spectre T-REX.
Thundercat T-REX
This is Brunhilda!
submitted by Klokinator to TheCryopodToHell [link] [comments]

Made my First Predictive MMA Spreadsheet - Check out it's Picks!

Trying to get into sports betting more seriously, I know MMA is hard to predict, and these calculations could be far more detailed, and are most likely not reflective of the actual odds of the fights, but it is more of an in-depth prediction into how the fighters match-up. I already have ideas of what I could add for more data, but this is a first draft, and I limited it to 16 statistics and assigned values to the stats to create a score for each fighter. I want to put it's predictions on here so I have some accountability for it's picks.

Martin Day vs Davey Grant : Grant (53% Probability)
Karol Rosa vs Vanessa Melo: Rosa (71% Probability)
Raulian Paiva vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov: Paiva (61% Probability)
Marcin Tybura vs Maxim Grishin: Grishin (58% Probability)
Leonardo Santos vs Roman Bogatov: Santos (63% Probability)
Makwan Amirkhani vs Danny Henry: Amirkhani (51% Probability)
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs Muslim Salikhov: Salikhov (52% Probability)
Volkan Oezdemir vs Jiri Prochazka: Prochazka (53% Probability)
Amanda Ribas vs Paige Vanzant: Ribas (62% Probability)
Jessica Andrade vs Rose Namajunas: (Namajunas 51% Probability)
Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo: Petr Yan (51% Probability)
Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway: Volkanovski (51% Probability)
Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal: Usman (54% Probability)

A few things to mention about these probabilities;
Post-Fight Update - 12/13 - A 92.3% success rate. Including I believe 3 betting underdog picks correct with Grant, Salikhov and Prochazka. I used these predictions to piece together a 4 fight parlay, I selected Rosa, Ribas, Volk by decision and Usman, and won with a 4.4x return. Aiming to run this format through previous cards throughout this week to see the accuracy using a larger sample size.
submitted by Loualbino1 to MMA [link] [comments]

The Cryopod to Hell 240: Commander Phoebe's Strategy

Author note: The Cryopod to Hell is a Reddit-exclusive story with over three years of editing and refining. As of this post, the total rewrite is 1,012,000+ words long, and we are all caught up to the main sub on HFY! For more information, check out the link below:
What is the Cryopod to Hell?
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Here's a list of all Cryopod's chapters, along with an ePub/Mobi/PDF version!
...................................
(Previous Part)
(Part 001)
...
Phoebe Hiro, now the Head Commander of the Anti-Demon Resistance, paces back and forth in front of six hand-picked leaders of the various warfronts. Her guests sit on rocks set in the middle of the field not far behind the warp-gate encampment's western wall, while all of them face her and listen intently to what she has to say. Their names and ranks become unimportant as she looks at them with the eyes of a hawk. To the Hero's Wife, these people are merely weapons she must carefully wield in defense of humanity and its monster allies.
In the front row sits General Chadwick, Princess Brunhilda, and Corporal Hurent, along with Blinker, the monster queen. Behind them sits Lieutenant Samuel and Elder Skarde.
General Chadwick, Neil's number one. A black-haired Norwegian with a thick, three-inch-long beard. He wears a long, thin black coat, one designed to allow the air to cool him during the summertime, while his navy-blue military uniform underneath gives him a commanding presence. Chadwick's six-plus-foot height, in addition to his giant muscles and rotund belly, makes him stand out among all the others present. In social situations, he is the one who defeats his drinking opponents, while in grave situations, he is the strong and silent type.
Brunhilda, the Felorian princess. A chocolate-skinned, well-proportioned warrior with long white hair and countless white tattoos across her face and body. She wears only an animal-skin bra and loincloth, revealing her muscled abs and arms. As a tribeswoman, her domineering attitude comes not from stuck-up haughtiness, but from two decades of careful grooming by her parents, the former King and Queen of planet Feloria. Having bowed and acquiesced to the demons her whole life, she now sits and faces the Hero's Wife with a grave expression, knowing she may soon perish in battle while protecting her planet's tribes. At the least, she may enable a new future for her people, one where they no longer cower at the feet of their demonic oppressors.
Corporal Hurent, a decorated veteran with several military accomplishments. Her black hair sits in a ponytail, draped over her left shoulder, while Blinker sits on her right. Combined with her smooth, olive-green military uniform, and lightly bronzed white skin, she appears almost like a shorter, more tomboyish version of General Chadwick. Not bothering with makeup, she has a 'harder' edge to her appearance than Phoebe or Brunhilda, yet her eyes reveal she longs for the war to end. Battle is not in her nature, but merely her current call to action.
Blinker, the Monster Queen. She wears a tiny little set of cream-colored battle armor, crafted in advance by her mother two years prior. Her bright red hair contrasts with the white armor to give her the appearance of a cute little Valkyrie. When combined with her moth-like wings, the trifecta completes itself, making her resemble a battle-angel. Blinker sits on Corporal Hurent's right shoulder, the two of them somewhat close thanks to their interactions over the past few years.
Lieutenant Samuel, a hard-nosed man with a violent past. The ebony-skinned soldier sports several dreadlocks and a mean scar going across his forehead. He rests his elbows on his legs and leans forward, a look of intense concentration on his face. Combined with his camouflage-fatigues, he looks ready to step into the jungle and disappear amongst its foliage. Few of the leaders gathered have anywhere near the same intense look in their eyes, a testament to how much he hates the demons and what they've taken from him.
Finally, Elder Skarde, one of several tribal elders from the planet Locklorn. As their designated envoy, Skarde speaks for all the people of his world. His skin appears the darkest of all, giving him a rich, coal-colored hue capable of blending in with the night. Skarde's carefully maintained, short-cropped hair combines with his purple and gold robes to give him the air of a merchant king, one with money flowing like rivers. A peaceful man, Elder Skarde nevertheless sets aside his misgivings for the sake of his world. While he might prefer seeking peace with the demons and forgiving their transgressions, he likewise would never consider rolling over and letting them destroy his extended family. He draws a hard line in the sand, one he will never let the demons cross.
With all six of the most important leaders assembled before Phoebe, the recently promoted Tarus II Commander begins pacing back and forth.
"Thank you all for coming. I'd like to have gathered more people, but it's probably best if you simply relay today's briefings to the relevant subordinates. We don't have much time to waste, so I'll get right down to business."
Phoebe shoots a glance at the walls of the warp-gate encampment, listening for a moment to hear if any battles have broken out due to the warp-gate's unexpected opening. Luckily, everything remains quiet and calm.
"I don't know how long we have before the demons clear out the Core, but I do know they will, eventually," Phoebe begins, as she returns her attention to those assembled. "The question afterward is how long we have until the demons get the warp-gates back online."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Commander, one thing has been bothering me. We destroyed the computers which control the Core's warp-gates. How can the demons reactivate them? Without the Core's server infrastructure, won't it be impossible for the demons to calculate Tarus II's travel vectors?"
The Corporal's question, prodding at the very nature of warp-gate travel, elicits several nods from the other leaders. After all, from what they understand, calculating the relative position of a planet in the vastness of space, its orbital position, its current facing, and the exact position of the warp-gate on said planet should be impossible without a vast amount of computing power to assist.
However, to the assembled leaders' surprise, Phoebe shakes her head. "Our opponent is no ordinary demoness. She is Ose, the Emperor of Infiltration, and the creator of warp-gate technology. Co-creator, technically, but a distinction which matters little in this context. I've spoken with Samantha on several occasions regarding Ose, and everything she's had to say about our enemy's abilities left me feeling shaken and worried. Ose's brain functions on a level far beyond ours, with unmuddled thoughts capable of computing information thousands of times more quickly than anyone else. She is, essentially, a living bio-computer."
Continuing, Phoebe adds, "Further, my husband once used Solomon's Crown to calculate the jump-vectors from Tarus II's warp-gate back to the Core. Kar watched him do it. If Jason can perform such a feat, I imagine the creator of warp-gate technology can do so as well."
The Commander's words end that line of questioning by the other generals. They fall silent and listen as Phoebe continues with her original train of thought.
Phoebe clears her throat. "Ahem. The battle for the Core was over far faster than anyone, especially Neil, first thought possible. Our enemies caught us off-guard with their new, armored soldiers. It seems likely they won't have any more of those terrifying Baron-level bastards available to hit us with, but we should naturally prepare for them. In the meantime, shifting to open terrain instead of the enclosed corridors of the Core will benefit humanity's forces greatly. Our weapons work best when engaging our enemies from a distance. The further they have to travel, the more time we have to kill them before they close the gap."
After pausing for a moment to rifle through her bag, Phoebe pulls out a tiny dime-sized device and presses it against the side of her head, just above her right ear. A small red LED on its side blinks twice once attached, then turns off. Afterward, she pulls out a baseball-shaped mechanical object, then lightly tosses it into the air. Elder Skarde and Brunhilda both reflexively flinch when the device doesn't fall to the ground, but instead stops in midair and hovers next to Phoebe.
"This is my Hovering Personal Assistant. I call him 'Happy.' Happy helps me with all sorts of things, but today, he'll be helping all of you to understand my thoughts."
Phoebe concentrates for a moment. She transmits images from her brain through the device stuck to her head and into Happy. In turn, the hovering metal baseball bobs in the air for a moment before beaming out a projected image of Tarus II's landscape, primarily the 20-mile range around and between Hero City and the warp-gate encampment.
The other leaders watch in fascinated silence as Phoebe points toward a small mountain range just over a mile north of the warpgate encampment. "This location is known as the Sphinx Mountain Range, and is going to be a critically important asset we must protect once the demons invade. How many of you have visited it before?"
Elder Skarde and Samuel both shake their heads. General Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Blinker all offer hesitant nods, while Brunhilda's are the most emphatic of all. Upon noticing the recognition in the Felorian Princess's eyes, Phoebe smiles. "Brunhilda, what makes you so familiar with that region?"
"I enjoy climbing mountains to gaze at the world from their vistas," Brunhilda replies. "Since that region offers a breathtaking view of the distant ocean, I have scaled it numerous times."
Phoebe's smile stretches further. "Did you ever happen to notice the artillery battlement I built there?"
A look of surprise appears on Brunhilda's face. The Felorian Princess scratches her head sheepishly. "Ah, no? What do you mean, Commander Hiro?"
"Three years ago, Jason and I worked together to build several fortifications for Tarus II. One of those happened to be a network of long range auto-cannon installations in the Sphinx Mountain Range. Observe."
Phoebe's robo-assistant, Happy, releases a cute high-pitched chirp. "Beep-boop!"
Immediately, a second hologram appears, one of a gigantic gun more than a hundred feet tall, with three cannon barrels aimed diagonally into the sky. The whole thing rests upon a square turret base, with rotatable joints and motors allowing it to adjust its firing angle and distance. The menacing weapon makes all of the leaders gathered raise their eyebrows in surprise.
"Wow!" Blinker gasps. "Phoebe, you built that thing? It's huge!"
Chadwick stands up and walks closer to more carefully scrutinize the artillery cannon. "Very impressive. Why have I heard nothing about this?"
"Because it's one of my many secret weapons," Phoebe says, a tricky smile playing upon her lips. "I call it a King Cannon. We've always worried about demonic spies in our ranks. Bad actors among our fellow humans and monsters might also be an issue, too. I built these cannons in absolute secrecy, telling only Jason and Solomon. Not even Samantha knows of their existence."
Elder Skarde snorts. "Just as well."
"Samantha will never betray humanity," Phoebe snaps, glaring viciously at the elder. "Don't think I've forgotten some of the hurtful things you said. I'd advise you to keep your mouth shut about her if you don't want my foot shoved where the sun doesn't shine."
Chadwick remains silent. As one of Neil's closest confidantes, he too has no trust for the succubus. Still, he knows better than to disparage her in front of Phoebe, especially given the circumstances.
"Ahem," Lieutenant Samuel clears his throat. "If I may. You mentioned cannons, plural. How many of these have you built?"
Phoebe turns away from Skarde to look at Samuel behind him. "Ten. They function by firing shells over long distances which explode shortly before striking the ground. These explosions release hundreds of iron rods, each one capable of stabbing through even the heaviest armor. No demon will be able to withstand a shelling from the King Cannons. I have several other types of ammunition present as well, including explosive munitions, poison gas, and acid for melting flesh. Needless to say, we must ensure our troops don't get caught in the crossfire."
"And," Phoebe adds, "that is one of the biggest problems we face. The King Cannons are explosively powerful and more than capable of turning tens of thousands of demons into puddles of blood. However, they lack precision. They're a double-edged sword capable of harming our soldiers. I plan to use them only if our troops fail to prevent the demons' advance from the warp-gate. That's why I will not move on to the next strategic point."
Commander Hiro disables the hologram for the King Cannon while Chadwick takes his seat. She returns to the original hologram, the one showing Tarus II's topography.
"On the north side of Hero City we have ten Covenant ships to protect. On the south side are the Pyramids. On the east, we have a mixture of forested woodlands and some hilly terrain. Between Hero City and the Warp-gate Encampment, we have the Horned Forest, with all manner of vicious predators hiding amongst its trees, and the vast open plains where we will most likely engage with demonkind if they take over the encampment. Looking at the encampment itself, we have the King Cannons to the north, Tarus II's great ocean to the west, and finally the southern side."
Phoebe clears her throat. "Here, we run into another problem. Some of you may not be familiar with the southern region, as we rarely go there. It's filled with canyons and ravines deep enough to kill anyone if they should stumble inside. The deepest one reaches half a mile into the planet's crust, so, needless to say, not many people go there. However, it is also home to another of my secret facilities."
"Another?" Corporal Hurent asks, her jaw turning slack. "Just how many facilities have you built?"
Phoebe's smile dims. "Too many to handle on my own, but not enough to guarantee our safety."
That reply makes the Corporal close her mouth and nod along silently. Phoebe continues by activating another hologram, this time showing a massive network of buildings carved into the side of a ravine. The facility stretches far enough into the distance that it goes past the edge of the hologram where nobody can see its end.
"By the Creator..." Lieutenant Samuel mutters. "You've been holding out on us."
"Indeed. This facility is one I haven't even told Jason about. I built it by myself."
Phoebe's casual attitude stuns everyone present. Blinker jumps off Corporal Hurent's shoulder and flies over to Phoebe. "What?! How could you build all that by yourself? That's impossible!"
While the fairy buzzes around the hologram with wide-open eyes, Phoebe chuckles. "Believe me, I did. Don't you remember six years ago, when Jason used to build houses and apartments for people with his Wordsmithing? I created a tool that could synthesize simple square structures out of energy, one which could project and build walls, ceilings, and floors. I built this facility with an upgraded version of that device."
A huge, giddy smile spreads across Chadwick's face. "Absolutely amazing. I never imagined we had a facility like this at our disposal, nor that you would be its sole builder. What is its function, Commander Hiro? Why did you build it in such an out-of-the-way location?"
"It's not out-of-the-way at all," Phoebe clarifies. "This facility's purpose is to create war-machines capable of leveling battlefields, and so I needed it somewhere close where I could send them barreling toward the front lines within minutes. That Planet-Walker I demonstrated earlier came from here, as well as many similar machines. I wanted to ensure we had extremely powerful trump cards prepared, should the demons ever invade. Secrecy was even more important, as I couldn't chance the demons learning of their existence."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Hold on a moment. Regarding not only this robot-creation-facility, but also the King Cannons, how can we train enough people to pilot and control your machines? Those cannons look like they will require countless soldiers to aim and fire them, while the robots you've constructed will doubtless require intense training to use them to their fullest capacity. Have you trained anyone in secret as pilots? Or, perhaps... might these machines be fully autonomous?"
"Neither," Phoebe replies. "The Planet-walkers and other mecha are, indeed, autonomous, but I will require pilots inside them for target designation purposes. Each robot is capable of basic decision-making, but a human in the cockpit is our surest bet for strategically taking out demons wherever they appear. As for the King Cannons, the situation is similar. I will require a few personnel to man them for the sake of designating targets, but their roles will be minor. A bigger issue comes from fuel and munition supplies, which is the next thing I'd like to mention."
Phoebe waves away the southern facility's hologram, returning to the topographical Tarus II map.
"Look here. The King Cannons are immensely powerful, but they are also fragile. Once the demons figure out the cannons' location, if they choose to attack them, they can easily destroy them. I've protected the King Cannons, as well as my southern facility, with holographic obfuscation technology. Even up close, it's nearly impossible to locate the cannons, but every time they fire, the stealth net will go down for a moment, revealing their position. This will make it easy for the demons to find and destroy them."
Blinker nods. "Like Ose's mansion."
"Additionally," Phoebe continues, "the King Cannons have limited ammunition available. I always envisioned them as being supplementary to Jason and Hope's power, giving us a powerful area-attack, but with the Wordsmiths missing, they will end up being our primary suppression device against the demons. If so, then we'll need to establish munition supply lines to keep them continuously firing at all times. The supply line will come from the east side of Hero City up along the northern border until it reaches the Horned Forest. From there, it will continue until it reaches the Sphinx Mountain Range, where the personnel we place can take the shells and reload the King Cannons. At any point, demons might disrupt this supply line, thus rendering the cannons useless. Without ammunition, they will be little more than giant, decorative statues atop the mountains."
Brunhilda pipes up. "So, you wish for me to take control of protecting the King Cannons?"
"That's right. While the number of personnel required to operate the King Cannons is minimal, we will need a substantial number of troops available to guard the mountains themselves from demonic attacks. Think you're up to the task?"
"Naturally," Brunhilda replies.
Phoebe nods. "Good. I have some positive news to report as well, which you all will doubtless find comforting."
She touches the hologram and draws a circle around the warp-gate encampment. "I came up with a temporary fix for the burrower problem. I didn't want them to easily breach our lines by burrowing under us, so I cobbled together a few experimental devices. I call them 'seismic mines.' They detonate when they detect seismic activity nearby. If the Burrowers try to dig a tunnel near a seismic mine, they will perish a quick, explosive death."
Blinker lands on Phoebe's shoulder. "When the heck did you make those?"
"Today," Phoebe says. "Took me about eight hours. I only synthesized a couple hundred of them, and I attached them to mechanical moles to ensure they end up deep beneath our feet. However, given my limited amount of time, I only managed to surround the warp-gate encampment with them, as well as place a few beneath Hero City. Once a few Burrowers explode, they'll doubtless be able to continue forward, unabated. Luckily, the sensors will still give me an idea of where they're headed."
"You think of everything." Brunhilda says, admiration in her eyes.
"I wish that were the case. I'm only human, so I can't anticipate a demon's thought processes. Doubtless, Ose is sure to find a gap in our defenses. Don't get starry-eyed on me, not unless we actually survive this awful war."
Once again, Phoebe points at the holographic map. "Look over here, to the west of the encampment. There are thirty-seven miles of unprotected land between here and the ocean. If the demons escape in that direction, they'll be able to spread out and go around our borders, as I haven't built any defenses in that area. The King Cannons can certainly fire that far, but their accuracy and coverage will decrease substantially. Lieutenant Samuel, I'll rely on you to keep an eye on the western and southern sides of the encampment, while Princess Brunhilda will be in charge of guarding the Sphinx Mountains to the north. We cannot let the demons stake out a safe haven to the west. If they do, they'll likely summon countless portals to the Labyrinth, removing our chokepoint advantage. We have to keep them pinned down at the Tarus II warp-gate, or else they will rapidly overwhelm us with numbers."
Samuel nods. "As long as I get to kill bloodskins, you can count me in."
Phoebe frowns. "Demons, Lieutenant. Demons. Enough with the god-damned slurs."
"I don't care if you like my language or not," Samuel says, his face emotionless. "Bloodskins killed my brother. They butchered him like livestock. Don't preach to me that compassion nonsense. In my eyes, they're all filthy animals in need of extermination."
"Demons tortured my people for countless generations," Elder Skarde chimes in. "We have known nothing but fear and subservience to the bloodskins my whole life. Commander Phoebe, you may feel some twinge of compassion for the murderous wretches, but we do not. We only fight the bastards because of the horrors they've exacted upon us. If you want our help, then you will find a way to deal with our feelings."
After seeing the other two leaders stand up for their beliefs, Chadwick adds his two cents. "With all due respect, Commander, how many demons do you know who are righteous and pure? One? Ten? A hundred? You may have the utmost faith in Belial and others like her, but we do not. I have fought alongside Neil and Hope countless times when rescuing human slaves from the core. Some of the things I saw..."
The General starts to fall silent, only to notice a look of curiosity in the faces of Elder Skarde and Princess Brunhilda, both of whom have never stepped foot in the Labyrinth except for its Core.
"I saw a young man who was half-dead," Chadwick mutters, his voice low. "the poor kid had all the skin on his back melted and fused together. His bloodskin tormentor pressed him against a wall after burning him, then left him there, with his skin stuck to the stone. When Hope found him, the boy was half-dead and delirious with pain. It took Hope fifteen minutes of Wordsmithing to heal the boy's injuries. The lad later killed himself because of the lasting mental pain we couldn't erase."
General Chadwick glances at Phoebe, noticing with interest that for once, she doesn't appear angry at his words. "That boy was not the exception, but the rule. The bloodskins treat us worse than cattle, worse than bugs. They enjoy our suffering. I see no way we can ever truly cohabit with them. Perhaps you might be capable of picking out one or two decent ones, but the rest are all irredeemable, violent psychopaths. We must eradicate them for the good of the galaxy."
Despite a three-pronged verbal assault from Samuel, Elder Skarde, and Chadwick, Phoebe appears unmoved.
"Do you think I don't know all that?"
Commander Hiro tilts her chin up slightly, allowing her to look down upon the still-seated Chadwick.
"I'm well aware of the atrocities demons have committed. I am not Jason, and as such, I don't believe in trying to save all, or even most of them. My husband is a good man. He tries to look at demons as sinners, those who were led astray early in their history. They were born from bloodshed, and so that is all they know. Or so Jason claims."
Phoebe raises her hand and waggles a finger. "I do not think the same thoughts as Jason, General Chadwick. I do not believe demons are necessarily redeemable, but I do believe that they are not irredeemable. That is why I find myself disgusted when you refer to them with such gross, offensive slurs. Not because I think your hatred is misguided, but because as long as we treat them as inherently evil villains, we will never have even a chance to mend the rift between our species. Hate the demons and wish for their deaths all you want, for I will not stop you from thinking such thoughts. However, please understand that we humans must be better than our enemies. We must show them with our conduct that, so long as they own up to their actions and accept the appropriate punishment, we will always be willing to forgive, if not forget their pasts."
The Commander falls silent, allowing her words to germinate in the ears of those present. Blinker sits on her shoulder silently, saying nothing, while Brunhilda and Corporal Hurent stew in their own private thoughts.
General Chadwick rubs his knee contemplatively. "Hrm. I do not fully understand why you so often choose to defend the demons. Perhaps I never will. I merely wish you would not try to dissuade people from referring to the demons as 'bloodskins,' like they deserve."
"'Deserve' is a strong word, General," Phoebe retorts. "From what I've gathered, humanity stomped on the faces of the demons countless generations ago, and they retaliated in kind. Do we not deserve hatred from them as well?"
"That is a different situation entirely."
"So you claim," Phoebe snaps back. "But, if you so desperately wish to lump all the members of a sentient species under one definition, I suppose I cannot stop you. We haven't time to sit here and wax philosophical about our beliefs, so let's just hold off on the comebacks for today. If we survive this invasion, we'll return to this discussion at a later time."
Chadwick nods. "Very well."
Elder Skarde and Samuel both share a glance with one another, revealing neither of them plans to change their minds, but at the least, they fall silent to allow Phoebe's continued debriefing.
"Right. Let's finish this, then," Phoebe says. The Commander disables the Tarus II topographical map, and instead summons a series of images of various soldiers standing at attention, all of them wearing basic military uniforms with T-REX's strapped across their chests.
"I've finished doling out the new exosuit models I prepared in advance. Allow me to debrief you on their functionality."
The first trooper's image shimmers and shifts, adorning him in a shiny silver armor, one which all of the generals are familiar with.
"This is the basic T-REX, a mass-produced model with no obvious flaws that merely enhances the average human warrior's speed and durability to beyond that of a Demon Lord. It also helps with aim assist on projectile-based weapons, and features a low-level pilot-assistance mode capable of augmenting its wearer's dodging capabilities mid-battle. An excellent suit for any beginner, but one the demons have long grown used to seeing."
The next trooper also shifts his appearance, appearing in a silver-and-red exosuit with a few utility modules attached to its arms and waist. The red coloration extends in a cross-like shape across the trooper's chest.
"This is Mark I of the Clinician battlesuit. It has lower strength and speed than the basic T-REX, but in exchange, it features greater durability and advanced pilot assistance support. I designed it with our battlefield medics in mind. We can't rely on rescue devices to save all of our downed troops, so having field medics on hand will be essential to saving as many lives as possible. The Clinician also features several medical devices capable of prolonging a dying soldier's life, including nano-injectors to seal and repair wounds."
Corporal Hurent, one of the more technically-minded of the leaders present, nods appreciatively. "I'd have liked to have a few of those on hand when we fought in the Core."
"As would we all," Phoebe replies.
The Commander moves on to the third exosuit, one with an identical silver coloring scheme to the first exosuit, but with four 'struts' sticking out of its back.
"Previously, we've had to rely on Harpies for their excellent battlefield mobility and flight capabilities. Now, we have another option. The Mark I Hummer is our first flight-capable battlesuit, but I've only managed to manufacture fifty of them, so far. The wing struts on the back allow for limited durations of swift flight, but extended amounts of hovering capabilities. Think of them as mobile sniper platforms, rather than flying assault weapons."
"I can already imagine several uses for the Hummer," Chadwick says, his voice low.
Phoebe doesn't reply. She activates the next hologram, revealing a truly menacing-looking exosuit, one with gold and black coloration, a metal horn on its helmet, and two others on its shoulders. With much bulkier armor than the previous exosuits, as well as a long impaling rod sticking out above each wrist, it looks like a nasty melee-capable battlesuit.
Audible gasps go up among the leaders present, making Phoebe smile.
"This is the Mark I Rhino. Truly exclusive, I've only made twenty of them. Each is a precious asset, featuring fifty percent thicker armor than other exosuits and razor-sharp nanite rods for 'sticking it' to the demons. Advanced cooling capabilities also make it effectively immune to flame-based attacks from all but the most extreme sources. I designed them for frontline usage, improving the power of each of our best commandos. Naturally, I hope you'll be the first to try one out, Samuel."
Lieutenant Samuel grins evilly. "Oh, yes. I'll be able to do a lot of damage with one of those."
"I'm sure you will. Let's finish with the last two suits, both of which you should all be familiar."
This time, the holographic trooper shifts his appearance into a stealthy jet-black exosuit, one with the same sleek design as the basic exosuit model, but fewer 'cracks' it its surface. Most notably, four long, metallic 'tendrils' stick out of its back and writhe around like an ant's antennae.
Chadwick blinks in surprise. "A Spectre? We have hundreds of those already, don't we?"
"Correct. This Spectre is different, though, as it's a second generation exosuit. I'm sure all of you have noticed the odd-looking tendrils on its back. I call them 'Needlers,' and they will be key for maximizing the Mark II's improvements over the first generation. In addition to greatly improved passive stealth capabilities in shadow, the Mark II Spectre can initiate Level III cloaking at will, granting it five minutes of near-perfect stealth capabilities. Most importantly, it now features nearly infinite Level II stealth capabilities, meaning it can remain invisible indefinitely so long as the user keeps their movement to a minimum. It will be excellent for setting up ambushes."
"What function do the 'Needlers' perform?" Brunhilda asks. "They look like headless black snakes."
"More than you can imagine," Phoebe replies. "The Needlers allow the user to scale walls and cliffs, assassinate multiple enemies at once, manipulate tools, and countless other such feats. Think of them as four additional limbs, each one stronger and much more flexible than your arm. They can wrap around an enemy's neck to choke him out, or they can pick locks by deforming their shape... the possibilities are endless."
"Amazing as always, Miss Hiro," Chadwick says, bowing his head respectfully. "If we had these suits during the Core invasion, perhaps we could have defeated the demons instead of suffering such a terrible loss."
Phoebe purses her lips. "Not necessarily. The Spectre suits sacrifice durability and defensive capacity in exchange for speed and stealth. Their offensive-power is also sub-par, making them only good for assassination and espionage. In a giant arena like the Core, Spectre pilots would have perished the fastest."
"Ah. I'll defer to your expert opinion, then," Chadwick mutters, slightly embarrassed.
Phoebe clears her throat. This time, when the last trooper shifts his appearance, looks of surprise appear on Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Samuel's faces.
"Hm?" Samuel says. "Isn't that...?"
"Yes," Phoebe replies. "It's the suit Neil wore during the Core invasion: The Thundercat Mark II."
The final trooper hologram changes to reveal a bright blue, red, and golden exosuit, one with a bulky golden gauntlet on its left wrist. Three Wolverine-like blades stick out of the gauntlet, suitable for ripping and tearing, while the trooper also sports a vicious-looking nanosword in his right hand.
"Another Mark II," Chadwick marvels. "It's much flashier than the Mark I, particularly with its coloration. You must have given Neil one before the battle."
"His bodyguards too," Phoebe affirms. "Neil didn't get much time to learn its many functions, and sadly, neither will our troops. However, I'll tell you right now what to expect. The Transforming Exogauntlet on its left arm is a powerful utility item comparable to the Spectre's Needlers. It can become a hammer, a blade, a shield, or anything you need for the situation at hand. Merely describe a shape, and Centurion will attempt to replicate it."
Phoebe gestures toward the holographic trooper's right hand. "This nanosword is equally dangerous. When combined with the Thundercat's reinforced defensive capabilities, it will allow its pilot to fight on the front lines alongside our Rhino-wearing troopers. Since the Thundercat Mark II is a modification of the Mark I, we already have several thousand of them available, along with the new Spectres. I advise you to quickly debrief your troops about the additional functions of these new exosuits, as we won't have much time to train them in their various intricacies once the demons invade."
After taking a long, deep breath, Phoebe exhales.
"Alright. Let's wrap this up. Any questions?"
Chadwick runs his fingers through his beard. "Do you have anywhere you'd like to station us?"
"Ah! I almost forgot. Thank you for reminding me."
Phoebe re-engages the topographical map and points toward the southern side of Hero City.
"Over here, this area is part of the southern prison complex, where I've created a specialized Demon Containment Facility. We must ensure the demons don't locate Beelzebub and Artorias. Keep them locked up at all costs. Corporal Hurent, I'm putting you in charge of defending the prison."
The Corporal nods. "Yes, Commander. I'm already familiar with their layout, as I took our prisoners there earlier."
"Good. I'll need you to pull double-duty keeping an eye on Hero City's eastern flank, too. The south and east sides are among our most vulnerable, so if the demons break containment from the warp-gate, I want to know at once if they reach our flanks."
Phoebe turns her attention toward the others. "Princess Brunhilda. As stated before, you're in charge of protecting the King Cannons and their supply line. Samuel, you're in charge of guarding the southern and western side of the warp-gate encampment. Chadwick, I want you on command duty for the vast majority of our main forces, particularly between Hero City and the encampment. However, Elder Skarde, you may have the most complex job of all."
Elder Skarde frowns. "In what way?"
"You'll be our final defensive line. You will protect Hero City, especially the north side's Covenant ships. You must ensure Burrowers don't make it past our defensive lines, and that any Warpers get taken out before they can circle around to our flanks."
"I will do my best," Skarde replies.
Blinker hops off Phoebe's shoulder and flies around excitedly. "Ooh, ooh, what about me? What do I get to do?"
Phoebe smiles. "Are you fully healed?"
"Yeppers! Samantha got me all fixed up! Kar's still healing, though. I dunno when he'll be ready to return."
Phoebe's smile deepens. The memory of what Blinker told her before the debriefing, regarding Daisy, leaves butterflies in her stomach. However, for some reason, she keeps her mouth shut and doesn't mention it in front the other leaders.
"That's good. I'm glad we have Samantha at times like this. Well, even if Kar isn't back, I hope we can rely on you for support against the demons wherever they appear."
"Duh!" Blinker giggles. "I'll smush 'em flat! Those big red dummies won't know what hit 'em!"
Phoebe pokes Blinker's stomach playfully. Just watch yourself out there. If anything happened to you, it would devastate Kar."
Blinker rolls her eyes. "Psh. Don't you know who I am? I'm the Monster Queen. I'm strong as heck!"
Despite the fairy's tough words, Phoebe's eyes grow distant. "Yeah. But... be careful. Kar already lost one wife. I don't want to imagine what losing a second would do to him. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you."
With one last, heavy sigh, Phoebe turns to the assembled leaders. "Alright, dismissed. Get out there and make Neil proud. If he's still alive, we'll mount a rescue operation once we survive this war."
Chadwick rises off his rock and raises an eyebrow. "You suddenly sound more confident than before."
Phoebe nods. "Neil always says a leader must look strong for his troops. I can only hope to live up to that ideal."
"As can we all. Words to live by," Chadwick mutters. With a nod of the head, he turns to leave. "I'll see you on the battlefield, Commander Hiro."
"Likewise," Phoebe replies.
The waning sun begins to fade behind clouds to the west, setting on the world of Tarus II and bringing the cover of darkness. As the humans disperse, with Blinker riding on Phoebe's shoulder, they all gaze at the setting sun with wistful eyes.
Next Part
.......................................
Artwork time!
Basic T-REX.
Clinician T-REX.
Hummer T-REX.
Rhino T-REX.
Spectre T-REX.
Thundercat T-REX
This is Brunhilda!
submitted by Klokinator to HFY [link] [comments]

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