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Shotgun Fantasy - Part 20: Back in business

First Part
Previous Part
Rhangyl rested his back against the brick wall, contemplating his first play.
Two mice and a cat. A normal hand.
The guard furrowed his brow, analyzing his own cards. His name was Maluk, a dwarven man whose shift was every other day. They were currently playing Pets. The winner would get to drink from a flask full of dwarven whiskey. The assailant lurked in the corner of his cell, masked by shadows. He’d been quiet ever since passing out, but the game was the only thing that could ease his boredom, so he became a silent spectator every time they played.
At first, the guards ignored Rhangyl’s retelling of the events, saying it was impossible to use mana inside a cell. Nobody trusted the word of an elf after what happened at the trial. They came to the conclusion that Rhangyl scratched his own face and tried to pin it on the assailant. Over the course of the week, though, Rhangyl got to know every guard that looked after them, memorizing their shifts until earning their trust with casual conversation. They kept him informed about the consequences of the trial, occasionally shared a swig of booze with him, and played cards through the bars of his cell.
After intentionally losing for a while, Rhangyl convinced Maluk to bet his flask in exchange for his lunch. The guard happily accepted the wager. Unfortunately for him, the old merchant wouldn’t hold back anymore. Should he play the cat and save the pair of mice for later? Did it even matter? It was the first clash, the moment where the players have as little information as possible about each other. The result would be random or a wild guess. It was valuable only to see how Maluk would keep playing. Rhangyl played a mouse facedown, waiting for his opponent. It was the risky play, but he had a feeling Maluk would play a dog. The guard wasn’t aware of it, but he tended to favor them when he felt confident.
Rhangyl was proven right after they both flipped their cards over. Maluk muttered under his breath, drawing a card from the deck. Rhangyl did the same, getting another cat. Maluk could have two dogs now. The cats were practically useless now. At best, the guard only had one mouse left. Rhangyl decided to play his own mouse.
Maluk hesitated to choose a card, pursing his lips. Normally, Rhangyl wouldn’t hurry him, but a true competitive game involved pressuring your enemy into making a mistake. He couldn’t be obvious about it, though. A long yawn was more than enough to make his opponent decide.
The guard had played another dog.
Rhangyl won again, causing him to chuckle.
Maluk didn’t appreciate that. He only grew angrier after Rhangyl showed his hand was two cats. The guard had a mouse and a dog left, which meant that Rhangyl won the game, three wins to one. “Well shit, you really got lucky there when you needed it.” He handed over the flask. “Serves me right for getting cocky.”
Rhangyl drank a mouthful with glee.
“He just hustled you, idiot!” said the assailant. “He’s done it to everyone who plays with him!”
“Quiet!” Maluk waved his hammer. “Are we gonna have a problem?”
The assailant arched an eyebrow, amused. “Didn't I kill you?”
Maluk frowned. “You got me when I was distracted.”
Rhangyl kept enjoying his booze. He started getting drunk quicker than usual. One of the few advantages of being forcibly sober.
The assailant continued bickering with Maluk. It didn’t take long for the guard’s shift to end. He left the room with an angry strut, forgetting to ask for his flask back.
Rhangyl would return it.
Later.
After emptying it.
Rhangyl started chugging it like his life depended on it. He wanted to guzzle down as much whiskey as he could before Maluk noticed it was gone.
The assailant judged him from afar, shaking his head.
“Oh please.” Rhangyl wiped his mouth, taking a second to breathe. “You don’t get to scold me.”
“I do whatever the hell I want.”
“And look where it got you.”
“Same as you.”
Rhangyl looked away. “You might be right.” He glared back. “But that doesn’t mean you have any sort of moral high ground. I bet you didn’t even know all the people you killed would be revived.”
The assailant stayed quiet.
Rhangyl chuckled. “See?”
“I don’t get it. Don’t they need divine shards for that?”
“Yes.”
“And they used them on mere guards?”
“It’s a courtesy they extend to all citizens”
“Everyone?”
“Well, except, you know...”
“Right. I’m just surprised to see them used so casually.”
“Elves developed a different philosophy around their divine shards, a scarcity mindset that makes them hesitant to revive people…” Rhangyl felt a sudden pang of longing. He numbed it with another swig of the flask. “Anyway, the dwarvish conception of divine shards is fascinating. They’re miners at heart and their worship of Wrecks directly contributes to the light of the city, growing and extracting the divine shard at an adequate rate for their needs.”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“What?”
“Talking to me. It’s the same thing you did to every guard here. All of this fake camaraderie; it’s bullshit. I’m not falling for it.”
“You’ve really decided I’m evil, haven’t you? Not every elf is an imperialist.”
“I’ve met enough people like you to know better. At the end of the day, you’ll always do what’s best for your kind.”
“Not all of us. In fact, I recall a man I once knew who worked hard to reform our society. A mighty warrior turned peaceful diplomat, one of the strongest battlemages in history. He valued every life equally, no matter their caste or race. His movement got legitimate support among the masses until a scandal broke out. Turns out he had a human lover, a common fetish that gave him the label of degenerate, only made worse by the fact that they were raising a child in secret. Eventually, it drove him to-”
“That’s enough.”
“Did I hit a nerve?”
“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. It’s annoying. And whatever made up story you tell is clearly made to provoke me.”
“Come on, let’s not fool ourselves. Your unkempt appearance made it hard to notice at first glance, but you look a lot like Thorn only… human. And your brother-”
The assailant snarled.
“I mean, the politician’s son... worked incredibly hard to fix his family’s reputation. At first, I was happy for him and aided his efforts whenever I could but, slowly, I noticed the people around him were radicalized by his rhetoric. He still argued for reform, appealing to his father’s old followers, but one that granted battlemages more and more liberties. Many of my peers see him as the future of the empire. My gut wouldn’t let me trust him, though. He was so dismissive of the lower castes, that all of his forward thinking speeches rung hollow to me. Then, as soon as he became Warmaster, half of Emeroke’s council was replaced with younger bureaucrats that were aligned with his way of thinking. Doesn’t that look suspicious to you?”
The assailant scoffed. “No shit.”
“Well, it wasn’t obvious to me. Everyone thought it would reinvigorate the city. I didn’t think Henthil was capable of assassinating someone that had never thought of betraying him.”
“It sounds like he’s capable of a lot of things.”
“Exactly. Which begs the question, why would anyone trust him?”
The assailant understood his point, tensing up, but his distrust of Rhangyl still prevented him from confirming the suspicion.
Rhangyl sighed. The flask had a few sips left. He gestured it at the assailant. “Want some?”
The half-elf narrowed his eyes, but his ears twitched a bit, betraying his excitement. “Maybe.”
Rhangyl closed the lid and threw the flask at him.
The assailant caught it, opened it, and smelled it, causing him to wince away. He still drank it, coughing a bit. “It’s strong.”
“That’s dwarven alcohol for you.”
The assailant took another swig. “Good shit, though.”
“Indeed.”
The assailant made a thoughtful face. “My name’s Amaranth. The reason I’m doing all of this is to free my sister. Hethil has arranged it so that she got out of jail.”
“He’s probably going to use her as a political tool.”
“I know.”
“And you’re fine with that?”
“It’s better than nothing. Who knows? She might even prefer staying in the empire.”
“Don’t you think it’s worth checking out if she’s alright?”
Amaranth chortled. “I can’t exactly leave.”
“Well, now that the border is shut down, I might need to enter imperial territory to withdraw all of my money. I’m interested in strong individuals who can protect me along the way…”
“You’re awfully confident that you're getting out of here.”
“My charge isn’t that severe.” Rhangyl smiled. “And, Maluk gave me some good news while you were still sleeping.”
“Ah. You’re getting released today.”
As if on cue, the next shift’s guard entered the room.
Rhangyl nodded. “Think about my offer.”
The guard brought out some keys, opened Rhangyl’s cell, and escorted him to the main lobby of the guard’s headquarters, where Urtan waited for him. He looked up at Rhangyl with a weary expression before releasing his shackles and dismissing the guard that brought him.
“Thank you, captain.” Rhangyl massaged his own wrists. “That’s much more comfortable.”
Urtan made an effort to remain civil. “The only reason I’m doing this is because of George.” He paused, making sure no one nearby could hear him. “Have you heard about the trial?”
“Yes.”
“Since Bork will no longer be around, my daughter… has been thinking a lot about her future. She’s come to the conclusion that she wants to explore the outside world. If you and George leave, I’m sure she’ll want to go along with you.” Urtan extended his hand. “Do not discourage her. Are we clear?”
“You just want me out of the city, don’t you?”
“Fuck yes. If I could throw you out by the scruff of your neck and exile you, I would’ve done it already.”
Rhangyl shook his hand. “Fair enough.”
Urtan clenched it with a firm grip. “Take. Care. Of. Dalura.”
“Of course!”
“And George.”
“I would never endanger a business partner.”
“Good.” Urtan released his hand and started walking away. “Get going, your friends are waiting for you. You wouldn’t believe how much they annoyed me to free you.”
“One thing…”
Urtan frowned. “What?”
“About the assailant… would it kill you to heal his leg? The man’s in agonizing pain. He doesn’t say anything because he’s stubborn, but he doesn’t deserve to stay in constant torture.”
Urtan nodded, reluctantly. “I’ll see what I can do.”
A group of winged beasts attacked the camp site right before sunset. The legion was almost at the top of the first mountain, but they had a long way to go before getting to the heart of the mountain range.
Valkyrie shivered. Her breath had just fogged up her round spectacles. She didn’t know where to go. A chorus of soldiers screamed in the distance. Their enchanted arrows were ineffective against the monsters. Some of the archers were swallowed whole in an instant. The bird-like creatures had orange beaks with multiple pairs of eyes and rows of teeth that dripped with black saliva, but their torso looked human, with bluish-purple skin and four retractable arms bursting out of their abdomen. Valkyrie ran in a serpentine pattern, avoiding the sharpened feathers thrown her way. The elites ignored her pleas for help. They were too comfortable inside their heated tents. Only Henthil could get them to act. Valkyrie made it to his command center, a giant tent made of brown cloth, before more beasts attacked her. She had to catch her breath before giving her report.
Henthil was being given an oil massage on the other side of the room. He addressed Valkyrie without lifting his face from the table, saying:
“What’s the problem?”
“We’re being attacked.”
“Still?”
“It’s gotten worse. More have shown up.”
“What about the elites?”
“They ignored me.”
“Ah. Tell them I’ll beat the living shit out of them, one by one, if they make me get up from this table.”
“I already told them that, more or less.”
“What did they say?”
“They laughed.”
Henthil sighed. “Take away their heat wards.”
Valkyrie tensed up. “They won’t react well to that.”
“They’re more than free to fight me if they have a problem with it.”
Valkyrie nodded. “Very well, sir. I’ll do it now.” She braced herself for the difference in temperature before leaving the tent. The howling wind slapped her across the face with a cold snap. She repeated the same serpentine movements as the battlefield exploded around her until reaching the elite’s giant tent. Her hands were shaking by the time she started to disable the heat ward. It only took a few seconds for the elite to start arguing loudly about what to do. Valkyrie then entered the tent and said:
“Warmaster Henthil ordered me to take away your heat wards until you take care of the beasts… and you're more than welcome to fight him, if you want it back.”
The fourteen soldiers inside the tent froze with terror. They only laughed before because they knew Henthil would never waste his time leaving his tent when it got so cold. Going up to him would mean an instant death for all of them. The difference in strength was laughable. Even if they fought together as a group, if they weren’t careful, there was still a chance they would be crushed against a battlemage of his level.
After a bit of bickering, Gaelingr stood up. He was a slender man with flowing raven hair and a clean shaven face. His uniform was loosely worn with his robe tied around his waist. The man didn’t bother putting on wooden armor before stepping out of the tent. As an aquamancer, an environment full of snow made him the deadliest among them.
Valkyrie followed him to the center of the battle. Eight of the beasts circled around in the sky. The waning light made them harder to spot, blending with grey-purple clouds. It took almost five hundred soldiers to keep the creatures distracted. They all stood slack jawed when Gaelingr made the snow around their ankles hover into the air. The dark bedrock was completely dehydrated. Its appearance looked completely different from the original snowy landscape. Many animals were exposed without their natural camouflage.
Gaelingr swelled with mana. His blue aura flashed around him with a faint shimmer, causing the ground to shake until forming a giant sphere of water above the battlefield.
The winged beasts let out an ear-piercing shriek. They immediately noticed Gaelingr’s presence and charged straight at him in unison. The five hundred soldiers started to run away in panic, stomping over each other to get away from the creatures. Valkyrie fought her own instinct to run away, reasoning that the safest place in the battle was standing next to an elite.
Gaelingr didn’t react to the chaos around him. His attention was entirely focused on his next attack. He started chanting for his spell. Clouds started to disappear as the sphere absorbed their moisture.
The winged beasts all barreled towards him, accelerating more and more by the second.
Gaelingr finished the spell, skewering them all through their stomachs with giant spikes of ice until impaling them on the ground.
The creatures thrashed with pain but died in a few seconds.
Dark purple blood dripped out of them, coalescing into a big pool of goo in the middle of the battlefield. An eerie silence was filled by another howl of the wind, just as the clouds formed again and snow gently floated over them.
Gaelingr started walking away. “I expect our heat ward will be repaired immediately.”
Valkyrie remained stunned. “It will.” She didn’t have the courage to tell him about the soldiers the beast had eaten. Gaelingr’s attack made it impossible to retrieve their bodies intact. They couldn’t be revived anymore.
Henthil wouldn’t hear about it, though. That shouldn’t concern him. Valkyrie was happy managing the legion on her own, without any help. She took stock of how many people died, made arrangements for their families to be compensated, and mobilized the healing squadrons to take care of the wounded, all without the warmaster knowing about it.
After the battle, the legion had a renewed sense of companionship with each other. They celebrated together in a makeshift mess hall of multiple tents, eating and talking about their experiences. Seeing an elite take care of every monster with a single attack erased all of their doubts. They would follow Henthil anywhere if he was successful in this campaign, even to the top of the imperial throne.
Valkyrie started to relax. Everything might turn out just fine.
Another shriek echoed in the night, snapping everyone out of their jovial mood. Apparently, they had only fought children today. An adult beast showed up just as everyone was about to sleep. It was five times the size of a normal one, with two heads sprouting from its unholy body. Gaelingr didn’t feel like fighting this one. Thankfully, the rest of the elite quickly realized they couldn’t afford to lounge around. The threat of getting their fire wards removed was more than enough to spring them into action.
George was glad to see Rhangyl again. After the trial, the mood around the compound had gotten even gloomier than before. Bork had been busy organizing the exodus of his people so he was rarely around these days. Dalura visited every once in a while but she was also busy dealing with her family. It was nice having company again. Rhangyl convinced him and Dalura to go drink at the Shadowtrail Inn. George wasn’t sure if they’d be let inside, though. It was the talk of the city now. People fought over reservations all the time. There was a queue that wrapped around the block when they got there.
Rhangyl started pushing through people. They glared at him. A mob slowly formed around him.
George panicked, but Dalura didn’t seem concerned.
“Mister Rhangyl-sir!” A friendly silver dragon wearing a strange garment plowed through the crowd. “It’s great to finally see you again!”
George and Dalura widened their eyes. The mob dispersed after seeing him. At least nobody would mess with them now that they had a dragon around. Rhangyl introduced him as Lance, a wandering swordsman. He led them into the inn and prepared a table for them, ahead of everyone else who waited in the lounge. George had suspected that Rhangyl had been involved in this place ever since his stunt at the trial. The old merchant couldn’t hide the truth after the owners thanked him for his help. They even gave him a share of the profits from the ingredients he bought for them. George couldn’t believe the taste of the stew. It was amazing.
Rhangyl ordered a few rounds of drinks, joking around until Bork arrived. He was ashamed of his actions, apologizing for all the trouble he brought. Bork chuckled and said:
“Think nothing of it. I’m just glad we got you out of there.”
“Have your people decided where they’re going?”
“Yes, a lot of our stories say that our original tribe was created at the heart of Pejock’s Mountain Range. We’re thinking of going there and building a city for ourselves. Originally, with the harsh climate, we wouldn’t be able to live there, but thanks to all the glyph magic we’ve learned, we’ll be able to control the environmental conditions for our purposes. This is going to turn out for the best.”
“You’ll make it there in no time with your geomancy. Which reminds me, Dalura, what are you planning to do?”
“I uh… I’m not really sure. I was thinking, if I wouldn’t be a burden, would you two...”
“Of course!” said George.
Rhangyl started laughing. “We’d be honored.”
George smiled, barely able to stay awake. These past few days had been an anxious nightmare. He wasn’t even able to work on guns when he was alone in the compound. The uncertainty paralyzed with fear. Hearing that things were going to be fine, at least for the moment, was a reassuring thought. It finally allowed him to stop worrying for a moment. The fact that Dalura would join them on their adventure was a reassuring thought. He would miss Bork and his wealth of knowledge. Now that they had a limited amount of time left together, George wanted to make sure they tried out one last thing before leaving Forgeberth.
“What’s wrong?” asked Dalura.
“Before we leave, could we make a batch of weapons for our journey? I want to see if we can apply everything I learned. We can probably make something stronger now.”
Rhangyl leaned forward, intrigued. “What are you thinking?”
“I think it’s about time we made a magic shotgun.”
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Shotgun Fantasy - Part 20: Back in business

First Part
Previous Part
Rhangyl rested his back against the brick wall, contemplating his first play.
Two mice and a cat. A normal hand.
The guard furrowed his brow, analyzing his own cards. His name was Maluk, a dwarven man whose shift was every other day. They were currently playing Pets. The winner would get to drink from a flask full of dwarven whiskey. The assailant lurked in the corner of his cell, masked by shadows. He’d been quiet ever since passing out, but the game was the only thing that could ease his boredom, so he became a silent spectator every time they played.
At first, the guards ignored Rhangyl’s retelling of the events, saying it was impossible to use mana inside a cell. Nobody trusted the word of an elf after what happened at the trial. They came to the conclusion that Rhangyl scratched his own face and tried to pin it on the assailant. Over the course of the week, though, Rhangyl got to know every guard that looked after them, memorizing their shifts until earning their trust with casual conversation. They kept him informed about the consequences of the trial, occasionally shared a swig of booze with him, and played cards through the bars of his cell.
After intentionally losing for a while, Rhangyl convinced Maluk to bet his flask in exchange for his lunch. The guard happily accepted the wager. Unfortunately for him, the old merchant wouldn’t hold back anymore. Should he play the cat and save the pair of mice for later? Did it even matter? It was the first clash, the moment where the players have as little information as possible about each other. The result would be random or a wild guess. It was valuable only to see how Maluk would keep playing. Rhangyl played a mouse facedown, waiting for his opponent. It was the risky play, but he had a feeling Maluk would play a dog. The guard wasn’t aware of it, but he tended to favor them when he felt confident.
Rhangyl was proven right after they both flipped their cards over. Maluk muttered under his breath, drawing a card from the deck. Rhangyl did the same, getting another cat. Maluk could have two dogs now. The cats were practically useless now. At best, the guard only had one mouse left. Rhangyl decided to play his own mouse.
Maluk hesitated to choose a card, pursing his lips. Normally, Rhangyl wouldn’t hurry him, but a true competitive game involved pressuring your enemy into making a mistake. He couldn’t be obvious about it, though. A long yawn was more than enough to make his opponent decide.
The guard had played another dog.
Rhangyl won again, causing him to chuckle.
Maluk didn’t appreciate that. He only grew angrier after Rhangyl showed his hand was two cats. The guard had a mouse and a dog left, which meant that Rhangyl won the game, three wins to one. “Well shit, you really got lucky there when you needed it.” He handed over the flask. “Serves me right for getting cocky.”
Rhangyl drank a mouthful with glee.
“He just hustled you, idiot!” said the assailant. “He’s done it to everyone who plays with him!”
“Quiet!” Maluk waved his hammer. “Are we gonna have a problem?”
The assailant arched an eyebrow, amused. “Didn't I kill you?”
Maluk frowned. “You got me when I was distracted.”
Rhangyl kept enjoying his booze. He started getting drunk quicker than usual. One of the few advantages of being forcibly sober.
The assailant continued bickering with Maluk. It didn’t take long for the guard’s shift to end. He left the room with an angry strut, forgetting to ask for his flask back.
Rhangyl would return it.
Later.
After emptying it.
Rhangyl started chugging it like his life depended on it. He wanted to guzzle down as much whiskey as he could before Maluk noticed it was gone.
The assailant judged him from afar, shaking his head.
“Oh please.” Rhangyl wiped his mouth, taking a second to breathe. “You don’t get to scold me.”
“I do whatever the hell I want.”
“And look where it got you.”
“Same as you.”
Rhangyl looked away. “You might be right.” He glared back. “But that doesn’t mean you have any sort of moral high ground. I bet you didn’t even know all the people you killed would be revived.”
The assailant stayed quiet.
Rhangyl chuckled. “See?”
“I don’t get it. Don’t they need divine shards for that?”
“Yes.”
“And they used them on mere guards?”
“It’s a courtesy they extend to all citizens”
“Everyone?”
“Well, except, you know...”
“Right. I’m just surprised to see them used so casually.”
“Elves developed a different philosophy around their divine shards, a scarcity mindset that makes them hesitant to revive people…” Rhangyl felt a sudden pang of longing. He numbed it with another swig of the flask. “Anyway, the dwarvish conception of divine shards is fascinating. They’re miners at heart and their worship of Wrecks directly contributes to the light of the city, growing and extracting the divine shard at an adequate rate for their needs.”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“What?”
“Talking to me. It’s the same thing you did to every guard here. All of this fake camaraderie; it’s bullshit. I’m not falling for it.”
“You’ve really decided I’m evil, haven’t you? Not every elf is an imperialist.”
“I’ve met enough people like you to know better. At the end of the day, you’ll always do what’s best for your kind.”
“Not all of us. In fact, I recall a man I once knew who worked hard to reform our society. A mighty warrior turned peaceful diplomat, one of the strongest battlemages in history. He valued every life equally, no matter their caste or race. His movement got legitimate support among the masses until a scandal broke out. Turns out he had a human lover, a common fetish that gave him the label of degenerate, only made worse by the fact that they were raising a child in secret. Eventually, it drove him to-”
“That’s enough.”
“Did I hit a nerve?”
“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. It’s annoying. And whatever made up story you tell is clearly made to provoke me.”
“Come on, let’s not fool ourselves. Your unkempt appearance made it hard to notice at first glance, but you look a lot like Thorn only… human. And your brother-”
The assailant snarled.
“I mean, the politician’s son... worked incredibly hard to fix his family’s reputation. At first, I was happy for him and aided his efforts whenever I could but, slowly, I noticed the people around him were radicalized by his rhetoric. He still argued for reform, appealing to his father’s old followers, but one that granted battlemages more and more liberties. Many of my peers see him as the future of the empire. My gut wouldn’t let me trust him, though. He was so dismissive of the lower castes, that all of his forward thinking speeches rung hollow to me. Then, as soon as he became Warmaster, half of Emeroke’s council was replaced with younger bureaucrats that were aligned with his way of thinking. Doesn’t that look suspicious to you?”
The assailant scoffed. “No shit.”
“Well, it wasn’t obvious to me. Everyone thought it would reinvigorate the city. I didn’t think Henthil was capable of assassinating someone that had never thought of betraying him.”
“It sounds like he’s capable of a lot of things.”
“Exactly. Which begs the question, why would anyone trust him?”
The assailant understood his point, tensing up, but his distrust of Rhangyl still prevented him from confirming the suspicion.
Rhangyl sighed. The flask had a few sips left. He gestured it at the assailant. “Want some?”
The half-elf narrowed his eyes, but his ears twitched a bit, betraying his excitement. “Maybe.”
Rhangyl closed the lid and threw the flask at him.
The assailant caught it, opened it, and smelled it, causing him to wince away. He still drank it, coughing a bit. “It’s strong.”
“That’s dwarven alcohol for you.”
The assailant took another swig. “Good shit, though.”
“Indeed.”
The assailant made a thoughtful face. “My name’s Amaranth. The reason I’m doing all of this is to free my sister. Hethil has arranged it so that she got out of jail.”
“He’s probably going to use her as a political tool.”
“I know.”
“And you’re fine with that?”
“It’s better than nothing. Who knows? She might even prefer staying in the empire.”
“Don’t you think it’s worth checking out if she’s alright?”
Amaranth chortled. “I can’t exactly leave.”
“Well, now that the border is shut down, I might need to enter imperial territory to withdraw all of my money. I’m interested in strong individuals who can protect me along the way…”
“You’re awfully confident that you're getting out of here.”
“My charge isn’t that severe.” Rhangyl smiled. “And, Maluk gave me some good news while you were still sleeping.”
“Ah. You’re getting released today.”
As if on cue, the next shift’s guard entered the room.
Rhangyl nodded. “Think about my offer.”
The guard brought out some keys, opened Rhangyl’s cell, and escorted him to the main lobby of the guard’s headquarters, where Urtan waited for him. He looked up at Rhangyl with a weary expression before releasing his shackles and dismissing the guard that brought him.
“Thank you, captain.” Rhangyl massaged his own wrists. “That’s much more comfortable.”
Urtan made an effort to remain civil. “The only reason I’m doing this is because of George.” He paused, making sure no one nearby could hear him. “Have you heard about the trial?”
“Yes.”
“Since Bork will no longer be around, my daughter… has been thinking a lot about her future. She’s come to the conclusion that she wants to explore the outside world. If you and George leave, I’m sure she’ll want to go along with you.” Urtan extended his hand. “Do not discourage her. Are we clear?”
“You just want me out of the city, don’t you?”
“Fuck yes. If I could throw you out by the scruff of your neck and exile you, I would’ve done it already.”
Rhangyl shook his hand. “Fair enough.”
Urtan clenched it with a firm grip. “Take. Care. Of. Dalura.”
“Of course!”
“And George.”
“I would never endanger a business partner.”
“Good.” Urtan released his hand and started walking away. “Get going, your friends are waiting for you. You wouldn’t believe how much they annoyed me to free you.”
“One thing…”
Urtan frowned. “What?”
“About the assailant… would it kill you to heal his leg? The man’s in agonizing pain. He doesn’t say anything because he’s stubborn, but he doesn’t deserve to stay in constant torture.”
Urtan nodded, reluctantly. “I’ll see what I can do.”
A group of winged beasts attacked the camp site right before sunset. The legion was almost at the top of the first mountain, but they had a long way to go before getting to the heart of the mountain range.
Valkyrie shivered. Her breath had just fogged up her round spectacles. She didn’t know where to go. A chorus of soldiers screamed in the distance. Their enchanted arrows were ineffective against the monsters. Some of the archers were swallowed whole in an instant. The bird-like creatures had orange beaks with multiple pairs of eyes and rows of teeth that dripped with black saliva, but their torso looked human, with bluish-purple skin and four retractable arms bursting out of their abdomen. Valkyrie ran in a serpentine pattern, avoiding the sharpened feathers thrown her way. The elites ignored her pleas for help. They were too comfortable inside their heated tents. Only Henthil could get them to act. Valkyrie made it to his command center, a giant tent made of brown cloth, before more beasts attacked her. She had to catch her breath before giving her report.
Henthil was being given an oil massage on the other side of the room. He addressed Valkyrie without lifting his face from the table, saying:
“What’s the problem?”
“We’re being attacked.”
“Still?”
“It’s gotten worse. More have shown up.”
“What about the elites?”
“They ignored me.”
“Ah. Tell them I’ll beat the living shit out of them, one by one, if they make me get up from this table.”
“I already told them that, more or less.”
“What did they say?”
“They laughed.”
Henthil sighed. “Take away their heat wards.”
Valkyrie tensed up. “They won’t react well to that.”
“They’re more than free to fight me if they have a problem with it.”
Valkyrie nodded. “Very well, sir. I’ll do it now.” She braced herself for the difference in temperature before leaving the tent. The howling wind slapped her across the face with a cold snap. She repeated the same serpentine movements as the battlefield exploded around her until reaching the elite’s giant tent. Her hands were shaking by the time she started to disable the heat ward. It only took a few seconds for the elite to start arguing loudly about what to do. Valkyrie then entered the tent and said:
“Warmaster Henthil ordered me to take away your heat wards until you take care of the beasts… and you're more than welcome to fight him, if you want it back.”
The fourteen soldiers inside the tent froze with terror. They only laughed before because they knew Henthil would never waste his time leaving his tent when it got so cold. Going up to him would mean an instant death for all of them. The difference in strength was laughable. Even if they fought together as a group, if they weren’t careful, there was still a chance they would be crushed against a battlemage of his level.
After a bit of bickering, Gaelingr stood up. He was a slender man with flowing raven hair and a clean shaven face. His uniform was loosely worn with his robe tied around his waist. The man didn’t bother putting on wooden armor before stepping out of the tent. As an aquamancer, an environment full of snow made him the deadliest among them.
Valkyrie followed him to the center of the battle. Eight of the beasts circled around in the sky. The waning light made them harder to spot, blending with grey-purple clouds. It took almost five hundred soldiers to keep the creatures distracted. They all stood slack jawed when Gaelingr made the snow around their ankles hover into the air. The dark bedrock was completely dehydrated. Its appearance looked completely different from the original snowy landscape. Many animals were exposed without their natural camouflage.
Gaelingr swelled with mana. His blue aura flashed around him with a faint shimmer, causing the ground to shake until forming a giant sphere of water above the battlefield.
The winged beasts let out an ear-piercing shriek. They immediately noticed Gaelingr’s presence and charged straight at him in unison. The five hundred soldiers started to run away in panic, stomping over each other to get away from the creatures. Valkyrie fought her own instinct to run away, reasoning that the safest place in the battle was standing next to an elite.
Gaelingr didn’t react to the chaos around him. His attention was entirely focused on his next attack. He started chanting for his spell. Clouds started to disappear as the sphere absorbed their moisture.
The winged beasts all barreled towards him, accelerating more and more by the second.
Gaelingr finished the spell, skewering them all through their stomachs with giant spikes of ice until impaling them on the ground.
The creatures thrashed with pain but died in a few seconds.
Dark purple blood dripped out of them, coalescing into a big pool of goo in the middle of the battlefield. An eerie silence was filled by another howl of the wind, just as the clouds formed again and snow gently floated over them.
Gaelingr started walking away. “I expect our heat ward will be repaired immediately.”
Valkyrie remained stunned. “It will.” She didn’t have the courage to tell him about the soldiers the beast had eaten. Gaelingr’s attack made it impossible to retrieve their bodies intact. They couldn’t be revived anymore.
Henthil wouldn’t hear about it, though. That shouldn’t concern him. Valkyrie was happy managing the legion on her own, without any help. She took stock of how many people died, made arrangements for their families to be compensated, and mobilized the healing squadrons to take care of the wounded, all without the warmaster knowing about it.
After the battle, the legion had a renewed sense of companionship with each other. They celebrated together in a makeshift mess hall of multiple tents, eating and talking about their experiences. Seeing an elite take care of every monster with a single attack erased all of their doubts. They would follow Henthil anywhere if he was successful in this campaign, even to the top of the imperial throne.
Valkyrie started to relax. Everything might turn out just fine.
Another shriek echoed in the night, snapping everyone out of their jovial mood. Apparently, they had only fought children today. An adult beast showed up just as everyone was about to sleep. It was five times the size of a normal one, with two heads sprouting from its unholy body. Gaelingr didn’t feel like fighting this one. Thankfully, the rest of the elite quickly realized they couldn’t afford to lounge around. The threat of getting their fire wards removed was more than enough to spring them into action.
George was glad to see Rhangyl again. After the trial, the mood around the compound had gotten even gloomier than before. Bork had been busy organizing the exodus of his people so he was rarely around these days. Dalura visited every once in a while but she was also busy dealing with her family. It was nice having company again. Rhangyl convinced him and Dalura to go drink at the Shadowtrail Inn. George wasn’t sure if they’d be let inside, though. It was the talk of the city now. People fought over reservations all the time. There was a queue that wrapped around the block when they got there.
Rhangyl started pushing through people. They glared at him. A mob slowly formed around him.
George panicked, but Dalura didn’t seem concerned.
“Mister Rhangyl-sir!” A friendly silver dragon wearing a strange garment plowed through the crowd. “It’s great to finally see you again!”
George and Dalura widened their eyes. The mob dispersed after seeing him. At least nobody would mess with them now that they had a dragon around. Rhangyl introduced him as Lance, a wandering swordsman. He led them into the inn and prepared a table for them, ahead of everyone else who waited in the lounge. George had suspected that Rhangyl had been involved in this place ever since his stunt at the trial. The old merchant couldn’t hide the truth after the owners thanked him for his help. They even gave him a share of the profits from the ingredients he bought for them. George couldn’t believe the taste of the stew. It was amazing.
Rhangyl ordered a few rounds of drinks, joking around until Bork arrived. He was ashamed of his actions, apologizing for all the trouble he brought. Bork chuckled and said:
“Think nothing of it. I’m just glad we got you out of there.”
“Have your people decided where they’re going?”
“Yes, a lot of our stories say that our original tribe was created at the heart of Pejock’s Mountain Range. We’re thinking of going there and building a city for ourselves. Originally, with the harsh climate, we wouldn’t be able to live there, but thanks to all the glyph magic we’ve learned, we’ll be able to control the environmental conditions for our purposes. This is going to turn out for the best.”
“You’ll make it there in no time with your geomancy. Which reminds me, Dalura, what are you planning to do?”
“I uh… I’m not really sure. I was thinking, if I wouldn’t be a burden, would you two...”
“Of course!” said George.
Rhangyl started laughing. “We’d be honored.”
George smiled, barely able to stay awake. These past few days had been an anxious nightmare. He wasn’t even able to work on guns when he was alone in the compound. The uncertainty paralyzed with fear. Hearing that things were going to be fine, at least for the moment, was a reassuring thought. It finally allowed him to stop worrying for a moment. The fact that Dalura would join them on their adventure was a reassuring thought. He would miss Bork and his wealth of knowledge. Now that they had a limited amount of time left together, George wanted to make sure they tried out one last thing before leaving Forgeberth.
“What’s wrong?” asked Dalura.
“Before we leave, could we make a batch of weapons for our journey? I want to see if we can apply everything I learned. We can probably make something stronger now.”
Rhangyl leaned forward, intrigued. “What are you thinking?”
“I think it’s about time we made a magic shotgun.”
Next part
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Lost in the Sauce: Feb. 23 - 29

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater. (the previous edition can be found here if you are super behind).
House-keeping:
  1. How to read: the headings will guide you through this piece. The Main Course covers the “big” stories and The Sides covers the “smaller” stories. IF YOU FOLLOW THE NEWS CLOSELY: you likely know about the stories in the Main Course section, so you will be best served by scrolling down to The Sides portion.
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Let’s dig in!

MAIN COURSE

Trump’s incompetence, authoritarian patterns continue with coronavirus response

In a standalone piece published yesterday, I go over Trump’s response to the coronavirus, how he made the spread inevitable, and the impact of Trump’s authoritarian impulses.

Nadler launches Barr investigation

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent Attorney General Bill Barr a letter last week requesting a slew of interviews and documents in preparation for Barr’s scheduled testimony at the end of March.
Most notably, Nadler requested interviews with the four career prosecutors who withdrew from Roger Stone’s case after Barr intervened to recommend a lower sentence (which Stone received): Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis. John Durham, who is leading Barr’s investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, is also on the list, as is Jessie Liu, who supervised not only Stone’s case, but also the attempted prosecution of Andrew McCabe.
“Although you serve at the president’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws. In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”
While it is likely that Barr won’t comply with many of these requests, Nadler may issue subpoenas directly to individuals of interest. As Democrats learned during the impeachment hearing, career officials are more likely to be forthright and honest about the Trump administration’s crimes and misdeeds.

Court rulings

McGahn’s testimony

A divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court dismissed the House Judiciary Committee’s lawsuit against former White House Counsel Don McGahn, ruling that federal courts have no role to play in disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches. The two judges who ruled in favor of the Trump administration - Thomas Griffith and Karen Henderson - were appointed by George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, respectively. The pair write that Congress should use other tools to try to compel McGahn’s testimony:
“Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President’s nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President’s legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers.”
It should be mentioned that the majority does not mention the fact that during the impeachment trial Trump’s lawyers argued that Congress should pursue its subpoenas to executive branch witnesses in court.
Judge Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote a lengthy dissent that is worth reading in full (starting on the 58th page of this document)
“The court removes any incentive for the Executive Branch to engage in the negotiation process seeking accommodation, all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House’s ability to perform its constitutional duties… Future presidents may direct wide-scale noncompliance with lawful congressional inquiries, secure in the knowledge that Congress can do little to enforce a subpoena dramatically undermining its ability to fulfill its constitutional obligations now and going forward.”

Unfair competition suit

Trump also racked up a win in an “Emoluments-adjacent” lawsuit last week: a three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court united to dismiss a wine bar’s claim that President Trump's D.C. hotel is unfairly undermining the business of other venues in the city. Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, and Reagan appointee Judge Stephen Williams joined Judge Merrick Garland in the ruling.
Though it is undisputed that the wine bar has experienced a downturn since Trump took office — his gilded hotel now attracting lobbyists, advocacy groups and diplomats who used to frequent the local business — the appeals court said no evidence suggests that the president or his hotel interfered in Cork’s business.
The lawsuit “boiled down to an assertion that businesses with famous proprietors cannot compete fairly — a proposition alien to unfair-competition law,” Griffith wrote summarizing the 2017 dismissal of the case by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.

Purge confirmed

As I explained in last Sunday’s post, Trump is seeking to purge any disloyal officials from his administration. Newly-returned staffer John McEntee is leading the search for “Never Trumpers” with the assistance of a network of conservative activists including Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. On Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley confirmed that the White House is identifying employees seen as disloyal to force out of their positions.
“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government—I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people—and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action,” Gidley said.
“Time and time again we see in the media reports from people in the bowels of the federal government working against this president...The president's been pretty clear about the fact he wants people in this administration who want to forward his agenda. Donald Trump was the only one elected. He was the only one that the American people voted for. They didn't vote for someone at any of these other agencies, any of these other departments.” he said.

Unqualified loyalists

One of those purged from the administration, DNI Joseph Maguire, was fired for allowing his top aide to brief Congress on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 election to Trump’s benefit. Last week, Trump said he will nominate Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe to fill the position - again. Trump previously announced his intent to nominate Ratcliffe in July, but withdrew the nomination five days later after members of both parties questioned his qualifications.
The current acting-DNI, Ric Grenell, can only serve until March 11 unless a permanent replacement is formally submitted to the Senate for confirmation. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows Grenell to remain in position throughout the confirmation process and - should Ratcliffe fail - another 210 days after. If a second person is nominated, the clock “resets” again.

The effect of Trump’s grip on intel

The NSA, CIA, and Pentagon have been urged by the White House not to share information about Russia and Ukraine with lawmakers, while the “Gang of Eight” senior members of Congress were bypassed leading up to at least one major intelligence operation. And intelligence community leaders have backed out of the public portion of the annual worldwide threats hearing, fearing Trump’s wrath if their assessments don’t align with his.
“We have an enemy of the United States that is conducting information warfare against us and our executive leadership doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want the Congress to hear it, and doesn’t want the people to hear it,” said former acting DNI David Gompert, who said he was “aghast” at the hiring of Grenell. “We now have a situation where the principal objective, evidently, of this acting DNI is to ensure that information about Russian interference and Russian preference for this particular president does not get out.” (Politico)
Ukrainian officials have noticed Trump’s purge and worry that efforts to force out individuals “would in the short term leave a hollowed out U.S. office in Kyiv and space for Russia to ratchet up its aggressive political influence operations.”
“Russia is getting more ambitious. They are already taking an aggressive position. Putin knows what he wants and he does not need to seek approval for his actions inside Russia let alone outside of Russia,” Danylyuk said. “There are not enough people in the administration—in the U.S. administration—to focus on Ukraine and Russia issues. A lot of people left. It will not be easy to find several counterparts.

THE SIDES

March is SCOTUS month

This month, several highly-charged issues will be heard by the Supreme Court, setting up potentially-massive changes to the legal framework of our country.
This week, Trump’s conservative appointees get their first chance to consider new curbs on abortion rights as the court examines the legality of a Louisiana law that could force two of the state’s three clinics that perform the procedure to shut down.
The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, pertains to a law passed in 2014 that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges to local hospitals. This requirement has proven to be unnecessary for clinics (an abortion rarely results in complications, and if one did, the patient would be admitted to a hospital regardless of the doctor’s privileges). And it’s so difficult to implement that when Texas passed a similar law, it shut down half the state’s clinics. (Buzzfeed News)
While it is overwhelmingly likely that five justices will vote to uphold Louisiana’s law, there is some uncertainty about how they will do so. It is possible that the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade outright. But it is at least as likely that the Court will leave Roe nominally in place while simultaneously watering down the abortion right to such a degree that it loses meaning in red states. The Court often prefers to create the impression that it will not allow the law to swing wildly according to the justices’ whims. (Vox)
Also this week, the court will hear arguments on whether Congress exceeded constitutional boundaries in 2010 when it created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Trump administration believes the independent structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and wants the president to have more control over the agency. For instance, Trump wants to be able to fire the director at will.
A court ruling on the President's removal power could affect a multitude of independent agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Federal Reserve Board. For more than a century, Congress has been creating such agencies within the executive branch with directors who can only be removed only "for cause." (CNN)
Finally, on March 31, the high court will hear arguments in three cases involving House Democrats’ and New York state prosecutors’ attempts to obtain years of Trump’s financial records and tax returns.
Last week, Trump called for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from these three cases. Ginsberg criticized Trump’s character during his 2016 campaign, though she later apologized. Trump did not explain his reasoning for calling for Sotomayor’s recusal, other than her authoring of a dissent critical of the conservative justices on the court.
“Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions — where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life — to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures ‘to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner,’” she wrote. “Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances.”
What she really is saying is that the same justices who have no problem allowing condemned prisoners to be killed before legitimate questions about their cases can be resolved have no compunction in rushing to prematurely protect the Trump administration, and the president’s personal interests, from legitimate legal processes. In other words, Sotomayor is calling her conservative colleagues hypocrites who are willing to bend precedent in the pursuit of ideological goals. (Brennan Center)

Ukraine emails

The latest batch of emails released by the Department of Defense in response to a FOIA suit reveals evidence that the administration withheld from Congress during the impeachment inquiry and trial. Senior members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then–National Security Adviser John Bolton had all advised President Trump to release the military aid to Ukraine, but the final decision was ultimately up to Trump.
The August 26, 2019, email from a senior career Pentagon official states that there was “no ongoing interagency review process with respect to USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative],” and states clearly: “Final decision rests with POTUS.”
“Critically, the email appears to contradict the White House budget office’s stated rationale for withholding the aid,” American Oversight states. Administration officials had been instructed to tell Congress that the freeze of aid to Ukraine was necessary to allow for an “interagency process to determine the best use of such funds.” The August 26 email clearly states that no such process was in action.
“Tonight’s document release is a reminder that before they lined up parrot the president’s line on Ukraine aid, senior members of the president’s national security team unanimously disagreed with his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight.
An earlier email release revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fully coordinated with Rudy Giuliani on Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine and the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
“We now know Mike Pompeo and his aides encouraged Rudy Giuliani to deliver his bogus 'dossier' smearing Ambassador Yovanovitch during a week in 2019 when Giuliani's henchmen were stalking the ambassador in Kyiv,” American Oversight executive director Austin Evers told Yahoo News.

The House continues Ukraine probe

The Foreign Affairs Committee is reportedly at odds with pro-Trump candidate Robert Hyde, who claimed to have former Ambassador Yovanovitch under surveillance. Chairman Eliot Engel, who is investigating the alleged surveillance and threats to the Ambassador, said in an email to Hyde last month that he was “dismayed to read yesterday that you have made statements to the media which greatly exaggerate the extent of your cooperation with this investigation."
"As you know, we have expressed repeated concern that the records you previously produced contain significant gaps," the House staffers wrote. They added that it was obvious Hyde hadn't turned everything over because his batch of materials was missing records that Congress already knows about because they were turned over by Parnas, who was on the other end of the texts.
Last week, six members of Congress led by Reps. Denny Heck (WA-10) and Jim Himes (CT-04) sent a letter to World Bank Group President David Malpass requesting information about his August meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine. The lawmakers voiced concerns that the meeting could be seen as a part of Trump’s pressure campaign that resulted in his impeachment.
The lawmakers asked Malpass to disclose when he decided to visit Kyiv, whether he coordinated his trip with non-World Bank officials, the “deliverables” of the meeting, the meeting’s impact on the World Bank’s plans in Ukraine and whether they discussed Hunter Biden, Burisma or Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general who was ousted under international pressure from leaders including former Vice President Biden. (The Hill)

Russia, Russia, Russia

Last week:
  • Trump accused House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff of leaking information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, dismissed the intelligence as “exaggerated,” and refused to acknowledge that Moscow was behind similar efforts in 2016. “Schiff leaked it, in my opinion — and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that,” Mr. Trump said without evidence.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed the public that the Trump administration “failed to provide Congress with a report on the ongoing attacks on America’s elections from foreign governments, which was required by the bipartisan FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.”
  • It was reported that Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr warned Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that their probe targeting Biden could aid Russian efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.
  • The Washington Post reported that “U.S. officials are sitting on test results that may show how the Putin regime twice tried to kill a peaceful opponent whose close ties to the United States, and columns for The Post, are reminiscent of Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist.”
  • A Russian court ordered former United States Marine Trevor Reed be detained for another six months on accusations he assaulted police officers in Moscow last year, a charge that his defense team has called “fraudulent.” Meanwhile, former Marine Paul Whelan has been in a Russian jail since 2018 on espionage accusations. Their treatment is a stark contrast from that received by celebrity rapper A$AP Rocky - when detained in Sweden, Trump dispatched his hostage envoy (and current National Security Adviser) to oversee the matter and secure Rocky’s release. No such effort has been made for the two former service members in Moscow.
  • Hopping the pond to look at Russia’s interference in the U.K.: The wife of former Russian Finance Minister and Putin-ally Vladimir Chernukhin made a £90,000 donation for a game of tennis with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “The donation comes as Johnson continues to delay publication of a parliamentary report detailing extensive links between his party and donors with links to Russia.”

Alleged Saudi and UAE funding for Trump

Lebanese-American businessman Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja told Spectator Magazine that officials from Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia illegally funneled millions of dollars into Trump’s 2016 campaign. As the CEO of an online payment processing company, Khawaja claims that George Nader obtained his assistance to disguise the money using stolen identities and gift cards as under-$200 campaign contributions that are not required to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.
He remembers Nader explaining why they wanted to fund the Trump campaign. According to Khawaja, Nader said: ‘I’ve been meeting with the Trump campaign people…we have a deal with Trump: my boss, His Highness, made a deal that if we help Trump get elected, he’s going to be harsh on Iran, he’s going to take out the nuclear deal that the Obama administration made. That will cripple the Iranian economy and will sanction Iran from selling oil again. It will make it very difficult for them to compete in the oil market. That’s worth a hundred billion dollars to us. That’s the reason we cannot allow Hillary to win at any cost. She must lose.’
Khawaja says he asked: ‘But you really think he’s going to win? I mean, this is crazy.’ And he says that Nader replied: ‘His Highness is not stupid, he will never bet on a losing horse.’ The money would come from the Saudis. The Emiratis would run the operation, using data bought from the Chinese. Khawaja says that Nader told him: ‘We have all the data already, we have 10 million US consumers’ data. And we have endless money.’ The Russians were ‘on board’ too: ‘He said, “Yes, I have met with Putin already and we have a green light from him. Because Putin is on the same page with us. He wants Hillary to lose.”’
Khawaja and Nader were charged with making false statements, obstruction, and allegedly making illegal contributions to Clinton’s campaign on behalf of an unidentified foreign official. While Nader is currently in jail, Khawaja is a fugitive in the Middle East.

Cuccinelli appointment illegal

A D.C.-based federal judge ruled Sunday that President Donald Trump's appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a decision that suspends two policies Cuccinelli implemented while leading the agency. (Politico)
Three weeks after assuming his new role, Cuccinelli issued a memorandum announcing a revised policy for scheduling credible-fear interviews, the first step in the asylum process, according to the court ruling. Under the revised policy, the agency reduced the time allotted for asylum seekers to consult with others prior to their interviews.
Under Cuccinelli, USCIS also prohibited granting asylum seekers extensions of time to prepare for their credible-fear interviews, "except in the most extraordinary of circumstances." The asylum directives must be set aside, Moss ruled. (CNN)

Eric Trump’s taxpayer-funded business trip

Eric Trump visited a Trump property in development in Uruguay from January 8 to 9, 2019, a two-day business trip that cost taxpayers at least $80,786. CREW obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act today that add to the massive bill of Secret Service protection related to the Trump family’s management of the president’s business empire. The 2019 trip brings Eric Trump’s total up to at least $178,616 in taxpayer funds to work on development of the Trump Organization’s Punta Del Este property alone.

Scottish leader calls for Trump investigation

Parliamentarian Patrick Harvie, a co-leader of the Scottish Greens party, implored the government to pursue a legal order forcing Trump and the Trump Organization to reveal the funding of its multi-million dollar Scottish land acquisitions, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the U.S. president has been involved in illegal activity.
Mr Harvie said that the House of Representatives had heard testimony which stated: "We saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering" - with particular concern expressed about Mr Trump's golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
He added: "Trump's known sources of income don't explain where the money came from for these huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient.”
"Scottish ministers can apply via the Court of Session for an unexplained wealth order, a tool designed for precisely these kinds of situations." The orders can be issued by the courts to compel their target to reveal the source of funding, and are often used to tackle suspected international money laundering.

Roger Stone

District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Stone’s request that she disqualify herself from his case for supposed “bias,” issuing a sharply-worded rebuke of the defense’s allegations: "At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court’s docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words 'judge' and 'biased' in it," Jackson wrote. “Judges cannot be ‘biased’ and need not be disqualified if the views they express are based on what they learned while doing the job they were appointed to do.”
Footage of Roger Stone’s interviews with prosecutors last month has been released… and the only word that can sum it up is “wow.” The entire archive can be found here, but if you are short on time Politico’s Andrew Kimmel made a supercut of the must-see moments that illustrate Stone’s true character: a narcissist who can barely control his anger at being questioned.

Stefanik broke fundraising rules

A constituent of Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY-21) filed an official complaint against her with the Office of Congressional Ethics for using footage of House floor activities to raise funds for her campaign - an express violation of House rules. Stefanik has used clips of her questioning during the impeachment inquiry in fundraising emails, including one with the subject line, that read, “WATCH: I EXPOSED ADAM SCHIFF.”
In a letter sent on June 7, 2018, the House Ethics Committee reminded legislators that “rules specifically prohibit the use of footage of House Floor activities and committee proceedings for any partisan political purpose.”
“I think Rep. Stefanik’s use of video of the House hearing to solicit political contributions is a serious violation of that rule,” says Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission. “The rule is clear, and so is the guidance given by the House Ethics Committee.”
Donald K. Sherman, general counsel of the ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a group that routinely opposes the Trump administration — agrees with that assessment. “House Ethics Committee guidance clearly prohibits Members from using video of committee proceedings for campaign purposes,” said Sherman, who was previously a high-ranking Senate attorney, “which Rep. Stefanik appears to have done nine times in the last six months.

Nunes’ lawsuits

Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government accountability watchdog, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics asking for an investigation into how Rep. Devin Nunes is paying for his six separate lawsuits against media companies and critics.
The complaint says Nunes appears to be in “blatant violation of House rules,” because he would have trouble paying for all these lawsuits solely from his congressional salary of $174,000 per year. The group argues he’d only be able to pay if he received legal services for free, at a discounted rate, or based on a contingency fee, meaning the lawyer would get compensated from Nunes’ winnings if he prevails in his lawsuits.
In all of those cases, the complaint says, Nunes must disclose the legal help he is receiving by filing a legal expense fund, otherwise it would represent an illegal gift given to Nunes under congressional ethics rules. Nunes has not filed a legal expense fund with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Immigration news

  • Washington Post: A federal appeals court in California halted the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policy on Friday, removing one of the key tools the president has used to curb mass migration across the southern U.S. border. The ruling was in effect for only a few hours, however, as the judges later granted a Trump administration request for an emergency stay “pending further order of this court.” Justice Department lawyers said in court filings that 25,000 migrants have been ­waiting in Mexico and argued that they feared the ruling would lead to an influx on the southern ­border.
  • New York Times: The Justice Department said Wednesday that it had created an official section in its immigration office to strip citizenship rights from naturalized immigrants, a move that gives more heft to the Trump administration’s broad efforts to remove from the country immigrants who have committed crimes… Some Justice Department immigration lawyers have expressed worries that denaturalizations could be broadly used to strip citizenship.
    • The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights: "We reject any denaturalization task force that destroys citizenship as we know it and keeps every naturalized immigrant living in fear. Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens."
  • Jurist: The US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Hernandez v. Mesa on Tuesday, holding that the parents of a Mexican child who was shot and killed by a border official have no right to seek a remedy in American civil court. The child, Jesus Hernandez, had been playing with friends in a dry culvert that straddles the US-Mexico border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa fired at Hernandez from the US side of the culvert, and the bullet struck the boy on the Mexican side, where he died.
  • CNN: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper faced a bipartisan grilling from lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill for his decision to divert military funding to pay for the US border wall as he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee… The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, also slammed the move saying it is "substituting the judgment of the administration for the judgment of Congress," adding "I am deeply concerned about where we're headed with the constitutional issue."
  • ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a new lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s transfer of an additional $3.8 billion in military funds for border wall construction. Congress did not authorize the funds. “The president is doubling down on his unlawful scheme to raid taxpayer funds for a xenophobic campaign promise that is destroying national treasures, harming the environment, and desecrating tribal lands.”
  • Associated Press: President Donald Trump may not divert $89 million intended for a military construction project in Washington state to build his border wall… “Congress repeatedly and deliberately declined to appropriate the full funds the President requested for a border wall along the southern border of the United States,” [Judge] Rothstein wrote.
  • Today, Monday March 2, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving the Trump administration’s “expedited removal” of asylum seekers without allowing them a chance to take their application before a federal judge. For a detailed discussion of the case, see the ACLU and Lawfare.
  • Mother Jones: Melania Trump Got an “Einstein Visa.” Why Was It So Hard for This Nobel Prize Winner? Immigration attorneys say the Trump administration is rejecting highly qualified applicants for “genius” green cards.
submitted by rusticgorilla to Keep_Track [link] [comments]

Lost in the Sauce: Jan. 5 - 11

Edit 1/20/2020: I'm going to post this week's edition of Lost in the Sauce tomorrow (Tuesday) because the holiday today gives me extra time to add stuff and maybe enough time to record an audio TLDR.
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater. (the previous edition can be found here if you are super behind)
Two important things:
FIRST, the headings will guide you through this piece. The Main Course covers the “big” stories and The Sides covers the “smaller” stories.
SECOND, I have not had time lately to do a companion audio TLDR for Lost in the Sauce. I’m very sorry, these take so long to write and compile that suddenly it’s time to post it and I haven’t had a chance to record and edit audio.
Finally:
Let’s dig in!
 

*MAIN COURSE*

Next steps in impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Friday that she “asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the Floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate.” Pelosi decided to hold back the articles last month after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to commit to an impartial trial.
In her letter, Pelosi lists new evidence of “impeachable conduct” that has emerged since the House impeached the President, supporting her decision to wait to transmit the articles of impeachment. She concludes by saying:
In an impeachment trial, every Senator takes an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Every Senator now faces a choice: to be loyal to the President or the Constitution. No one is above the law, not even the President.
Why now?
Many people have wondered why Pelosi decided to transmit the articles now, why she is not waiting longer. The Speaker has not explained her decision, but the main factor may be found in a tweet she sent right after announcing the move:
By joining a resolution to dismiss, Sen. McConnell showed his true colors. Americans have now seen what is at stake in a fair trial with witnesses & evidence, and new evidence has emerged. Every Senator will have to vote: is their loyalty is to the President or the Constitution?
The day before, McConnell signed onto Sen. Josh Hawley's resolution to change Senate impeachment rules allowing for a vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment if they're not sent to Senate within 25 days of House approval.

Witnesses

While no agreement has been made to call witnesses in the Senate trial, New York Times chief Washington Correspondent Carl Hulse reported that “there’s a growing sense among senators I’ve talked to that there will be some witnesses.” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) told local news that she is working with a “fairly small group” of Republican senators to ensure that there will be the opportunity to call witnesses.
  • A proposal: A Salon piece argues that Joe and Hunter Biden “should call Trump’s bluff and offer to testify” in exchange for Bolton, Mulvaney, and Giuliani also testifying in the Senate trial.

Bolton’s testimony

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton released a statement on Wednesday offering to testify if the Senate issues a subpoena:
Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.
  • Why it matters: Bolton was present for many key events related to Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and John Bolton sat down with Trump in August 2019 to try to convince him to release the aid to Ukraine. According to then-National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill, Bolton was alarmed by the backchannel pressure campaign run by Sondland, Mulvaney, and Giuliani - Hill quoted Bolton as saying: “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
Will the Senate bring Bolton in? That remains to be seen. His offer puts more pressure on the Senate to do so. Schumer pointed out that only a few Republican Senators need to break with McConnell: "It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton.”
  • Trump used national security as an excuse to continue covering up the truth about his abuse of power: Even if Bolton is subpoenaed by the Senate, and even if he complies, President Trump indicated he’ll likely invoke executive privilege to prevent Bolton from testifying about many of the pertinent events under investigation. Fox News host Ingraham asked why he’d block Bolton from testifying if he has information that would help the president. Trump responded that he’d “have to” invoke executive privilege “for the sake of the office.” He continued: “...especially a national security adviser, you can’t have him explaining all of your statements about national security concerning Russia, China, North Korea, everything. You just can’t do that.”

What should the House do?

In case it isn’t obvious, a witness can not pick and choose which subpoenas to comply with. That is exactly what Bolton is doing by specifying that he’ll comply with a Senate subpoena, when he’s previously stated that he’d fight a House subpoena in the courts. However, House impeachment investigators chose not to subpoena Bolton when conducting their inquiry. Whether that was a mistake or not is debatable; what’s more relevant now is the argument that the House should subpoena Bolton immediately.
Philip Bobbitt of Lawfare:
Because it is now clear that the Senate will not take steps to ensure that it has all the relevant information before commencing its trial of impeachment, the House should subpoena those witnesses whose testimony would determine—either way—the president’s personal culpability in the withholding of appropriated military assistance to Ukraine. There is ample reason to believe that the former national security adviser, John Bolton, can provide first-hand information on this subject. Bolton should give testimony before any transmittal of the bill of impeachment to the Senate.
If he and others similarly situated—that is, persons with first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions and motivations, such as the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—refuse to honor subpoenas for their testimony, the House should immediately seek an injunction directing their testimony.
Constitutional scholar Heidi Kitrosser told The Washington Post:
“By stating that he would testify if the Senate subpoenas him, Bolton has effectively waived any argument against testifying should the House subpoena him,” Kitrosser said. “Bolton had no plausible claim for absolute immunity from showing up to testify in the first place. But even if he previously had such a claim, there is no plausible basis on which it would apply only against a House subpoena and not against a Senate subpoena.”
Benjamin Wittes suggests withholding the articles until Bolton testifies:
in the context of John Bolton's announcement yesterday that he's willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate, McConnell's announcement of his posture creates a strategic opening for Pelosi that she will not fail to notice. A subpoena from the Senate is not, after all, legally different from a subpoena from the House. With McConnell now publicly committed to moving forward without hearing from a witness who is willing to testify, Pelosi's control over the articles becomes highly significant.
Here is a card she now has in her hand. She can announce that: (1) She is not willing to hand over the articles so that McConnell can bury them without hearing from a witness who has suddenly made clear that he is, after all, available. (2) Since the Senate majority leader appears committed to a trial framework that will not hear all the available witnesses with relevant information, the House Intelligence Committee will issue the subpoena Bolton has invited instead. (3) She will hold the articles pending the completion of that testimony—and whatever litigation may be necessary to obtain it. And critically, (4) the House reserves the right to pass superseding or amended articles of impeachment in response to new information it obtains.
Will the House follow this advice?
On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told Face the Nation that the panel is “considering” issuing a subpoena to Bolton.

The Courts are aiding Trump

House Democrats explained that they did not issue subpoenas to key officials like Bolton because they did not want impeachment to get tied up in lengthy court cases. Last week, Slate published a piece criticizing the court system for moving so slow on Trump’s cases when - as the authors claim - “the judiciary also has the capacity to move very quickly when circumstances demand it.” They add: “Had the courts signaled a willingness to act at a pace befitting the needs of the moment, Schiff might have made a different choice.”
One could be forgiven for starting to wonder whether the courts are taking sides but doing it in a way that looks measured and restrained. The thing is: Sometimes not resolving an exigent case is a decision.
It’s been clear for some time now that the beating heart of this president’s litigation strategy is an effort to run out the clock… What’s stunning is the degree to which the courts are complicit in all this. The courts have aided and abetted the Trump legal team and Mitch McConnell by refusing to behave as if time is a factor in any of these proceedings.
Make no mistake: It is a choice to ignore a congressional subpoena, and it is a choice to claim that only a court can resolve that impasse. When that choice is taken by the president, it seems fair to ask that the courts resolve the matter with something more prompt than the “all deliberate speed” with which they allowed desegregation to drag on for years and years after Brown v. Board of Education. Sometimes, not resolving a case in time for relief of any kind is a decision. Calling it lofty institutional deliberation instead of a dodge is a play to the court of public opinion, but not a court of law.

Cost of Trump’s travel

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to hide how much American taxpayers are paying to support the Trump family’s extravagant lifestyle. A key provision of a bill to move oversight of the Secret Service to the Treasury requires that the Secret Service disclose the costs related to the travel of the president and his adult children within 120 days after it is passed. The Trump administration balked at the time frame, insisting that the costs can only be revealed after the 2020 election.
It’s not difficult to determine why the administration prefers the delay: the Trump family's lifestyle has likely been very expensive for American taxpayers. Reporters have been able to piece together some estimates. For example, according to a Government Accountability Office report from last year, just one month of Trump travel cost $13.6 million in 2018—a figure that includes the total cost of protecting the president, not just Secret Service costs.
Another example: “A review of federal spending data by liberal super-PAC American Bridge 21st Century found 65 instances of spending by the Secret Service related to presidential golf outings, for a total of $769,520. Another four line items for Secret Service spending related to Mar-A-Lago—the president’s private club, which has no golf course but is often home base for his Florida golfing weekends—brought the total to $950,000.”

DC Hotel

The Trump Organization is moving forward with plans to sell the lease to its D.C. Hotel, which is currently at the center of Emoluments lawsuits and congressional investigations. The Washington Post reported that interested buyers have until Jan. 23 to submit initial bids. In an earlier statement, the Trump Organization said it would try to sell the lease for $500 million, though experts believe that amount is “unrealistically high.”
You may remember: A sales brochure obtained by CNN last year promoted the hotel’s ability to attract business from foreign governments. "Tremendous upside potential exists for a new owner to fully capitalize on government related business upon rebranding of the asset," the pitch says.
Sold out
Regardless of future plans to sell the lease to the hotel, it seems Trump has yet again raised prices in his hotel on specific nights - nights that relate to political events.
Is President Trump already planning a re-election party at his DC hotel on election night? Maybe so, as rooms at Trump International Hotel are entirely unavailable on November 2nd and 3rd. Those dates just happen to be the day before and the night of the 2020 presidential election. And not only that: The night after the election a basic room costs $1,600, a major spike of nearly 5 times the average cost, which is around $331.
The high rate on November 4th suggests that the hotel’s unavailability on the two days before has to do with high demand: Perhaps the hotel sold out because Trumpworld insiders already booked their rooms, or a political group booked up blocks of rooms for a party. No matter what, President Trump will be making even more money than usual from his DC hotel on the nights around the 2020 presidential election.

Trump Org’s fraud

De Blasio says Trump Organization tax practices referred to DA for review and potential charges:
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that he had asked Manhattan’s district attorney to investigate discrepancies ProPublica and WNYC revealed last fall between what President Donald Trump’s company reported in filings to city tax officials and what it reported in loan filings. The discrepancies made his properties seem more profitable to a lender and less profitable to the city’s tax authorities.

Iran conflict

Reasons become clear

The Wall Street Journal reported that impeachment played a large role in the choice to kill Iranian Gen. Soleimani: “Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.”
This reporting was backed up The New York Times: Trump “told some associates that he wanted to preserve the support of Republican hawks in the Senate in the coming impeachment trial, naming Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas as an example, even though they had not spoken about Iran since before Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has offered contradictory justifications for the strike. On Friday, Trump made a new claim: Gen. Soleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies. When confronted with this assertion on Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Esper denied knowledge of such a threat: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.” Senator Chris Murphy pointed out that nothing about imminent attacks on embassies was mentioned during the full Senate briefing earlier in the week.
Rep. Justin Amash: The administration didn’t present evidence to Congress regarding even one embassy. The four embassies claim seems to be totally made up. And they have never presented evidence of imminence—a necessary condition to act without congressional approval—with respect to any of this. (tweet)
  • Interesting fact: In a September 2015 memo to Steve Bannon, unofficial Trump campaign adviser Erik Prince advocated for the killing of Soleimani, who Prince called “the Heinrich Himmler of the Iranian State.” Prince criticized the Obama administration’s handling of Iran, writing "that Soleimani and his ilk are not already DEAD is a national disgrace for America."
Monday morning update: NBC News reports that “Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran's increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials...The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration's stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike... Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.”

Resolution

The House passed a non-binding resolution on Thursday seeking to ensure any future military action against Iran is approved by Congress beforehand.
Earlier Thursday, Pelosi said they purposely took this approach to ensure that the chamber could send a clear message to the president. "We are taking this path because it does not require ... a signature of the president of the United States," she said. "This is a statement of the Congress of the United States, and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not."
  • The resolution was adopted by a 224-194 vote. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Francis Rooney of Florida crossed party lines to vote in favor while Democratic Reps. Max Rose of New York, Ben McAdams of Utah, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Stephanie Murphy of Florida voted against the resolution. Trump was reportedly angered by Gaetz’ support for the resolution

Russia benefits

The Soleimani strike has had an interesting side effect: strengthening Russia’s position in the Middle East and weakening America’s global stance.
Since its pivotal intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, Russia has sought to position itself as a major player in the Middle East, establishing itself as a rare broker that is on good terms with all of the region’s feuding powers. Now Moscow has a fresh chance to solidify that reputation… [The strike] provides Putin with new opportunities to achieve two of his long-standing goals: undermining U.S. credibility and expanding Russia’s footprint across the Middle East. (Foreign Policy)
As a country that likes to portray itself as a peer to the United States, Russia benefits from being able to point to a U.S. precedent, just as it pointed to the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia to justify its invasion of Georgia in 2008. The Soleimani killing provides Moscow a potentially useful precedent should it decide, for instance, to target a Ukrainian official on some dubious pretext in the future. (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
Russian state media is portraying Soleimani as an ally, someone to be admired. Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin voices are saying that Trump killed Soleimani to distract from the impeachment proceedings and provide a boost in his re-election chances.

*THE SIDES*

Facebook

Immediately following the Soleimani strike, Trump’s campaign took to Facebook to praise and thank him for taking out the Iranian general. “Thanks to the swift actions of our Commander-in-Chief, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is no longer a threat to the United States, or to the world,” the ad says. “Take the Official Trump Military Survey TODAY to let me know what you think of my leadership as Commander-in-Chief.” According to Vice News, Trump’s reelection campaign has purchased over 768 “self-congratulatory” Facebook ads.
In fact, the most popular posts about Iran on Facebook last week were ones written by pages run by President Trump. Since Dec. 31, Trump’s Iran-related Facebook posts have collectively received over 4.1 million interactions.
Both native Facebook content and third-party links on the platform are either overwhelmingly pro-Trump or posted directly by Trump. Eight of the ten most-interacted-with posts containing the keyword “Iran” published to Facebook in the last month were posted by Trump’s personal Facebook page, according to social metrics site BuzzSumo.
Disinformation allowed
Despite Twitter’s decision to ban ads from politicians, Facebook refuses to even fact-check political advertisements. Instead, the company is placing the responsibility on the user: sometime in Summer 2020, users in the U.S. will have the ability to change an obscure account setting to see “fewer” political ads.
Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub: “These so-called 'transparency' solutions are neither transparent nor solutions... I am not willing to bet the 2020 elections on the proposition that Facebook has solved its problems with a solution whose chief feature appears to be that it doesn't seriously impact the company's profit margins."

Investigate Barr

The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to Congressional leaders, urging them “to commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct by Attorney General William P. Barr that threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.”
The letter asserts that in several extended public statements during the past few months, Mr. Barr has disregarded “bedrock obligations for government lawyers,” including “to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice, or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities.” (NYC Bar)

Hillary exonerated...again

The Washington Post reported last week that the Justice Department is closing its 2-year long investigation into Clinton’s business dealings - including the allegation (pushed by Trump) that she had played a role in giving Russia a profitable uranium deal - after not finding any crimes or misconduct.
Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance: "Nothing." This appropriate result still doesn't erase the unforgivable sin that AG Sessions committed by opening a criminal investigation to please the president. DOJ is not a tool for presidents to use against people they think are their enemies. (Tweet)

Defamation lawsuit

A New York State Supreme Court judge rejected Trump’s attempt to have E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him thrown out. Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that Carroll can now proceed with her lawsuit that alleges that Trump defamed her when he made public comments denying that he raped her.
Trump said in June that Carroll was “totally lying,” calling the accusation “fake news.” He said they had never met, though a 1987 photo shows them and their then-spouses at a social event. Trump dismissed the picture, saying he was just “standing with my coat on in a line.”

Flynn and Stone updates

The Justice Department recommended that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn serve up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts after the 2016 election. Prosecutors had previously requested leniency from the court, but reversed the decision when Flynn hired a new legal team that claimed he was “tricked” into pleading guilty. Flynn’s sentencing is set for Jan. 28 before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled last week that materials related to the arrest of Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone should be released to media outlets within 60-days. These documents include search warrants and information seized during the FBI’s investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Stone’s sentencing for obstruction and witness tampering charges is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Parnas delivers

Joseph Bondy, the lawyer representing Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, tweeted on Sunday that he delivered the contents of Parnas’ iPhone to the House Intelligence Committee. Parnas claims there is evidence on the phone that is relevant to the impeachment investigations.

Selling troops

During Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Friday, the President admitted to “sell[ing] troops,” as characterized by Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump: “Saudi Arabia is paying us for [our troops]. We have a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”

Immigration news

  • The Seattle Times: The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is opening an investigation into the many reports of people being stopped and questioned for hours last weekend at the Canadian border… The vast majority of stops appear to have occurred at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine and affected people of Iranian descent, although two others of different Middle Eastern heritage also told The Seattle Times they went through a similar ordeal.
  • Buzzfeed News: The Trump administration has been preparing to expand its travel ban — which bars individuals from seven countries from entering the US — to restrict certain immigrants from several more nations around the world, according to internal government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. It is unclear whether the administration will issue the restrictions. But the draft documents suggest it has been actively preparing to do so by creating materials to engage with the media, alongside a draft presidential proclamation.
  • NYT: The Trump administration will deport some Mexicans seeking asylum at the United States border to Guatemala as part of a deal that had been praised by Department of Homeland Security officials as a way to deter migration from Central America...In theory, an asylum seeker from Juárez, Mexico, could be deported from the El Paso, Texas, border crossing a mile from his home to the Guatemalan border nearly 2,000 miles away.
  • NPR: A federal appeals court has handed the Trump administration a victory by allowing the president to tap military construction funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A divided 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision late Wednesday, reversing a lower court order that stopped Trump from using $3.6 billion in U.S Defense Department money to construct the long-promised border wall.
  • CBS News: A federal appeals court in New York on Wednesday refused to allow the Trump administration to implement a sweeping rule that would make it easier for the government to reject applications for green cards and visas from immigrants who it determines are or could become burdens on U.S. taxpayers.
  • NBC News: A federal judge has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to return a gay asylum-seeker who was deported to Chad, ruling that the government had not properly considered his asylum claim based on his status as a gay man before deporting him.
submitted by rusticgorilla to Keep_Track [link] [comments]

[OC] An Empire of Vengeance [Part 37]

Part 37
First Part | Part 36| Part 38
[- - -]
I lied. I still posted here. Next one will be off-site. So, hey – if you like the story let me know! If you DON'T like the story let me know too! And tell me why, aye? Thanks!
As always all errors are entirely due to my defective brain.
[- - -]
1505 hours, Iron Reef fabrication complex, Utilities sub-complex, Main generator control bunker, Wyoming, February 27th, Year 6, A.F.I.
Nelly repressed her grunt of pain as she hobbled around the floor-level control room. The strike team had taken heavy losses in terms of numbers alone; from 46 brave cockroaches only 17 still drew breath, fewer still were combat effective.
With more will than ammo they held the control bunker nonetheless. At this point the main entrance was choked by dead Talsans and Sapper wrecks. The access corridor that lead deeper into the underground complex was barricaded with whatever furniture lay on hand, although the enemy had given up on trying to storm the control room by now.
Truth be told, the most unnerving part wasn't the rapidly depleting ammunition or the wails of agony from the wounded going without medical aid, nor was it the hard, sunken eyes that were way past what was considered normal human psyche. It wasn't even the catatonic Micheal who stared into nothingness and barely acknowledged your presence.
The most unnerving part was the sound of the sapper claws ripping and tearing at the bunker walls from the outside, their promises of death growing louder by the minute. Feeling like a prey caught inside its last-ditch refuge as the predators tore down what they'd thought impenetrable defenses redefined what being vulnerable meant.
But they were all veterans, the core of the cockroaches. Beaten and battered as they were one unbroken pact remained between them; they'd all die fighting to the last very last one if it came to that.
A distant-sounding explosion, felt more than heard. Not the kind that Fish weapons did. Nelly squinted.
There, again.
And again.
The gravely scratchings lessened and then disappeared, replaced with mounting Fish weapon fire soon intermixed with the distinct firecrackers of human small-arms and interspersed with the deep rumbles of cannon fire.
Those might have well been liberty bells ringing for the effect it had on her troops, each detonation washing away more and more of the impending doom that had taken hold.
“We're saved.”
Dangerous. Nelly felt the elation racing through the ranks, threatening to overtake even her. She responded with coarse barks.
“Hold your guard up! Keep watching those barricades morons! Until you got a little angel carting you away to heaven you are NOT saved, hear me!?”
As she spoke, she realized the mounting brouhaha outside died down almost instantly. People craned their neck trying to perceive the faintest clue of who had won. She half-expected the scratching to resume when-
“I'd knock on the door but it's literally just a pile of corpses. I mean, it's really awesome and all but totally impractical. HOI, VINCENT!... YES, YOU, GET YOUR ARMORED DOZER ASS OVER HERE! WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHY AIN'T I USING MY RADIO? Oh, right...”
Those stupid words from that stupid man was all the survivors needed to hear right now.
The door-blocking mound rumbled and then fell inward, a pock-marked and half-melted Dozer suit trudging in followed by Alexander and just like a cork removed from a bottle, a flood of troopers and corpsman flowing in and around him.
They were, indeed, saved.
Nelly finally relented, he mental bulwark failing as the pain invaded her entire world. Half-collapsing to the floor she had strength enough left for only a few heartfelt words;
“About fucking time.”
[- - -]
1509 hours, Iron Reef Command Bunker, Wyoming, February 27th, Year 6, A.F.I.
This was madness. How could he, in charge of an entire fabrication complex spanning dozens of square kilometers and replete with thousands of troops and war machines, feel so powerless to stop a pack of raging apes from doing as they pleased.
He ignored those around him, waiving them back to their post. Stop asking me for commands and simply do your job. Orders will come when they are needed.
He zoomed in on remaining slave forces that had setup around the main generator. The rest of their troops had either all retreated from the gate complex or been exterminated trying to do so. Yet even there they had seen fit to leave behind explosive devices to severely damage the gates proper. A nuisance considering he could have replacement parts manufactured within a day but the gesture conveyed a clear and vulgar message.
Talsan forces were amassing around the small cluster of enemies left. He was withdrawing all but the bare minimal garrison from all other complexes and re-routing every single asset he had to this location. He would simply drown the savages with bodies if that is what it took to defeat them.
He had 11 minutes to wait for his forces to be in position. He'd use every single one of those to observe and study his nemesis for the day where he'd pay them back this insult.
Right now, they were... drilling. Portable drilling armatures, long arms striking up at the sky, were drilling feverishly into the ground around the main generator's bunker. Each one flanked by a number of heavy armored vehicles with bolted-on Talsan vehicle shield generators.
Ssar'shira frowned. So those were important; he couldn't figure out why exactly.
“Hanassi, why are they drilling into the ground?”
Caught off-guard, the lieutenant almost over-spun her chair. “I... I don't know commander. Maybe they want to... install something?”
“Indeed. Radio towers to announce their ownership of the bunker, perhaps? I wouldn't put that much hubris past them.” He straightened his back.
“Any update from the troops still inside the bunker's lower levels?”
“Ah, yes Commander. Last report stated they were holding fast against repeated probing by the enemy. All entry-ways have been code-locked to slow the invaders down.”
“I see.”
Defending, holed up, slowing down. Those were not the verbiage of victory-minded troops. He nearly grimaced.
His eyes darted to the ready status of the assembling Talsan forces, nodding with reserved approval. Just a few more minutes now.
Attention focused once more on the silent over-head displays from his surveillance drones he noted quizzically that the slaves running around looked like a swarm of navans scurrying around a morsel of food.
His mood soured as he realized he should not have had to rely on surveillance drones. He should have had fleet support if not at least satellite coverage by the great tide!
This whole affair was one giant shipwreck. Massgate codes in the hands of slaves, dearth of satellite coverage and access, sabotaged fleet communication, precise knowledge of the complex's layout. None of this should have been possible.
He felt icy venom in his veins; that could only have been the work of a traitor. It had to be. Some vile degenerate was betraying the might of the Talsans and the will of house Thershu. By his blood he would find this... thing and make it squirm before snuffing its miserable life out.
Surfacing back for air, he noted with mounting impatience that his troops were nearly ready. He let his gaze flow over the monitors displaying the slaves once more. Distantly he noticed they were done drilling and were now inserting something into those holes they'd just dug. Perhaps they were installing antennas...
He found solace in the thought that no matter what happened today this race was doomed. One day a Talsan fleet would rain fiery death upon this world's infestation. He only hoped he'd be there to witness it.
Alarms blared.
They cut mid-sequence as everything went dark. Shocked silence reigned for a few seconds before the back-up generators came online, the command center haphazardly coming back to life with angry warning flashing on nearly all viewing surfaces.
“Hanassi, report. Now.”
“Yes Commander I... I'm trying to...”
“Hanassi.”
He did not think she could look more distraught but yet, here she was.
“It's... the main generator and the base shield sir. They're gone.”
He silently returned to his few remaining screen which now bore a giant hole where the main generator and shield bunker stood moments ago.
Ah. That's what the drilling was about.
Ssar'shira briefly entertained the thought of ordering his massed troops to attack immediately when he noticed that the slaves were busy setting up 4 familiar-looking pylons in a rectangle around their forces.
He zoomed in on the pylons to confirm what he already knew; yes, those were indeed portable massgate emitters.
Just like that, he'd been ultimately defeated.
[- - -]
1511 hours, Iron Reef fabrication complex, Utilities sub-complex, Main generator defensive compound, Wyoming, February 27th, Year 6, A.F.I.
Alex was shouting into the hand-held radio set as if to cover the distance.
“HEY MOON BOY, YOU GOT THE PACKAGE?”
Julian's reply was scratchy and delayed by a few seconds.
“Fuck's sake why are you incapable of using my name. Yes, we got your fucking toy fort and I bet a whole bunch of very angry fishes inside.”
“NEGATIVE MOON BOY, FISH CAN'T HANDLE MASSGATING. WHAT YOU'VE GOT IS A WHOLE BUNCH OF ANGRY FISH PATÉ. HOW'S THE HSN RED ROCKET BY THE WAY?”
A few seconds elapsed.
“Whatever fuck head. You know full well how fucking uncomfortable this fucking stolen fish space ship and we NEVER AGREED ON THAT FUCKING NAME!”
“ROGER THAT MOON BOY, PACKAGE IS IN AND BEDS ARE COZY. STAY PUT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS! EARTH MAN OUT!”
With that he gave back the relayed radio set back to the slightly confused comms officer as he waved to Allan currently sticking out the commander's hatch of hammer-1.
“Hey Allan, we good here? Had a nice trip, got some nice souvenir but I think we're pretty tired.”
Allan looked a bit unnerved.
“Yeah, we're good to go. We really ought to as well. The Talsan forces massing around our position will completely overwhelm us if they charge in.”
That might be it, Alex thought.
“Right. Call it, get the magical teleport sticks to bring us home!”
Allan simply sighed as he waved the order to the awaiting combat engineer.
One button press and the last remaining live humans were gone from the Iron Reef complex.
[- - -]
Flagship “Crashing Wave”, Admiral's quarters, February 29th, Year 6, A.F.I.**
Selo purred as the Admiral's hand softly stroke its fluffed fur.
Jaye'sal was reviewing the first of the hundreds of reports to come in the wake of the “incident” as they were calling it. It couldn't be an attack; that would indicated equality. It could much less be a defeat; that would imply inferiority. Hence, incident.
Irksomely he'd noticed from the reports a pervasive undertone of acceptance across the command staff that a traitor had to be involved somehow.
How right they were, he mused. Brainwashed they might be but idiotic the little zealots were not. Sooner or later they would connect enough dots to paint the broader picture. He would have to instruct Alexander to more covertly operate so that...
He caught the incongruence and couldn't help but sigh.
As he resumed his review the soft chimes of incoming priority communication filled his quarter. He grimaced as he read the originator.
Cross-legged, he dropped his reading pad and swiveled his chair to face the view wall. Jelie'lu's smug green-skinned head appeared over the stars currently displayed.
“Admiral.”
“Captain.”
Jaye'sal consciously chose not to use her noble title in lieu of her actual rank. He almost perceived the shadow of offense on her visage. She was very good at this.
“Admiral, I trust you have been reviewing the reports on the incident at Iron Reef?”
“Indeed I have. A terrible affair.”
“Hmm, yes. Terrible indeed. I discussed in length the effect that this might have on the slave population with Captains Sanama'sura and Lisse'Haru last evening. We had our conclusions counter-verified by our analysts and they support our line of thoughts.”
The Vasharin swims ever closer to its prey it seems.
“And I infer you are calling me to impart upon me those conclusions?”
A noble's smile preambled Jelie'lu's reply.
“It was sent to your inbox Admiral, for your perusal at your leisure. No, I was calling you to inform that we have chosen to act in deference to the urgency of said effects. In order to curtail the worst we have ordered a kinetic strike on one of the prison city as retaliation. We have chosen Prison City 36 in view of the strange occurrences of recovered Talsan weaponry from within its premises. We believe it to be a nest of insurgency. Striking it down is certain to remind the slaves what awaits them if they grow so bold as to openly defy us.”
Jaye'sal pensively nodded as his mind raced. Non-withstanding that this was possibly the worst answer in the current situation, here was also a very clear and deliberate challenge to his authority.
“Then I must commend you on your willingness to make hard decisions. I would however ask that this strike be stayed as I review your report and have it analyzed in turn. If substantiated I would want to give this my full endorsement which I cannot do without full knowledge of the situation.”
A predator's smile flashed across her face.
“I am afraid it is too late, Admiral. The impactor has already been launched. It is currently engaging its final retrograde orbit and aligning with its target. It will strike within 3 minutes.”
Jaye'sal weighted every word he said. The Vasharin wasn't merely swimming closer, it was actively prodding his defenses.
“I see. If you believed the urgency to be so great then I will have to hold my judgment until I have fully reviewed your report. Should it be in concordance with our missions and the Edicts, I will endorse your actions.”
He left unsaid the implications of the reverse.
Was that annoyance he saw?
“Very well Admiral. Jelie'lu out.”
He bothered only to nod back as the communications cut.
3 minutes. No time to warn anyone.
As precarious a situation he suddenly found himself him following the overt challenge on his position, he dreaded Alexander's sure-to-come call even more.
He breathed a surprisingly heavy sigh as he forced himself to watch the kinetic strike on Boston. Somehow, he felt he owed it to him. Mechanically his hand continued to stroke Selo, his mind blanking out as he simply let the images flow into him.
[- - -]
Boston Prison City, Minutemen Headquarters, February 29th, Year 6, A.F.I.**
The first signs she had that some was wrong was all the shouting and running.
The second sign was Prisha bursting into her office, out of breath and panic in her eyes.
“Akshi!”
“Prish, what's wrong?”
“Outside, from the sky, a ball of fire! It's growing bigger!”
Akshara didn't bother asking more questions. She rushed outside with her sister in tow.
People were running everywhere, into shelter apparently. She just looked up.
In the sky, a ball of fire, growing bigger.
A few seconds now.
With urgency, without panic, she dragged her sister in front and knelt to face her.
“Akshi what-”
No time.
“Prish, I love you so much.”
A tear as her sister seemed to understand.
“I... I love you too Akshi.”
Eyes closed shut the two sisters hugged stronger than they ever did, or ever would.
[- - -]
Part 38
submitted by GJacoo to HFY [link] [comments]

[OC][JVerse] Rebirth, Chapter 4, Requiem

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Date Point: 1 year 9 months BV
Dominion boneyard planet Rust
Class 11
Goralin, clanless
Everything hurt, he felt like he just had a duel with the champion of Stoneback. Those Keeda damned Corti had tricked them. His brothers had warned him not to trust them. They might have been the best salvage team in three parsecs, but they had hit a slump and were on their last credits. The Corti had promised a small fortune for this job and Goralin had convinced his brothers to take it. Deathworld or not that kind of money could buy them their own ship. All if that was moot now that they were marooned here.
He'd been the first to wake up on this hell hole, and the first thing he did was to check on his brothers. Thorain was next to him and appeared alright, he wasn't bleeding anywhere at least, Ralthin was equally unharmed, the big brownie brute looked like he was just taking a nap in the sun. Speaking of which, it was beating down hard and Goralin was already panting. He'd need to find somewhere cool soon or he and his brothers would be in big trouble.
Looking around, they were in between great mounds of junk, and the only things alive that he could see were dizi rats and some shrubs. He didn't like the idea of eating the little rodents, but there weren't many options that he could see. After a quick look around his prospects were a little brighter, he'd seen what looked like a lake off in the distance maybe a few [hours] walk from where they were. He was just going to check on his brothers again when Ralthin woke up.
“Fyu’s balls,” Ralthin said, sitting up.
“Don't say it,” Goralin said his ears going back.
“Don't say what,” Ralthin snarled. “That the Corti played us, or that it's your fault that we ended up here?” He stood up and extended his claws.
“Oh come on Ralthin, you're just as much at fault as me in this situ-” Goralin was interrupted by Thorain.
“Guys guys, now isn't the time for this,” Thorain said sitting up and rubbing his head. “I might have just woken up, but I know that we shouldn't be fighting right now.”
Ralthin grudgingly sheathed his claws, “Fine then, if you have any ideas on how to ge-”
He was interrupted by something flying over the nearest pile of junk and landing heavily enough that they could feel the impact through the ground. He couldn't believe it, of all the places in the galaxy this was the last place he would have expected to see one.
“Looks like yinz could use a hand.” it said.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Date point: A few hours earlier
Dominion boneyard planet Rust
Class 11
Michael Kepler
It was probably the planet’s unnaturally long day/night cycle but they'd gotten the basic skeleton of their ship built in what seemed like record time. Hephaestus had been a real help in designing the inner workings of their ride off this planet, but the overall shape fell to Michael. Ever since he’d seen Star Wars his favorite ship was the Slave 1. He'd taken some liberties with the design after finding out that space travel took a good deal longer outside of movies.
The original design of the Firespray was much too small to really be practical for any long trips. As it was, his design still held true to the original, if anything his design was just the next step in the Firespray line. He'd kept the rotating wings because they would allow for some crazy maneuvers if he got the thrusters right. Besides, they just looked cool. The expansive canopy was a no go, having no way to make it here, so Michael had gone with something like the space shuttle. The interior started with the airlock and the garage door side by side under the “nose” of the ship. There was a hallway running from the airlock alongside the garage connecting to the garage itself and main storage room. The cabins were after that, between main storage and the large common area. The bridge access was the tricky part, but he'd come up with a way to have a lift go “up” to it, with localized gravity in the lift so it didn't mess with the living space. All the power management, water treatment, atmospheric processing, and weapon systems were in the “nose” of the ship, starting with the bridge and going “down” along the nose, and were accessible via a zero g shaft with hand and foot holds all along it.
He'd learned a few things working with Hephaestus, the crashed Hunter ship had something called quantum power stacks providing energy. He had no idea how they worked, for all he knew they used magic to pull energy out of the aether. The numbers Hephaestus had shown him we're too arcane to make much sense of, but after some head scratching he figured that he only needed one or two of them to power his new ship. Always a fan of redundancy, Michael worked six of the things into the final design. The extra power might just come in handy, considering how warp drives worked, his ship might just be one of the fastest in the galaxy. Especially since he'd come up with a way to run multiple drives in parallel, splitting the load for better efficiency. Speaking of the warp drives, Michael had honestly been let down with how boring they were. No lights or fancy casings, just boring grey boxes the size of a hard drive. They did have one plus side though, being so small, he didn't have to devote a whole room for the things. They fit quite nicely next to the quantum stacks.
The main thing that made construction of their new ride a breese was that the Hunter ship was equipped with something called a nanofactory. That thing was some sci fi space magic. Like something straight out of Star trek. Just load in a blueprint, feed it some raw materials, and a few hours later, out popped whatever you wanted. It was about the size of a dishwasher so it couldn't make anything big, but with it Michael had made all the tools they needed, and fusion welders were something else. All he had to do was hold it on the joint between whatever he was welding together and off it went. No mess, no grinding back extra material, just perfectly straight welds with no obvious seams or marks at all. If this teck ever got back to Earth it would put a lot of people out of work.
He was taking a break from working on the ship to eat something and finish up one of his side projects. If he was gonna have a ship like the Fet’s then, by God, he was gonna have the cool gadgets too. Starting with the famous rocket pack. He didn't use actual rockets though, he set up a pack with kinetic thrusters and a huge battery to power them with. He was just about to test it when….
KrackBOOM
Michael looked up to find the ship that just hit atmo, hoping it wasn't another salvage hauler dropping junk on the Hunter ship again. Thankfully the haulers hadn't covered the entrance yet. When he found it he saw that the ship in question wasn't a salvage hauler. It was white and cigar shaped with regular windows along the sides.
“Hey Hephaestus, you better come out and get a look at this,” Michael called back toward the opening in the Hunter ship. He didn't have to wait long before Hephaestus came scuttling out of the ship. Michael had no way of pronouncing the Hunter language, so he was teaching Hephaestus english, he was picking it up fast too. The words came out mangled and slurred, but it was probably due to the shape of Heph’s mouth.
“I hear Mikle, not time for ssssalvag drop. Wat you sseee?” Hephaestus said looking up into the sky.
“It's right there,” Michael said pointing. “You have any idea what it is?”
“It not hunter sssship, not spikey. Grey big head desssign.” Hephaestus said watching as the ship started its descent.
“Grey big heads,” Michael said. “Shit, it's probably the fuckers that dropped me here coming back to see if I died yet.” The ship continued its descent toward the mountains about three-ish kilometers away. “You'd better wait here. No telling how they'd react if they see you.”
“Idea isss good. I wait here till you come bak.” Hephaestus said turning back to go into the ship.
“At least I'll get to test my jump pack on the way there,” Michael said to himself grinning.
He grabbed a few things before he left, some water, a few ration balls from the ship enormous supply, and his improved coilgun. The original had been somewhat of a let down when he tested it. Only firing the slugs he'd made about as fast as the nerf gun he'd used as the base fired foam darts, and taking almost a minute to charge between shots. With the improved alien-tech mega capacitors and charging system Michael could send slugs down range at ludicrously high speeds once a second. Thus armed and provisioned he set off toward where he'd seen the alien ship land. He'd only been walking for about five minutes when he saw the ship take off and head for the heavens like a bat out of hell. Fuckers must have gotten all they needed. He continued on hoping they at least left something behind. It was slow going, being that he hadn't explored out to where they landed, but as he was nearing the site he heard voices. Michael couldn't make out most of what they were saying, but they seemed, if anything....angry. He got closer and making sure to put a pile of junk between himself and the voices, settled in to listen.
[Don't say it]
[Don't say what, that the Corti played us, or that it's your fault that we ended up here?]
[Oh come on Ralthin, you're just as much at fault as me in this situ-]
[Guys guys, now isn't the time for this. I might have just woken up, but I know that we shouldn't be fighting right now]
That was all he needed to hear. Michael set down his coilgun and got ready to make an entrance. They might attack him on sight, so he might as well put on a show. He gathered himself up and, activating his jump pack, leapt clear over the junk heap. Shit,he hoped he could stick the landing. When he got the ground in a low crouch Michael was greeted by….two racoons and a small bear? They were all shorter than himself, the bear thing only coming up to his shoulder, and the raccoon people were a head shorter than that. Trusting his translator to work properly, Michael stepped forward.
“Looks like yinz could use a hand.” He said putting on his friendliest smile.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Goralin, clanless
Ok, fact check. He was on an uninhabited toxic wasteland of a deathworld, dropped off by a trio of wretched Corti for Fyu knows what, staring at possibly the deadliest species in the galaxy. It had a translator, that much was obvious because he heard the human speak in Gaori. His and his brothers translator implants didn't have human languages instaled in them, that particular update cost a lot more credits than he had wanted to spend. He had no idea what “yinz” meant, the human’s translator leaving it untranslated, but the human had offered help. His brothers were looking at him, expectantly. Well here goes nothing, shaking himself and gathering up his courage, he stepped forward to greet the human.
“My name is Goralin, and these are my brothers, Ralthin and Thorain,” he said pointing at each of them in turn. “I can only assume that the Corti dropped you here too?”
[Yep,] the human replied, [name’s Michael. Those grey fucks abducted me and dropped me here to see how long I'd survive, either I lasted longer than they expected, or they're trying to complicate things dropping yinz here.]
There it was again, that “yinz” word. It was probably a word for a group of people. Translators were never good with slang. Anyway, there was a deathworlder here and by Keedah, he was gonna make friends with this one.
“Considering that you don't seem to be dying of hunger or thirst, you must have some kind camp around.” Goralin asked carefully.
[I have one,] Michael said, sitting down. [It's a bit of a long story, but the cliff notes version is that a week after I was dropped here a ship crashed. There was nothing alive except a single Hunter.]
“Fyu's balls!” Ralthin exclaimed, his ears going back. “I hope you managed to kill it. Those things are worse than evil.”
“They raid ships and stations,” Thorain spoke up. “They eat sapients, and no one knows for sure what they do with the ones they capture.”
[I do,] Michael said, his voice barely audible. [They take the ones they capture back to their own planets and raise them as livestock, the Hunter’s call the ones they capture and breed meat slaves.] He said the last words looking at the ground.
Goralin was beginning to suspect the human knew more than he was telling. He couldn't smell anything on the air other that the shock coming from his brothers. He had nothing to go on for humans anyway.
“There's something your not telling us.” Goralin cautiously said.
[Well, I was gonna bring this up gently, but might as well do it now.] Michael sighed deeply. [The lone survivor of the crash isn't a hunter in the strictest sense. He was some kind of genetic experiment. Hephaestus told me he was implanted time and again, only for the implants to stop working and fall off. He spent his life strapped to a table being force fed meat from the slaves to try and get him to prefer it to other food. When I found him he was barely alive.]
Goralin could only stare at the human in front of him. Not only had this deathworlder survived here, but he did it while caring for a member of the most hated and evil species in the galaxy. Genetic experiment or not, most sapients would have left it to die or killed it outright. This human however, had made friends with it. Deathworlders were terrifying. If they we're going to survive here then Goralin and his brothers were gonna need every ally they could get. As long as this human could keep his pet hunter from eating them all in their sleep, that is.
“Well,” Goralin said, “we happen to be one of the best salvage teams around and you need a ship. I think we can work together.”
[That was quick,] Michael said, looking at the three of them. [I thought that having a live Hunter around would cause problems.]
“You see anyone else with a way off this rock?” Ralthin asked. “Besides, having a deathworlder around to keep the Hunter in check is a little more comforting.”
[A what?] Michael asked, looking around. [That doesn't sound comforting to me.]
That was it. This human didn't know, and how could he. He was abducted from his home planet and dropped here without contact with anyone besides the Corti. Knowing them they probably kept him in stasis for most of the trip.
“He means you,” Thorain said, pointing at the human. “Your species is from probably the most deadly place in the galaxy. I forget his name, but one of your kind made the news a while back, single handedly killing a whole Hunter raiding party on the Outlook on Forever. Earth is a deathworld, high gravity, unstable tectonics, horrible diseases. I could go on, but I think I made my point.”
[Come to think of it,] Michael said, scratching his chin. [Hephaestus did seem pretty weak when he tried to get my water when we first met. I just assumed it was from extreme dehydration.]
“Nope,” Thorain said, “Take Ralthin here, he's the biggest and strongest one on our team, but I doubt he could even lift you off the ground.”
“Careful Thorain,” Ralthin said. “I'm still mad about being stuck here and I'm itchin’ to sink my claws into something.” he chittered and got up to walk toward the human. “What do you say Michael, wanna let me try.”
[Well, it's not the strangest thing anyone has ever asked me, but I'm heavier than I look.] Michael said standing up.
Goralin thought that Ralthin, being almost as tall as the human had a good shot at picking him up. He was the heavy lifter of the team after all. Ralthin walked up to the human and wrapped his arms around Michael's torso. Goralin could only stare in amazement as, try as he might, Ralthin couldn't do it. The Human’s feet never left the ground. Struggling for a few minutes gave no change to the human's firmly grounded status. Starting to pant, Ralthin have up.
“Great Father Fyu human,” Ralthin huffed. “What do you weigh?”
[I'll tell you if you let me try and pick you up.] Michael said. He did something curious with his eyes, only closing one of them.
“Fine Michael, you try.” Ralthin said. “Just know that I almost made it into Stoneback.”
Goralin was astounded. Ralthin easily out massed him and Thorain put together, but the human picked him up, and spun him around like he was lighter than air. Goralin had no option but to start believing the rumors, however far fetched they were.
“Fyu's balls, human put me down,” Ralthin said, his pride no doubt bruised.
Putting Ralthin down with a laugh, Michael said, [Well, a deal’s a deal. On Earth I would weigh about a hundred and thirty kilos. No idea what that is here though, with the low gravity and all.]
“I’d normally call naxa’s farts,” Ralthin said shaking his head, “but I couldn't even get you off the ground. And to top it all, you picked me up like I was a cub.”
[Hey, don't take it too bad. Your shoulders don't look like they're made for lifting anyway. If anything, I bet you could outrun me on flat ground if you went on all fours.] Michael said.
“Well yer right about that,” Ralthin said, nodding his head “Most Gaoians don't like to admit it, specially some o' the clans, but we're quadrupeds by nature.”
[Clans?] Michael asked tilting his head.
Goralin spoke up, “The clans are how our society is divided up. Think of them as the elite specialists of our species. To name a few, Clan Whitecrest are the sneaky intelligence agents, Clans Stoneback and Ironclaw are the hard laborers and engineers, Clan Longear are the tech masters, and so on. However the majority of or population are clanless like us three. Ralthin tried for Stoneback, but just narrowly missed it, and Thorain here passed the technical requirements for Longear, but he missed out on one thing. His ears weren't long enough.” He finished with a chitter.
[You didn't try out for one?] Michael asked, pointing at Goralin.
“The clans aren't for me,” Goralin said “thought I'd strike out on my own, maybe impress a few females with my salvage endeavors.”
[Well, there's something our species have in common. most of what we do is to impress a mate.] Michael said with a laugh. [If the introductions are over we should probably head back to the crash site. The days are long here and it's only going to get hotter.]
“Hotter!” Thorain exclaimed, “I thought it was mid day already.”
[Nope, just mid morning. The days here are about sixty hours long. Thirty hours light, thirty hours dark, and the nights are equally cold.] Michael said as he started around the junk pile to pick up his coilgun. [Just so you guys know, I left my gun over here and I'm gonna pick it up before we head out. Don't want you guys to freak out or nothin'.]
“Gun?” Ralthin said intrigued. “You managed to get a working pulse gun here? Of all places?” He was getting up to follow Michael around the pile when he heard him say
[I've got no idea what a pulse gun is, but mine is probably primitive compared to one of those.]
Michael came around the pile holding something only a deathworlder could think of. Great Fyu, the human had a portable coilgun. Normally they were reserved for ship to ship weaponry because of the weight and recoil, and this human was carrying one with the confidence Goralin or his brothers would carry a pulse gun. Deathworlders were terrifying. Before he could say anything Ralthin spoke up.
“Great Fyu,” Ralthin said, ears up and forward, “either the Corti did something with my head or that's a coilgun.”
[Yep, built it myself before I got abducted. It's been upgraded since I got here though. The grey fuckers left me all my guns though, not just this one. Probably to see if I committed suicide, not gonna give them the satisfaction, no sir.] Michael said, shaking his head.
“Wait, you got more guns?” Ralthin said, excited.
[They're back at my camp. Got a shotgun and a 140 year old antique revolver. I'll show you when we get there. Yinz feel up to a hike?] Michael said tilting his head back towards the junk pile.
“How far is your camp from here?” Goralin asked
[It's not that far only about three kilometers away, shouldn't take too long to get back.] Michael said.
“We'd better get going then,” Goralin said.
They started walking.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Michael Kepler
It didn't take long to reach the crash site, but by the time they got to it the Gaoians were suffering for it. They had to take frequent breaks for them to try and cool off. It was really starting to get hot, and Michael had used what water he had to try and cool them off. It was none to please tell though, wet fur has a distinct smell to it regardless of species. As they rounded the last pile of junk on the way to the crash site Ralthin spoke up.
[Great Fyu human, you never said you were building a ship.]
“Well, that was kinda my plan from day one.” Michael said turning around. “Having a crashed Hunter ship to use for parts, and a Hunter with all the knowledge of an aerospace engineer, helped a lot. Yinz wait here, I'll go inside and get Hephaestus and bring him out to meet you.”
[Still doesn't sit right, having a Hunter around.] Goralin said, ears going back.
[Your sure he won't try and eat us?] Thorain said, a touch of fear in his voice.
“Nah, he won't hurt yinz at all.” Michael said “ He only eats those purple furry critters anyway.”
[Just keep him on a short leash,] Ralthin growled. [I still don't trust him yet.]
“Relax,” Michael said, “I'll go and get him, just wait and see.”
[Whatever you say.] Ralthin said, unconvinced.
Michael left the Gaoians outside and went into the spawning ship. It didn't take long for him to find Hephaestus, the big blue Hunter was waiting by the nanofactory for something to finish “printing.” Michael walked up to him.
“I'm back,” Michael said, “and I brought some Gaoians that the Corti left here. I want to introduce you to them.”
Hephaestus turned around and said “Ssshhip will build faster now we hhhavve more hhhhelp. You tell them about me?”
“Kinda hard not to, buddy,” Michael said. “Come on, times wasting, and I want to get them in out of the heat.” He motioned for Hephaestus to follow. “What were you printing anyway?”
“I make computer for sssship. Hunter core broke. Better with new one.” Hephaestus said, as they walked.
“Shit, you designed a new computer from scratch?” Michael said, “Just how much data did those bastards shove into your brain?”
“All ttthhhingssss needed for builderssss. Sssstil ssssorrting data in brain.” Hephaestus replied.
“Anyway,” Michael said, shaking his head, “don't make any sudden moves when I introduce you to the Gaoians. I don't want them to attack you.”
“Yyouu no need worry Mikle. I make fffrends with tthhhem.” Hephaestus said smiling at Michael.
“Alright, just don't do that at them, don't want them running scared now.” Michael said with a wink.
As they got closer to the entrance of the ship Michael could hear the Gaoians talking in hushed voices. He couldn't make out what they were saying but they didn't sound too pleased. Shit, he didn't realise till now that Hephaestus didn't have any way to talk to them. An idea clicked in his head the grey fucks were trying to put implants in his head, and he was sure one of them was a translator. He called out to the Gaoians,
“Hey, any of you guys have translator implants?”
[Yeah we have translator implants, why do you ask?] He heard Goralin call back.
“Just wanted to make sure Hephaestus here could talk to you.” Michael called back, “I don't think the translators have the Hunter language in them, but he can speak the same language as those Corti. We're coming out now.”
Michael and Hephaestus stepped out of the ship. The Gaoians instantly jumped back and extended their claws and snarled at Hephaestus. Hephaestus, to his credit, didn't do anything more than shrink back. The walking nightmare even made himself look small, not making eye contact with any of them.
Michael stepped forward with his hands in front of him.
“Ok, I'm gonna need yinz to put away the claws and calm down please.” Michael slowly said “I promise he won't hurt you.”
[Kinda hard to do that when he's even bigger than you Michael,] Ralthin growled.
It was Thorain who stepped forward. Being the smallest of the three Gaoians made it more than surprising that he made the first move. Sheathing his claws and shaking himself he said-
[I'm Thorain, and these are my brothers Goralin and Ralthin.] He said pointing to each of them. [I'm going to trust Michael and I hope my brothers can trust him as well. You won't eat us will you?]
[I won't eat you,] Hephaestus said, still not making eye contact.
Michael was so used to Hephaestus taking to him in broken and slurred English he'd almost forgot what Hephaestus could sound like. It was still strange hearing English in one ear and another language in his other though.
[Fyu's balls,] Ralthin said, ahething his claws and stepping forward, [if a runt like Thorain can trust you then I can too.]
[It's not like we have any other choice,] Goralin said following Ralthin forward. [I have to say though, I've never actually seen a Hunter, but aren't you supposed to be white instead of blue?]
[I am...not like other Hunters] Hephaestus said, finally making eye contact. [I checked my DNA against other Hunters in this ship's medical data banks and there were many differences. The Alpha Builder was trying to make a better Hunter, increased muscle mass, faster reflexes, a better immune system, and other things. I was discarded here because my immune system attacks implants meaning that I am no use to it. The Alpha Builder set the ship we were on to crash on this planet, erasing all evidence of me and ensuring nobody would find the ship that it stole away with. If I hadn't met Michael I would be dead, and the Alpha Builder would have succeeded. The most interesting thing I found about myself is that my bodies produces a protein sequence not found in any other Hunters. I think that is why I have no interest in eating the flesh of other sapients.]
After a long silence, Goralin spoke up.
[The only thing that doesn't fit is the ship. Why would anyone just discard a ship like the one here. It seems like a tremendous waste of resources.]
“Well,” Michael said, “the Hunters have more resources than they know what to do with. Hephaestus told me that they have a ring station around their homeworld.”
[Fyu's balls, a WHAT??!!] Ralthin exclaimed.
“They have a ring station... encircling their home world,” Michael said again, more slowly this time, “I still don't believe it myself, but the data those fuckers shoved into Hephaestus’ brain hasn't been wrong yet.” He finished, shaking his head.
[Think about it Ralthin,] Goralin said, [Hunter space is so Keedah damned huge nobody really knows the exact edge, they don't have the political problems of the Dominion, and the Hunters have been around for so long they might as well be a force of nature.]
[Still, it's just too big to grasp….] Ralthin said, [We've been out here long enough let's get inside out of this heat.]
“Right, let's get yinz all set up, we have plenty of space so make yourselves at home.” Michael said leading the way into the ship.
As it turned out, having the Gaoians around was a godsend. Thorain proved himself in the first day by doing some arcane things with Michael's translator and setting up key rooms in the Hunter ship with directional speakers so Michael didn't have to wear his translator all the time. Apparently, the Corti didn't have very strong security on their software.
As it turned out, Ralthin was a bit of a gun nut. As soon as Michael brought out his shotgun and antique revolver Ralthin snached them so fast Michael swore they just telleported. Of course Ralthin knew that they used gunpowder but Gao hadn't ever had traditional firearms except in a few experimental cases. The only surviving examples that were available to the public were locked up in museums. To be able to actually able to hold not one, but two, was almost a religious experience for him. He was even more astounded to find out that the revolver was over a hundred and forty years old, and that Michael wore it as a sidearm almost every day. There was a lengthy talk regarding the revolver’s history and involvement in both world wars. The fact that Earth had experienced two wars on such a massive scale astounded the Gaoains, especially when Michael told them that the second one ended with the use of atomic weapons.
Earth history aside, Goralin and Ralthin were tremendously helpful in stripping parts out of the Hunter ship and fitting them on to their ride out of here. Michael had the idea of using triple redundant grav plating, and the Gaoians were only too happy to help once he had explained how maneuverable his new ship was going to be. All the extra gees during turns would pulp most people, but the extra grav plating would keep them all nice and comfortable. Especially since Michael was planning to use banks of supercaps for extra power to the thrusters when needed.
Getting the controls for the ship sorted out was a bit of a sticking point. The standard controls for ships our there were all based on touch screens, but Michael wanted something he could feel, sure the touch screen ones were universal, but it just didn't sit right. The eventually settled on a dual control system that could be swapped over at the touch of a button. The touch controls were pretty easy to install, but the ones Michael wanted took a bit more finesse. After a few failed attempts he had what he liked, a near perfect replica of his X55 H.O.T.A.S. rig from back home. He'd spent thousands of hours in online space games and flight sims, so the button layout was pure muscle memory. He even set up the controls to his ship to match the fly-by-wire system most of the games he played used, with the added ability to go “flight assist off” for more advanced maneuvers.
The computer core that Hephaestus and Thorain set up had almost everything they needed. The only thing it was missing was nav data. The computer core of the Hunter ship was too badly damaged to pull the data they needed out of it, so they improvised. Ralthin had been a huge help getting one of the Hunter ships coilguns set up to shoot down one of the salvage haulers. Apparently those things went missing all the time either from theft or just poor maintenance, the one they shot down wouldn't be missed. Getting the computer core out of it was another matter though, they had to cut the damned thing out of the hull. Thorain then worked more of his arcane magic to transfer the nav data into their ship's computer. The nav data being the last piece of the puzzle they all needed to finally fly their ship came as a welcome relief. They could finally leave this toxic hell hole they were stuck on.
They packed up all the ration balls and water they could fit on the ship along with the tools and whatever else they would need. The ship still needed some paintwork, but having no access to paint, that would have to come later. For now, they were stuck with a mismatched color scheme of bare metal and whatever off-white and dark greys the Hunters used for their ships. They all headed up to the bridge and got ready for the maiden flight. The bridge was pretty spacious considering the size of the ship, but it was crowded with Michael and the three Gaoians in it. Hephaestus would have made it even more crowded, but he was in the power control center making sure nothing exploded. They had all agreed to keep their resident Hunter a secret. Better to not cause panic whenever they docked anywhere.
“Are you sure this thing’s not gonna blow up?” Ralthin asked as they strapped in.
“Relax would ya,”Michael said, “we've spent four months local time building this thing, and if my math is right that's about ten months earth time. If something wasn't right we'd have found it by now. I'm more worried about this thing being airtight, you sure you checked everything?” he finished looking over at Goralin.
“Yes yes,” Goralin replied, “I checked every compartment twice over. You sure the nav data we got from that salvage drone is good Thorain?”
“Would you stop nagging me like a new mother already,” Thorain said with a chitter, “the drones only have one route anyway. We should be able to sync with the datasphere once we get to the drone hub. Then we can go anywhere we want.”
“Right,” Michael said. He activated the internal comms, “Hephaestus, wake her up.”
As the screens in front of them lit up and went through the boot sequence the ship hummed to life. Nothing like the rumble of ships on Earth, more like a faint high pitch whine that could be felt more than heard.
“Power holding at ten persssent idle,” Hephaestus said back through the comms. His English had improved tremendously over the time they were building the ship, but he still tended to hiss a little. “Ready to lift off.”
“Ok girl,” Michael said, patting the consol “let's stretch your legs.”
The ship lifted off the ground with no hint of effort at all. Michael brought the ship up to forty meters and held position.
“Transferring to forward flight mode,” Michael said, hitting the button, a worried edge creeping into his voice.
The ship pitched forward, the wings rotated ninety degrees becoming parallel to the ground and nothing happened. They didn't feel it rotate at all. Although seeing the landscape rotate around was more than a little off-putting.
“At least that works,” Michael said, with a nervous laugh, “How're we doing on power?” He said into the comms.
“Power holding at twelve persssent, Michael.” Hephaestus said back through the comms.
“Ok, nice and easy now,” Michael said nudging the throttle forward to ten percent. “HOLY MOTHERFUCKING SHIT!”
The ship rocketed forward so fast it was almost unbelievable. In the space of a second, they had gone from hovering over the crashed Hunter ship to halfway to the mountains. Well, at least the triple redundant grave plating was proving it's worth. Slamming the throttle back to zero Michael said
“Hephaestus, dial back power to the thrusters by ninety percent. We didn't burn out anything did we?”
“No damage,” Hephaestus said, “Power dialed back.”
Yinz alright?” He said looking back to the Gaoians.
“We're fine, just don't do that again.” Goralin said, ears back and eyes wide.
“Okay, let's try that again.” Michael said, gently nudging the throttle forward.
Starting out at five percent this time the ship moved forward at a sedated pace of twenty kph. Giving her more throttle and angling upward Michael brought the ship up to cruising speed. It didn't take long for the sky outside to thin toward black. Looking down on the rustball of a planet they had been stuck on and seeing it just fall away below them was a new kind of joy they'd not experienced before. Michael couldn't keep the grin off his face. It wasn't long before they hit the edge of the planet’s gravity well and just before Michael engaged the warp drive Goralin said
“Before we go, what did you name the ship? It is yours after all.”
Michael paused, and looking forward into the black, he said “She's called Requiem.”
He activated the warp drives and they were gone.
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With low transaction fees and no identification-verification requirements, Liberty Reserve was a magnet for hackers and other criminal types. By the time the U.S. Secret Service arrested five of the site’s masterminds in 2013, Liberty Reserve had facilitated some $6 billion in suspected money laundering transactions, according to Fox News For that reason, false advertisement will reserve a site a cozy spot on the blacklist. Unfair Terms. It irks us that this is even a thing, but some sites like to try and hide stuff in their terms and conditions that are not favorable to the players. Again, these could be in regards to anything the site offers or does. You can proxy to many sites pulling down what seems to be rather innocuous material and incorporate streamed information at the same time. I didn’t deal with the monetary side; some of the casinos used bitcoin but most used Liberty Reserve. I held accounts with Liberty Reserve prior to its seizure by the US government in 2013. The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) has made it official: After its latest two day meeting, it announced its goal to devalue the dollar by 33% over the next 20 years. News and analysis on legal developments including litigation filings, case settlements, verdicts, regulation, enforcement, legislation, corporate deals, and business of law.

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