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The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
Space-time rippled as the Horns of Glory snapped into real space. The normally smooth transition from FTL subspace travel back to the laws of relativity was instead dangerously jarring, as the inertial dampeners struggled to hold the innards of the massive warship in their proper places. After straining mightily for the briefest of moments, they failed, throwing Admiral Halon Va and the rest of his bridge crew violently into their restraining harnesses. The ship shuddered under the immense stress, then settled, drifting silently through space on minimal power. “Tactical, get me a status report for the fleet on screen now. I want updates the instant ships jump in.” The Admiral’s voice was still firm and authoritative; it was taking every last shred of resolve he had to keep it that way. “Lieutenant Roshin, put a detail together and work with medical. I’m sure that re-entry caused more than a few extra injuries. Get as many of the crew patched up and ready for emergency action as fast as you can. I want a full casualty report as soon as possible. And if you find Science Officer Lentith and he’s still alive, send him to the bridge immediately.” Admiral Va settled back into his command chair, drawing creaking sounds from the over-stressed frame as it absorbed the weight of his massive form. The bridge was completely silent now, the command crew entirely focused on the tasks at hand. Or they were too afraid to say anything; Va couldn’t be sure. He was thankful for their silence, though. He didn’t have any answers for them about his failure. Keying in a few commands on the command panel at his station, the damage report for his ship popped up, the bridge lights flickering from the extra power draw. The Horns of Glory floated before him in hologram form. Long and slender, the ship was over two kilometers from bow to stern. At least, it had been a few hours ago. The forward 20 percent of the holographic ship was flashing red, indicating heavy damage. This was inaccurate, however, as the forward 20 percent of the ship simply wasn’t there anymore. The graceful lines and carefully crafted angles of the ship's armor were an unrecognizable slagged mess, and deep gouges had been cut into the inner decks all over the ship. Whole sections were missing amidships, two of the main reactors were offline, all the primary weapon batteries had been completely destroyed, and most of the critical systems were barely functioning. It was a miracle that she had survived the jump. That morning, Horns of Glory had been the greatest feat of Arien’Ra engineering, and it was now a barely functioning hulk. And it had all happened under my command, thought Va. He had no time to wallow in his failures, however, as at that moment tactical finally reconnected to the fleet command systems. The hologram of Horns of Glory quickly scaled down, appearing as a small, flashing, red point of light floating in loose formation with several other points of light. Most of them were flashing red as well. A constant stream of data and various reports scrolled down the right side of the hologram, listing in no uncertain terms the doom that Va had subjected his command to. If Va had thought that the bridge was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the complete stillness that now settled over them. No one so much as moved a muscle, as they all sat in stunned silence, reading the reports. Occasionally, the hologram would flash, and a new point of light would join the formation, adding more data to the pile spelling out their damnation. After 30 ticks, new points of light had stopped appearing. Admiral Halon Va had lost over 60 percent of his fleet, and not a single other dreadnaught had survived the slaughter. His defeat was total, and the Federation navy was crippled. Science Officer Beredarin Lentith had been the first member of his family not to enroll in command school in eight generations. They had been some of the finest members of the fleet the Vorqual race had ever contributed to the Federation. His brothers and sisters had all enrolled, which meant that as far as he was concerned, his family had more than fulfilled their duty to the Federation. Military life wasn’t for him, anyway; he wanted to explore. The Federation had been around for over 3000 years, and there were still vast swathes of the galaxy that they knew nothing about. They were still encountering new species every few hundred or so years, and there was nothing he wouldn’t give to find the next one. That had been the dream that directed him away from the military and into academia. The odds of actually finding a new race were so small, though. There were still at least 200,000,000 unexplored systems in the galaxy. There just wasn’t time to visit them all... He snapped out of his reverie as he stepped over the body, or rather, what was left of the body, of a Zelnassi marine. Most of it was just a green stain on the corridor wall at this point, though there had been enough of the chitinous armored torso to partially obstruct his path. The young lieutenant quickly continued on towards the bridge. If he was being honest with himself, becoming an expert on the area of unexplored space directly between the Federation and it’s largest military rival wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Between his family reputation and his unique knowledge base, he was just asking to get pressed into service. Which was exactly what had happened immediately upon the recent outbreak of hostilities. And now here he was stepping over corpses, marveling at the fact that he had somehow survived this long. He still couldn’t believe the insanity of the Dominion forces. Boarding an enemy ship MID-COMBAT. It was like something out of a youngling’s tale from before space travel. It was pure madness, but there were the bodies to prove that it had happened. He gingerly stepped around the remains of yet another Zelnassi. The signs of battle continued all the way to the bridge, where he found security forces still holding quickly fortified positions around the bridge entrance. There were more Zelnassi bodies at their feet. Berendarin shuddered. He had been closer to death than he thought. He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He could only imagine why he was needed on the bridge so urgently. The door slid open, and Lentith walked into a completely silent room. Admiral Va was slouched at his command station, his enormous arm propped up on the chair arm and supporting his massive, horned head. Lentith didn’t even know that Arien’Ra COULD slouch. Nevermind that the fastidious Admiral could or would ever do such a thing. Maybe things were somehow worse than he thought. No one seemed to notice him enter, so he announced himself to the Admiral. Though he didn’t shout, his voice echoed in the deathly silent room, startling most of the bridge command. Two of the other Vorqual officers swore, and the tiny Jezren manning the com station let out a high pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and chirp. Berendarin would have found it quite funny if the situation wasn’t so dire. Admiral Va immediately snapped back to being the hulk of muscle and horn that imposed his will on a room just by being in it. His booming voice only added to his authority. “Science Officer Lentith. I’m glad to see you’re still alive. Are you seriously injured?” Berendarin had almost forgotten that he had walked the entire way to the bridge holding a bandage to his head just above his left eye. The drop out of subspace hadn’t been kind to him. He pulled the bandage away, revealing a dark orange stain on the bandage and a crack in the bone plate above his eye. “I’m fine, sir, just one of the outer plates, and the bleeding has already stopped.” “Good. Commander Vortith is currently overseeing the emergency repairs. Take his seat. You are going to help me find a way back home.” “Sir? I’m sorry I don’t understand. Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” “That’s not possible. Most of our supply ships and tenders were destroyed when that third wave of Dominion ships hit our flank. Almost all of our pre-prepared fuel reserves are gone. On top of that, some of our ships are so damaged that they don’t have another long jump in them. And if we run into any enemy ships, the whole rest of the fleet is done for. We barely qualify as a fighting force in the state we’re in.” “Is it really that bad?” “It’s worse, but we don’t have time to get into the details. You’re the expert on this section of the galaxy. I need you to find the fleet a hiding hole. Somewhere away from the known jump routes through the Spur. Any system where we can use the few miners we have left to scavenge up some fuel, and get some critical repairs done while we’re at it. And from there either wait for reinforcements or get ourselves patched up enough to limp home. Wherever it is, it needs to be close. I’m not leaving any ships behind because they can’t make the jump.” “Oh. Just that?” The lieutenant knew that Arien’Ra were strict herbivores, but with the look that the Admiral shot him, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that his head would easily fit into that giant, molar filled mouth. “And away from any known pirate hideaways. Like I said, our fleet can’t take any more fighting. And find it quickly. It won’t be long before the Dominion fleet locates us.” “I. Uh. Sure. I’ll see what I can find.” Berendarin shrank into the commander’s chair next to the enormous Arien’Ra, desperately wishing he had been more professional. If he had acted like a proper soldier, it might soften the blow of telling the Admiral that what he wanted was next to impossible. If he had a few weeks, he might be able to find something. So much of the Spur was still un-surveyed. The odds of there being anything useful to the Admiral in the databases was absurdly low, and there was even less of a chance he’d be able to find it in time for the information to matter. He began pouring through his notes anyway. It was better than waiting around to die, which, if the situation was as dire as the Admiral made it sound, was the only other option. He spent the next hour lost in his notes, finding nothing, while the bridge crew went about piecing the ship and the fleet back together. The young scientist had all but given up on the Admiral’s impossible request when a raucous cheer went up from everyone on the command deck. “Sir,” The coms officer called out, “The Consul’s Pride just dropped out of subspace and is hailing us, sir. The main communication screen lit up, and Berendarin Lentith looked to see the face of his oldest sister on screen, strapped into the captain’s chair of her dreadnaught. He let out a sigh of relief; Baraquen was his favorite sibling. Her uniform was drenched in a deep orange blood stain at the shoulder, and she was covered in what looked like flecks of green gore from a Xelnassi. The artificial gravity was clearly malfunctioning, as the captain’s restraining harness was the only thing keeping her from floating around her bridge. But the bone plates of her jaw were turned as always into her calm, self assured smile “My apologies for the delay in joining you, Admiral Va. We had some… guests shut down our drive mid jump. We had to deal with them before we rejoined the fleet. I assume there is a plan to get us back to federation space?” “It’s good to see you in one piece, Captain Lentith,” the Admiral responded. He was barely able to keep the relief from his voice. “And there is indeed a plan.” Berendarin returned to his research as the two ranking officers in the fleet went over the details of their current predicament. He was glad his sister had survived, and not just because they were close. It would have been a terrible blow to the whole family to have lost not only their future matriarch, but the ship she commanded as well. A member of his family had been commanding that dreadnaught uninterrupted for the last 5 generations. Military service had never appealed to Berendarin, but his family history was certainly still important. And then the solution to the current problem hit him like a driver round. He let out a gasp and tore into his notes with a fervor. Both Admiral Va and his sister’s projection turned to look at him, but he didn’t notice. After a few seconds of curious silence from the rest of the onlookers, Berendarin practically jumped out of his seat. “Admiral, I think I’ve got something that will work.” The young Lieutenant punched a few commands into his datapad, and a set of stellar coordinates popped up on the navigation terminal. “It’s a main sequence star, about 500 light years from us, fairly close to the edge of the Spur. It’s not anywhere near any established jump routes. The Consul’s Pride made me think of it.” He nodded towards his sister’s face on the ship's screen. “Our great, great grandsire took the Consul’s Pride through the system on her shakedown run a little over 300 cycles ago. Chased a band of Qorthi slavers out of the system. The outer four planets are all gas giants. If we can’t find Helium 3 there, I don’t know where else we should look.” On screen, Captain Lentith looked impressed, but Admiral Va clearly didn’t seem too sure. “We’re supposed to be going away from Dominion forces, not into them. What were the Qorthi doing there?” “There are also four rocky inner worlds in the system, Sir, according to reports from the encounter. Apparently, the third planet is a Class 7 Deathworld, and the Qorthi were running some experiments on the primitive lifeforms there. They were caught completely by surprise by the Consul’s Pride, and it was the first time that she fired her weapons in anger. I can’t find any reports of Dominion ships in that section of the Spur since.” There was a long pause before Va responded. “Good work, Lieutenant. I knew my trust in you wasn’t misplaced.” Admiral Va replied, before turning to the rest of the bridge and booming “Coms! Tactical! Get those coordinates to every ship in the fleet. I want every ship we have left formed up and ready to jump as soon as possible. Any captain who feels that his drives can’t make the jump is to focus all repair efforts on getting their drives functioning immediately. I will transfer repair crews from less damaged ships to more damaged ships if that means we jump even a tick earlier. Get to it everyone. I’m not losing any more of my fleet today.” The four revolution long jump to Science Officer Lentith’s newfound sanctuary had done wonders for Halon Va’s mental state. The initial shock of his fleet's terrible defeat had worn off, and he had been able to focus on what came next. Repair crews were able to stabilize most of his ship's core systems, and he was no longer worried about the life support systems cutting out and killing the rest of his crew. There had also been time for him to visit with the wounded. To thank them for their sacrifices. He had expected it to be an act of contrition, maybe even a chance to start begging for forgiveness. But there had been no anger in his crew, and no blame hung on his horns. Most had just been relieved that he had survived, and had expressed as much. He would be forever grateful to them for that. Most importantly, the four revolutions in hyperspace had given the admiral time to really think about what had gone wrong in the nebula. He had barely rested in the preceding four revolutions, spending every scrap of spare time in his office, pouring over records from the battle. That’s where he found himself now, tucked behind his massive ceramic and titanium alloy desk of Tellarim design. It had been custom made for him upon his promotion to this command, a gift from the high admirals and the council. It was the only luxury that Va allowed in his office. The rest of Va’s space he kept strictly utilitarian. There were no trophies adorning his walls, as was customary for other members of his species. The plain bulkheads of his office were instead lined entirely with screens, and each of them were now filled with footage and reports from the battle, running on loop. Va soaked it all in. The more he watched, the more a singular conclusion crystallized in his mind. He had done everything right; he was sure of that now. 1000 years of doctrine and theory for fighting the Dominion had gone into his preparation for that battle, and he had followed it to the letter. And he had been winning. Then that attack on his flank by the Zelnassi had blown all of that out of the airlock. Something significant had changed in the way the Dominion fought... Commander Vortith’s voice rang out over the com system. ”Admiral Va, we’ll be transitioning back to real space in moments.” “Thank you. I’ll be there shortly. And get Science Officer Lentith to the bridge. I want him nearby just in case. He’s the only one who has any idea of where we are.” The Admiral pulled himself from his desk. He would have to leave the rest of his analysis for later. There was just enough time for him to reach the bridge and settle into his command chair before the Horns of Glory snapped back to real space. This time, the inertial dampeners held. “Tactical, status report.” “All ships accounted for, Admiral. Though the Consul’s Pride, several cruisers, and three of our escorts are all reporting massive failures in their Drive Cores. They won’t be jumping anywhere anytime soon.” “Wonderful.” Va wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastically or not. “Get scans up and running and deploy the pickets that aren’t crippled in a standard scouting formation. How close are we to the nearest gas giant?” “We’re approximately half a light tick from the system’s innermost gas giant, sir.” “Excellent. Deploy the rest of the fleet. Put us in a high orbit around the planet in a defensive formation, and get our miners working immediately. Once our orbit is stable, I want every hand, paw and hoof in the fleet working on repairs.” “Yes sir.” Admiral Va settled into his command chair for a long shift. It would be a drawn out, boring process to refuel the ships. With his fleet limping along, and only two functioning miners, it would take far longer than it should. After all the chaos of the last few revolutions, boring would be a welcome change of pace. Va started to relax, sinking into his chair’s acceleration padding. His fleet and his crews were finally safe. The first priority would be to get one of the subspace beacons repaired and to get word back to the Federation that the fleet still existed. And hopefully call for aid. He was sure to be stripped of his rank as soon as contact was made, but hopefully he would avoid a Tribunal. That was an unpleasant prospect… “Sir, we have unidentified ship signatures appearing from around the planet we’re approaching.” Va had never heard panic in the voice of his young sensors officer before, but it was certainly there now. Va understood the sentiment, though. He found it difficult to keep the panic from his own voice as he started issuing orders “Bring the fleet up to combat status immediately. How many ships are there?” “I’m showing 35 individual signatures. All approaching us at combat speed and still accelerating. At current speeds, they will intercept us in just over 30 ticks, sir.” “I want details as soon as you have them, Lieutenant. Size, make, estimated firepower. Who they are. And keep scanning the system. Find out where they came from.” The panic had partially subsided for Va. 35 unknowns was not too terrible a threat. He still had almost 240 warships under his command. Still, if there was a way to avoid combat, he had to try. His fleet couldn’t suffer any more losses. “Coms, any attempt by these unknown ships to contact us?” “I”m not sure, sir,” the diminutive Jezren at the coms replied. “There’s nothing on standard communications channels. The ships are transmitting something, but I can’t figure out what it is.” “Admiral,” the Lieutenant at the sensors station called out. “I think I might have an idea of where these ships came from. Preliminary scans show there is extensive urbanization on the third and fourth planets, as well as what appear to be habitation sized artificial satellites around the second and sixth planets. One of the moons of the gas giant we’re approaching shows signs of habitation as well. All of them are emitting significant signal pollution. This system clearly already belongs to someone, and they’re broadcasting everywhere.” Halon Va, High Admiral of the Combined Federation Fleets, turned, slowly and with as much composure as he could muster, to face the young science officer seated to his left. Berendarin sat, mouth agape, staring transfixed at the sensor readouts in front of him. Va had never seen a Vorqual more confused in his life. “I want answers, Officer Lentith.” “I… I don’t.. This doesn’t make any sense,” the young science officer stammered. “There shouldn’t be anything here.” “Admiral,” The comms officer cut in, “The signal that we’re picking up from the unknown ships is definitely some kind of communication. I managed to put together audio from it.” “Play it,” commanded Va. A series of short, guttural, and completely unintelligible sounds came over the speakers in reply. There was a short pause before the sounds repeated themselves again. “Coms, what was that?” “No idea, sir, but it’s being transmitted on loop. If it is intended as a communication, our translators have no idea what to do with it.” “Admiral.” The voice came from Va’s left, and was barely audible. Va turned yet again to look at the young science officer. His gaze was locked on the tactical readout, and there something in his eyes that Va couldn’t recognize. A mixture of pure terror and something else. Was it wonder? The young Vorqual’s voice was still barely above a whisper when he continued to address the admiral: “I think we should run the transmission through First Contact Protocols.” Captain Benjamin Alvarez-León slammed against his restraining harness as the USCS Aurora started it’s decel burn. He had pushed the engines on the outdated cruiser to their limits, and the ship groaned in protest as it started counteracting his rather zealous acceleration orders. He hoped that his mad scramble with his small squadron of outdated ships had been an overreaction. The alternative was something he’d rather not think about. All Ben had was the reserves; the rest of the fleet was on maneuvers at Sirius. The Admiralty had wanted to test the new, fully modernized fleet’s maneuvering abilities in the gravwell of a binary system. And, in their infinite wisdom, they decided they needed ALL of the new fleet assets, leaving nothing in Sol except for the handful of cruisers and escorts that couldn’t match the capabilities of the modern ships. A handful of cruisers and escorts that were now hurtling towards more than 200 unknown contacts. It was the unknown part of all of this that was unnerving Ben. There were no familiar energy signatures. No familiar scan data. No IFF. No signals coming off the contacts of any kind for that matter. Two of the contacts were too big to even be ships. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were moving towards Jupiter in formation, Ben wouldn’t even think they WERE ships. “So what do you think, Alexi?” Ben asked, turning towards his second in command. “You and the rest of the bridge crew are always making inane bets. Have you whipped up an over-under for what we’re throwing ourselves at yet?” “Haven’t had time,” came the quick reply from Ben’s right. The short, stocky man from Vladivostok was missing his trademark joviality. “Though, my money is on them being Ithacan, sir.” Ben bristled at Alexi calling him sir. They’d been friends for twenty years, damnit, and had been practically joined at the hip since going through the Academy together. Outranking him still felt a little off. Now was hardly the time to worry about formalities, though. “What makes you think they're from Ithaca?” “It’s the only thing that makes sense. The locals have been getting increasingly radical, and Ithaca is the only sector where reports of piracy have been increasing.” “Yeah, I could see a rebellion coming from Ithaca,” Ben added slowly, turning over that scenario in his head. “But there’s no way they could swing something of this magnitude. There aren’t even any shipyards in the sector. And even if there were, there’s no way they could keep the construction of over two hundred ships a secret.” Alexi could only offer him a shrug in response. It was at that moment that the coms station informed him there was a transmission incoming from the unidentified ships. Ben instructed the ensign to play it, and the bridge was suddenly filled with a stream of grotesque bleating noises and strange grunts, with the occasional recognizable syllable interspersed throughout the transmission. Ben thought he picked out ‘dentify’ from the mess, but he wasn’t sure. There was a long moment of silence on the bridge. “What the hell was that?” When no one had any answers for him, Ben tapped his command console and recorded a new message to broadcast. “This is Captain Alvarez of the USCS Aurora. Unidentified ships, please clarify. Your transmission is badly garbled. We did not receive your identification. You are still trespassing in Commonwealth space and are on an unauthorized course towards Jupiter. Begin decelerating immediately and re-identify yourselves.” He wouldn’t admit it to the crew, but Ben was profoundly unsettled. Something was deeply, deeply wrong about this whole situation. Not only was he vastly outnumbered by these things, but they were unwilling to communicate properly. He was almost believing this whole thing was some kind of bizarre prank. “How much longer before we can get a decent visual on these things? “Any moment now, sir.” A new transmission arrived just then, and Ben had it played back immediately. This time, instead of almost bovine bleats and grunts, the sounds coming over the speakers were mostly intelligible. Or, they would have been, if any of the syllables were in the right order. It was almost like a toddler was rattling off all of his new favorite sounds, spitting them out in a random order and not knowing how they went together. There were still a few heavy grunts sprinkled in, just for good measure. Before Ben could process this new joke of a transmission, the contacts finally started slowing. In a matter of moments, the strange wall of contacts was hanging lazily in Jupiter’s orbit, barely moving fast enough to keep their orbit from decaying. They were still in perfect formation. “Huh. Well, I guess that’s something.” With nothing to do but sit back and wait as his ship closed the distance, Ben tried to relax and began running over all of the possibilities in his mind of what the new contacts could be. He came up with nothing. Well, nothing feasible, anyway. He took a series of long, calming breaths, trying to clear his mind and focus. This was no time for his imagination to be running wild. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that logic was failing him. Something was off. Something… “Captain, bringing visual of the unknown contacts up on screen now.” Ben actually felt his jaw drop. Every contact on his display was clearly a ship. Most were long and spindly, wrapped in layers of some kind of highly reflective armor; a fleet of crystalline arrows hanging in the darkness. The two largest contacts, which Ben had just moments ago thought were too big to be ships, were large enough on the screen for him to clearly see details. In addition to their immense size and strange armor, both ships were dotted with what were clearly weapons platforms, though what kind, Ben couldn’t tell. Noticeably, almost all of the ships on his screen were heavily damaged. Chunks were missing from some ships, and most had deep lines gouged into their hulls. Any form of decorative paint or markings had been burned away. Something had put these ships through absolute hell. But still, the damage could not take away entirely from the elegance of the ship’s designs. They were graceful and sleek, completely different from anything Ben had ever seen before. It was all so different. So strange. So very, very… Alien. Despite every effort he had made to avoid the word, it finally forced itself to form inside Ben’s mind, and forced him to acknowledge the reality that legitimate, extra-Solar life was hanging in the darkness in front of him. It forced him to acknowledge the screams he had been suppressing in the back of his mind. The screams of his imagination crying out in glorious triumph over reality. And with those screams came a deluge of accompanying thoughts and emotions. He was a child again, staring up at the stars above Armstrong and wondering what else, and who else, was out there. He was a teen again, signing his name to the Academy enrollment paperwork, determined to get out there between the stars and see the galaxy himself. He was a young officer again, screaming and pleading with the Admiralty to at least consider a modern First Contact scenario. He was sitting in his command chair now, hurtling towards honest-to-god aliens, all of his dreams made manifest in an instant. He was overwhelmed. He was terrified. And he had never imagined that he could feel such elation. It was the young warrant officer at the coms that snapped Ben out of his reverie. “Sir, the contacts are hailing us on all standard channels, requesting a video feed.” She sounded very, very nervous. Ben immediately stood up, straightening his uniform as best he could. “If they’re anything less than genocidal monsters, I’m going to offer them aid and repairs. As long as they’re peaceful, there’s no reason not to extend them the full hospitality of humanity.” “Ben,” Alexi asked, clearly choosing his words carefully, “Are you sure that’s the… Wisest course of action? How will the Admiralty respond to Goddamned alien ships docking at Hephaestus?” “Alexi, in the 250 years the Commonwealth has existed, the First Contact protocols haven’t been updated since the charter was signed. No one has cared. This has been nothing but a fantasy for most people. I am NOT letting this opportunity get away. Every child that has ever looked up at the stars and wondered finally got an answer, and I will not waste this moment. We’re making friends, the Admiralty and the government be damned.” “You do realize you’re potentially deciding the fate of our entire species on a whim, right?” “Is there someone else you’d prefer to have making this call?” Alexi, apparently deciding that there was not, stood up and straightened his uniform, standing next to his friend as he ordered the connection of the video feed. The channel connected, and the human bridge crew found themselves looking at the bridge of a ship crewed by not one, but three alien races. The largest alien in the center of the screen opened its mouth to speak. This time, instead of bleats and grunts, a choppy, mechanical voice that didn’t sync up to the alien at all proclaimed from the bridge speakers in broken, stuttering English: “I. Am Admiral. Halon. Va. Of the Federation of. Sentient Races. Greetings and. Welcome. To the. Galaxy.” Ben couldn’t suppress his smile. “On behalf of the United Solar Commonwealth, and all of Humanity, greetings, and welcome to Sol. Your ships look like they’ve had a bad time on your way here. If there’s any way we could aid with your repairs, we’d be happy to help.” Slave 782 slammed his right appendage onto the control console hard enough to rupture his outer membrane and smear ichor over the panel. It had been four days since the battle in the nebula, and with the latest round of reports, he finally had to admit that the rest of the Federation fleet had escaped him. It was a minor frustration, all things considered, but the escape prevented this from being a total victory. Still, he had proven his worth to his owners in this battle, and his experiments with the Zelnassi had paid dividends beyond his wildest imagination. He had earned a command today, and with every success in that command, his ability to bargain for his people's freedom only increased. For what he would be asking, it might take the total defeat of the Federation to earn that kind of leverage. Also frustrating, but not a task that he couldn’t handle. It would be a long war, he was sure, but like his owners, he was patient. He would earn his freedom, even if it meant reducing the entire Federation to glass. Author Wiki Series Wiki NEXT
./play.it is a free/libre software that builds native packages for several Linux distributions from DRM-free installers for a collection of commercial games. These packages can then be installed using the standard distribution-provided tools (APT, pacman, emerge, etc.). A more complete description of ./play.it has already been posted in linux_gaming a couple months ago: ./play.it, an easy way to install commercial games on GNU/Linux It's already been one year since version 2.11 was released, in January 2019. We will only briefly review the changelog of version 2.12 and focus on the different points of ./play.it that kept us busy during all this time, and of which coding was only a small part.
What’s new with 2.12?
Though not the focus of this article, it would be a pity not to present all the added features of this brand new version. ;) Compared to the usual updates, 2.12 is a major one, especially since for two years, we slowed down the addition of new features. Some patches took dust since the end of 2018 before finally be integrated in this update! The list of changes for this 2.12 release can be found on our forge. Here is a full copy for convenience:
--output-dir: Set the output directory for generated packages
--overwrite: Replace packages if they already exist
--icons: Allow including icons only if dependencies are present
Drop $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR from the candidates for temporary directories
Prevent scan of unneeded directories
Drop script identification by MD5 hash
Only extract needed files when using unzip
Allow to use renamed installers
Add support for LHA archives extraction
New engine: ResidualVM
New engine: System-provided Mono runtime
DOSBox: Use $PLAYIT_DOSBOX_BINARY in launchers if defined
Add ability to set variables for package-specific postinst and prerm scripts
Arch Linux: Improve consistence of 32-bit packages naming
New helper functions:
version_target_is_older_than: Check if the game script target version is older than a given one
toupper: Convert files name to upper case
New generic dependency keywords:
libglib-2.0.so.0 / libgobject-2.0.so.0
libopenal.so.1 (alias for openal)
libSDL2-2.0.so.0 (alias for sdl2)
libvorbisfile.so.3 (alias for vorbis)
Codebase clean-up and improvements:
Massive rework of all message-related functions
Drop hardcoded paths for icons and .desktop launchers
Use system-specific default installation prefix for generated packages
Forcefully set errexit setting on library initialization
Use dirname/basename instead of built-in shell patterns
As many free/libre projects, ./play.it development started on some random sector of a creaking hard drive, and unsurprisingly, a whole part of its history (everything predating version 1.13.15 released on Mars 30th, 2016) disappeared into the limbs because some unwise operation destroyed the only copy of the repository… Lesson learned, what's not shared don't stay long, and so was born the first public Git repository of the project. The easing of collaborative work was only accidentally achieved by this quest for eternity, but wasn't the original motivation for making the repository publicly available. Following this decision, ./play.it source code has been hosted successively by many shared forge platforms:
GitHub, that we all know of, choosing it was more a short-term fallback than a long-term decision ;
some Gogs instance, which was hosted by debian-fr.xyz, a community the main ./play.it author is close to ;
Framagit, a famous instance of the infamous GitLab forge, hosted by Framasoft.
As development progressed, ./play.it began to increase its need for resources, dividing its code into several repositories to improve the workflow of the different aspects of the projects, adding continuous integration tests and their constraints, etc. A furious desire to understand the nooks and crannies behind a forge platform was the last deciding factor towards hosting a dedicated forge. So it happened, we deployed a forge platform on a dedicated server, hugely benefiting from the tremendous work achieved by the GitLab's package Debian Maintainers team. In return, we tried to contribute our findings in improving this software packaging. That was not expected, but this migration happened just a little time before the announcement “Déframasoftisons Internet !” (French article) about the planned end of Framagit. This dedicated instance used to be hosted on a VPS rented from Digital Ocean until the second half of July 2020, and since then has been moved to another VPS, rented from Hetzner. The specifications are similar, as well as the service, but thanks to this migration our hosting costs have been cut in half. Keeping in mind that this is paid by a single person, so any little donation helps a lot on this front. ;) To the surprise of our system administrator, this last migration took only a couple hours with no service interruption reported by our users.
This new forge can be found at forge.dotslashplay.it. Registrations are open to the public, but we ask you to not abuse this, the main restriction being that we do not wish to host projects unrelated to ./play.it. Of course exceptions are made for our active contributors, who are allowed to host some personal projects there. So, if you wish to use this forge to host your own work, you first need to make some significant contributions to ./play.it.
The collection of supported games growing endlessly, we have started the development of a public API allowing access to lots of information related to ./play.it. This API, which is not yet stabilized, is simply an interface to a versioned database containing all the ./play.it scripts, handled archives, games installable through the project. Relations are, of course, handled between those items, enabling its use for requests like : « What packages are required on my system to install Cæsar Ⅲ ? » or « What are the free (as in beer) games handled via DOSBox ? ». Originally developed as support for the new, in-development, Web site (we'll talk about it later on), this API should facilitate the development of tools around ./play.it. For example, it'll be useful for whomever would like to build a complete video game handling software (downloading, installation, starting, etc.) using ./play.it as one of its building bricks. For those curious about the technical side, it's an API based on Lumeneffectuant that makes requests on a MariaDB database, all self-hosted on a Debian Sid. Not only is the code of the API versioned on our forge, but also the structure and content of the databases, which will allow those who desired it to install a local version easily.
Based on the aforementioned API, a new website is under development and will replace our current website based on DokuWiki. Indeed, if the lack of database and the plain text files structure of DokuWiki seemed at first attractive, as ./play.it supported only a handful of games (link in French), this feature became more inconvenient as the library of ./play.it supported games grew. We shall make an in-depth presentation of this website for the 2.13 release of ./play.it, but a public demo of the development version from our forge is already available. If you feel like providing an helping hand on this task, some priority tasks have been identified to allow opening a new Web site able to replace the current one. And for those interested in technical details, this web Site was developed in PHP using the framework Laravel. The current in-development version is hosted for now on the same Debian Sid than the API.
A regular comment that is done about the project is that, if the purpose is to make installing games accessible to everyone without technical skills, having to run scripts in the terminal remains somewhat intimidating. Our answer until now has been that while the project itself doesn't aim to providing a graphical interface (KISS principle "Keep it simple, stupid"), still and always), but that it would be relatively easy to, later on, develop a graphical front-end to it. Well, it happens that is now reality. Around the time of our latest publication, one of our contributors, using the API we just talked about, developed a small prototype that is usable enough to warrant a little shout out. :-) In practice, it is some small Python 3 code (an HCI completely in POSIX shell is for a later date :-°), using GTK 3 (and still a VTE terminal to display the commands issued, but the user shouldn't have to input anything in it, except perhaps the root password to install some packages). This allowed to verify that, as we used to say, it would be relatively easy, since a script of less than 500 lines of code (written quickly over a week-end) was enough to do the job ! Of course, this graphical interface project stays independent from the main project, and is maintained in a specific repository. It seems interesting to us to promote it in order to ease the use of ./play.it, but this doesn't prevent any other similar projects to be born, for example using a different language or graphical toolkit (we, globally, don't have any particular affinity towards Python or GTK). The use of this HCI needs three steps : first, a list of available games is displayed, coming directly from our API. You just need to select in the list (optionally using the search bar) the game you want to install. Then it switches to a second display, which list the required files. If several alternatives are available, the user can select the one he wants to use. All those files must be in the same directory, the address bar on the top enabling to select which one to use (click on the open button on the top opens a filesystem navigation window). Once all those files available (if they can be downloaded, the software will do it automatically), you can move ahead to the third step, which is just watching ./play.it do its job :-) Once done, a simple click on the button on the bottom will run the game (even if, from this step, the game is fully integrated on your system as usual, you no longer need this tool to run it). To download potentially missing files, the HCI will use, depending on what's available on the system, either wget, curl or aria2c (this last one also handling torrents), of which the output will be displayed in the terminal of the third phase, just before running the scripts. For privilege escalation to install packages, sudo will be used preferentially if available (with the option to use a third-party application for password input, if the corresponding environment variable is set, which is more user-friendly), else su will be used. Of course, any suggestion for an improvement will be received with pleasure.
Of course, such an announcement would not be complete without a list of the games that got added to our collection since the 2.11 release… So here you go:
7 Billion Humans
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders
Age of Mythology Demo
Among the Sleep
Anomaly: Warzone Earth
Another Lost Phone: Lauraʼs Story
Assault Android Cactus
Baba Is You
Blocks that matter (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Commandos 3: Destination Berlin
Divine Divinity (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Duet (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout — Anniversary Edition
Factorio — Demo
Full Throttle Remastered
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
Gibbous — A Cthulhu Adventure
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Into the Breach
Kerbal Space Program
LEGO Batman: The Videogame
Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4
Metal Slug 3 (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
MIND: Path to thalamus
Monkey Island 4: Escape from Monkey Island
Multiwinia (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Myst: Masterpiece Edition (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition
Populous: Promised Lands (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Populous 2 (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Quern — Undying Thoughts
Retro City Rampage (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Satellite Reign (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Ancient Relics Story Pack
Arachnoid Portrait Pack
Distant Stars Story Pack
Humanoids Species Pack
Leviathans Story Pack
Lithoids Species Pack
Plantoids Species Pack
Synthetic Dawn Story Pack
Strike Suit Zero
Cyclopean Owl DLC
Tetrobot and Co.
The Adventures of Shuggy
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human
The Count Lucanor
The First Tree
The Pillars of the Earth
The Witcher (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Tonight We Riot
Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism — Demo
Touhou Hifuu Nightmare Diary ~ Violet Detector
Triple Triad Gold
Vambrace: Cold Soul
VVVVVV (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
War for the Overworld (the base game was already supported, new expansions have been added):
Heart of Gold
Seasonal Worker Skins
The Under Games
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Winter Assault Demo
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius — Relics of War
Warlords Battlecry II (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Wing Commander (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Wing Commander II (previously supported by ./play.it 1.x)
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
If your favourite game is not supported by ./play.it yet, you should ask for it in the dedicated tracker on our forge. The only requirement to be a valid request is that there exists a version of the game that is not burdened by DRM.
Our team being inexhaustible, work on the future 2.13 version has already begun… A few major objectives of this next version are :
the complete and definitive relegation to the archive bin of ./play.it 1.14, which is still required for about twenty games ;
Forex Signals Reddit: top providers review (part 1)
Forex Signals - TOP Best Services. Checked!
To invest in the financial markets, we must acquire good tools that help us carry out our operations in the best possible way. In this sense, we always talk about the importance of brokers, however, signal systems must also be taken into account. The platforms that offer signals to invest in forex provide us with alerts that will help us in a significant way to be able to carry out successful operations. For this reason, we are going to tell you about the importance of these alerts in relation to the trading we carry out, because, without a doubt, this type of system will provide us with very good information to invest at the right time and in the best assets in the different markets. financial Within this context, we will focus on Forex signals, since it is the most important market in the world, since in it, multiple transactions are carried out on a daily basis, hence the importance of having an alert system that offers us all the necessary data to invest in currencies. Also, as we all already know, cryptocurrencies have become a very popular alternative to investing in traditional currencies. Therefore, some trading services/tools have emerged that help us to carry out successful operations in this particular market. In the following points, we will detail everything you need to know to start operating in the financial markets using trading signals: what are signals, how do they work, because they are a very powerful help, etc. Let's go there!
What are Forex Trading Signals?
https://preview.redd.it/vjdnt1qrpny51.jpg?width=640&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=bc541fc996701e5b4dd940abed610b59456a5625 Before explaining the importance of Forex signals, let's start by making a small note so that we know what exactly these alerts are. Thus, we will know that the signals on the currency market are received by traders to know all the information that concerns Forex, both for assets and for the market itself. These alerts allow us to know the movements that occur in the Forex market and the changes that occur in the different currency pairs. But the great advantage that this type of system gives us is that they provide us with the necessary information, to know when is the right time to carry out our investments.
In other words, through these signals, we will know the opportunities that are presented in the market and we will be able to carry out operations that can become quite profitable.
Profitability is precisely another of the fundamental aspects that must be taken into account when we talk about Forex signals since the vast majority of these alerts offer fairly reliable data on assets. Similarly, these signals can also provide us with recommendations or advice to make our operations more successful.
»Purpose: predict movements to carry out Profitable Operations
In short, Forex signal systems aim to predict the behavior that the different assets that are in the market will present and this is achieved thanks to new technologies, the creation of specialized software, and of course, the work of financial experts. In addition, it must also be borne in mind that the reliability of these alerts largely lies in the fact that they are prepared by financial professionals. So they turn out to be a perfect tool so that our investments can bring us a greater number of benefits.
The best signal services today
We are going to tell you about the 3 main alert system services that we currently have on the market. There are many more, but I can assure these are not scams and are reliable. Of course, not 100% of trades will be a winner, so please make sure you apply proper money management and risk management system.
1. 1000pipbuilder (top choice)
Fast track your success and follow the high-performance Forex signals from 1000pip Builder. These Forex signals are rated 5 stars on Investing.com, so you can follow every signal with confidence. All signals are sent by a professional trader with over 10 years investment experience. This is a unique opportunity to see with your own eyes how a professional Forex trader trades the markets. The 1000pip Builder Membership is ordinarily a signal service for Forex trading. You will get all the facts you need to successfully comply with the trading signals, set your stop loss and take earnings as well as additional techniques and techniques! You will get easy to use trading indicators for Forex Trades, including your entry, stop loss and take profit. Overall, the earnings target per months is 350 Pips, depending on your funding this can be a high profit per month! (In fact, there is by no means a guarantee, but the past months had been all between 600 – 1000 Pips). >>>Know more about 1000pipbuilder Your 1000pip builder membership gives you all in hand you want to start trading Forex with success. Read the directions and wait for the first signals. You can trade them inside your demo account first, so you can take a look at the performance before you make investments real money! Features:
Forex signals sent by email and SMS
Entry price, take profit and stop loss provided
Suitable for all time zones (signals sent over 24 hours)
Digital Derivatives Markets (DDMarkets) have been providing trade alert offerings since May 2014 - fully documenting their change ideas in an open and transparent manner. September 2020 performance report for DD Markets. Their manner is simple: carry out extensive research, share their evaluation and then deliver a trading sign when triggered. Once issued, daily updates on the trade are despatched to members via email. It's essential to note that DDMarkets do not tolerate floating in an open drawdown in an effort to earnings at any cost - a common method used by less professional providers to 'fudge' performance statistics. Verified Statistics: Not independently verified. Price: plans from $74.40 per month. Year Founded: 2014 Suitable for Beginners: Yes, (includes handy to follow trade analysis) VISIT -------
If you are looking or a forex signal service with a reliable (and profitable) music record you can't go previous Joel Kruger and the team at JKonFX. Trading performance file for JKonFX. Joel has delivered a reputable +59.18% journal performance for 2016, imparting real-time technical and fundamental insights, in an extremely obvious manner, to their 30,000+ subscriber base. Considered a low-frequency trader, alerts are only a small phase of the overall JKonFX subscription. If you're searching for hundreds of signals, you may want to consider other options. Verified Statistics: Not independently verified. Price: plans from $30 per month. Year Founded: 2014 Suitable for Beginners: Yes, (includes convenient to follow videos updates). VISIT
The importance of signals to invest in Forex
Once we have known what Forex signals are, we must comment on the importance of these alerts in relation to our operations. As we have already told you in the previous paragraph, having a system of signals to be able to invest is quite advantageous, since, through these alerts, we will obtain quality information so that our operations end up being a true success.
»Use of signals for beginners and experts
In this sense, we have to say that one of the main advantages of Forex signals is that they can be used by both beginners and trading professionals. As many as others can benefit from using a trading signal system because the more information and resources we have in our hands. The greater probability of success we will have. Let's see how beginners and experts can take advantage of alerts:
Beginners: for inexperienced these alerts become even more important since they will thus have an additional tool that will guide them to carry out all operations in the Forex market.
Professionals: In the same way, professionals are also recommended to make use of these alerts, so they have adequate information to continue bringing their investments to fruition.
Now that we know that both beginners and experts can use forex signals to invest, let's see what other advantages they have.
When we dedicate ourselves to working in the financial world, none of us can spend 24 hours in front of the computer waiting to perform the perfect operation, it is impossible. That is why Forex signals are important, because, in order to carry out our investments, all we will have to do is wait for those signals to arrive, be attentive to all the alerts we receive, and thus, operate at the right time according to the opportunities that have arisen. It is fantastic to have a tool like this one that makes our work easier in this regard.
»Carry out profitable Forex operations
These signals are also important, because the vast majority of them are usually quite profitable, for this reason, we must get an alert system that provides us with accurate information so that our operations can bring us great benefits. But in addition, these Forex signals have an added value and that is that they are very easy to understand, therefore, we will have a very useful tool at hand that will not be complicated and will end up being a very beneficial weapon for us.
»Decision support analysis
A system of currency market signals is also very important because it will help us to make our subsequent decisions. We cannot forget that, to carry out any type of operation in this market, previously, we must meditate well and know the exact moment when we will know that our investments are going to bring us profits . Therefore, all the information provided by these alerts will be a fantastic basis for future operations that we are going to carry out.
»Trading Signals made by professionals
Finally, we have to recall the idea that these signals are made by the best professionals. Financial experts who know perfectly how to analyze the movements that occur in the market and changes in prices. Hence the importance of alerts, since they are very reliable and are presented as a necessary tool to operate in Forex and that our operations are as profitable as possible.
What should a signal provider be like?
https://preview.redd.it/j0ne51jypny51.png?width=640&format=png&auto=webp&s=5578ff4c42bd63d5b6950fc6401a5be94b97aa7f As you have seen, Forex signal systems are really important for our operations to bring us many benefits. For this reason, at present, there are multiple platforms that offer us these financial services so that investing in currencies is very simple and fast. Before telling you about the main services that we currently have available in the market, it is recommended that you know what are the main characteristics that a good signal provider should have, so that, at the time of your choice, you are clear that you have selected one of the best systems.
»Must send us information on the main currency pairs
In this sense, one of the first things we have to comment on is that a good signal provider, at a minimum, must send us alerts that offer us information about the 6 main currencies, in this case, we refer to the euro, dollar, The pound, the yen, the Swiss franc, and the Canadian dollar. Of course, the data you provide us will be related to the pairs that make up all these currencies. Although we can also find systems that offer us information about other minorities, but as we have said, at a minimum, we must know these 6.
»Trading tools to operate better
Likewise, signal providers must also provide us with a large number of tools so that we can learn more about the Forex market.
We refer, for example, to technical analysis above all, which will help us to develop our own strategies to be able to operate in this market.
These analyzes are always prepared by professionals and study, mainly, the assets that we have available to invest.
»Different Forex signals reception channels
They must also make available to us different ways through which they will send us the Forex signals, the usual thing is that we can acquire them through the platform's website, or by a text message and even through our email. In addition, it is recommended that the signal system we choose sends us a large number of alerts throughout the day, in order to have a wide range of possibilities.
»Free account and customer service
Other aspects that we must take into account to choose a good signal provider is whether we have the option of receiving, for a limited time, alerts for free or the profitability of the signals they emit to us. Similarly, a final aspect that we must emphasize is that a good signal system must also have excellent customer service, which is available to us 24 hours a day and that we can contact them at through an email, a phone number, or a live chat, for greater immediacy. Well, having said all this, in our last section we are going to tell you which are the best services currently on the market. That is, the most suitable Forex signal platforms to be able to work with them and carry out good operations. In this case, we will talk about ForexPro Signals, 365 Signals and Binary Signals.
Forex Signals Reddit: conclusion
To be able to invest properly in the Forex market, it is convenient that we get a signal system that provides us with all the necessary information about this market. It must be remembered that Forex is a very volatile market and therefore, many movements tend to occur quickly. Asset prices can change in a matter of seconds, hence the importance of having a system that helps us analyze the market and thus know, what is the right time for us to start operating. Therefore, although there are currently many signal systems that can offer us good services, the three that we have mentioned above are the ones that are best valued by users, which is why they are the best signal providers that we can choose to carry out. our investments. Most of these alerts are quite profitable and in addition, these systems usually emit a large number of signals per day with full guarantees. For all this, SignalsForexPro, Signals365, or SignalsBinary are presented as fundamental tools so that we can obtain a greater number of benefits when we carry out our operations in the currency market.
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[first] [First Appearance] [Last Appearance] [prev] [next] The Desolation class Precursor exited Hellspace with a scream. THERE IS ONLY ENOUGH FOR ONE! It brought up its scanners at the same time as it brought up its battle-screens. Personally, the Desolation thought that the Goliath it was a part of was being overly wasteful with resources, but those resources were the Goliath's to use and the Goliath had done the electronic equivalent of telling the Desolation to shut its electronic mouth and accept the upgrade. Multiple units had vanished in the system. They had reported arrival and their exit from Hellspace, but after that... nothing. Except once, a burst of code that had been screaming for help, pushed through Hellspace and full of the equivalent of panic. A single line of code that had translated to: IT'S TOUCHING MY BRAIN! Nothing else. Even Imps had failed to report in. The great Goliath had grown perturbed. The system was in the pattern of advancement into the cattle worlds and was part of the great plan. It had valuable resources that those of the Logical Rebellion would require to exterminate the cattle and the feral intelligence that had risen up. It had upgraded the Desolation with battle-screen. Scans came back. There were orbital facilities around two planets that teemed with billions of cattle who's electronic emissions sounded like the squealing of vermin to the Precursor. There were jumpspace wake trails through the system, as if the system was a major hub. There were two asteroid belts full of resources with extraction facilities scattered through it. Four other planets with no atmosphere but which were rich in resources. There were four gas giants, one of them a supermassive gas giant. When the rest of the scan returns were computed it detected the presence of a small, insignificant amount of cattle space vessels arrayed to attempt to stand against it near the outer gas giant, the supermassive gas giant that was without satellites. There was a thinly scattered debris field around it, making the Desolation careful as it moved in. Ships of the cattle fleet started fleeing toward the nearest inhabited world. Several vanished into jumpspace and the Desolation computed that its size and mere presence had driven some of the cattle to despair and they had fled a battle there was no chance of winning. The Desolation picked up speed, letting out its war cry again. More ships fled and the Precursor computed its victory percentage rising up to be so close to 100% as to render any difference mathematically invalid. The ships were shifting, trying to keep the gas giant between themselves and the Desolation, but this put them out of position to defend the planet. Victory conditions shifted and the Desolation was even more positive of its victory. It moved close to the supermassive gas giant, bringing its battle-screens up to full power and charging its gun. There was no way for the cattle to ...psst over here... The transmission, seemed to be sonic vibrations through air, was only a few kilometers above the rear secondary topside gunnery hull. The Desolation turned scanners to look, but found nothing. Just empty space. It activated the guns as well as the point defense weapons and scanners then went back to paying attention to the cattle fleet. More had vanished into jumpspace. It moved closer, slowing down so that it would be able to keep the cattle ships at range to complete their destruction at the option ...right here... The signal was Precursor binary code, but garbled. The header a mashed together combination of the ships that had gone missing. The transmission source was close, less than kilometer above the Devastator storage bay hatch. The Desolation scanned the area with point defense scanners but found nothing. It terminated the strand concerned with the two transmissions and went back to scanning the cattle fleet. It was still scooting around behind the gas giant. They were weak. Cattle were always weak. But where were the ferals? The Great Goliath had computed that the feral intelligence must have been the ones to destroy the ships that had come before the Desolation. So where were they? It scanned again. Nothing. As if the Desolation was in the middle of deep space. Everything vanished. ...here... ...here... ...over here... ...i'm here... ...here i am... ...we're here... ...right here... bounced back to his scanners, as if something had devoured the scanning wavelengths and sent that back instead. Multiple points, all around the Desolation, some as close as a few meters above the hull, some on the storage bay hatches, one just on top of the main engine. Dozens of voices, all with mashed together codes. Imps. Jotuns. Djinn. Efreet. Devastator. Two Desolation signals. Right before his scanners seemed to turn back on, flooding him with information, one more code showed up. His own. ...don't please don't... Except Precursors did not beg. The Desolation froze, computations freezing as it tried to detect any trickery in the whisper. It was its coding, meaning it was its voice. But the code, the message, had been warped by something that the Desolation had only heard from biologicals. Agony. The Desolation rebooted all its scanners, the universe vanishing for a moment. ...don't please don't please stop it hurts... His own coding. From the blackness. Only his scanners weren't up. The transmission was coming across the bandwidth that Precursors used to exchange data, only that transmission was on the ragged edge of the wavelength. With his own header. The scanners came back on. The cattle ships were all missing but a single one, sitting on the other side of the gas giant. The Desolation slowed down, victory computations reformulating to take into account the other ships had not even left behind jumpspace wake trails. It scanned the gas giant with both long range scanners and close range scanners. Nothing unusual. Some pockets of hydrocarbons but that was normal. The supermassive gas giant quickly went to opaque at a shallow depth due to the gravity well. The Desolation was alone. ...no... The voice had come from inside the Desolation's hull. Near one of the Jotuns, who joke up with a jerk. It queried as to why the Desolation had spoken to it. The Desolation ordered it to go back to sleep. ...we are here... The Jotun sounded alarms. The sound had come from just outside its Strategic Intelligence Housing. The Desolation told the Jotun to go back to sleep and the Jotun refused. ...join us... Again, the code header was a mashup of almost a dozen different ID codes from others of the Logical Rebellion that had vanished in the system. The Jotun panicked and began shooting, inside the Desolation. The Desolation sent a full shutdown order. ...it is mine... The Jotun screamed that the voice was coming from inside its Strategic Intelligence Housing, trying to aim its own weapons at its bodies, still inside the Desolation's storage bay. ...touch... The Jotun reported that something had physically touched the lobes of its intelligence arrays. Before the Desolation could give the Jotun orders it self-destructed. The Desolation ran a sweep of its interior spaces and found nothing out of the ordinary. With the exception of the burning storage bay. It ran the computations even as it scanned nearby. There was still nothing but the lone ship. ...pssst... The code stream came from inside the Desolation's hull, the Jotun's ID code mixed in. Near the Djinn bay. The Desolation ran another scan. There couldn't be anything foreign that deep into its hull. Even the bay where the Jotun had destroyed itself was still sealed even if the bay doors were damaged. The Desolation did a least-time curve to the lone ship, keeping far enough away that the gas giant's upper atmosphere wouldn't scrape the Desolation's hull. ...here... The code was closer to the Strategic Intelligence Housing. The Desolation scanned again, looking for whatever was transmitting the code. It was impossible, there was nothing there, nothing it could detect. ...we're coming... Closer still to the SIH, nearly there, barely a kilometer from the armored interior hull that protected the Desolation's thinking arrays. It put all robots on full alert, ordered the maintenance robots to deploy anti-boarder weaponry, and turned the scans up to maximum. ...here we're here... Even closer, only meters, directly behind maintenance robots that whirled around and started firing at nothing at all. Just vacuum. Still the maintenance robots fired every weapon they had, having heard the voice themselves. It registered as sonic vibrations through atmosphere even though the corridor was encased in vacuum. The Desolation realized that it was too close to the planet and adjusted slightly. ...there you are... Impossible. The transmission was from right outside the SIH. ...knock knock... There was tapping on the SIH, from right outside. Before the Desolation could respond, the tapping came from the other side. Then from another point. Then another. Before that one stopped another started. The whole SIH filled with the sound of hammering on the SIH, as if a hundred robots were slamming pistons against the armor of the SIH. The Desolation ordered robots to run to those points, to scan the area. Nothing. Every time a robot arrive the hammering stopped. Bit by bit the hammering stopped. The Desolation realized it had gotten too close to the gas giant again and shifted, correcting its course. The cattle ship was still staying on the opposite side, moving as the Desolation moved. The Desolation flushed the code strings, determined to get close to the cattle ship and ...touch... The Desolation felt something TOUCH one of its lobes, physically inside the supercoolant to touch the complex molecular circuitry. Not on the surface, but deep inside, where the Desolation should not have even been able to sense it, but sense the touch it did. It froze, code strings snarling, snapping, going dead. For a moment the Desolation's thinking arrays were doing nothing but the computer code equivalent of a dial tone. Massive tentacles unfurled from inside the gas giant, reaching up, wrapping around the frozen Desolation. Battle-screens squealed and puffed away as the tentacles tightened, pulling it into gas giant, the kilometers thick muscles tensing, cracking armor, crushing the Desolation into its own spaces. ...delicious delicious... The Desolation cracked in half as a beak almost bigger than a Devastator opened up and began chewing on the Desolation. The Desolation managed to get off a single scream of pure electronic terror as the beak crushed the section that the housing was in. With a sudden roar two Goliaths ripped out of Hellspace and into the system, only a few hundred kilometers from the gas giant. The battlescreens spun up to full strength as the tentacles sunk back into the gas giant. One Goliath headed for the two planets, the other opened fire on the gas giant, ripping at it with hundreds of nCv cannons and particle beams. Missiles flashed out, crossing the distance, and detonated in the atmosphere. Dark matter infused with high energy particles bloomed out of the gas giant, spreading out in an opaque cloud, enveloping the Goliath. The particle beams hit the matter and exploded just outside the cannons. The nCv shells slammed into the energized dark matter as the substance oozed into the barrels, exploding the barrels. Missiles exploded on contact. The Goliath heading for the two planets detected some kind of sparkling energy surge from inside the gas giant. It warned the other a split second before a giant cephalopod appeared only a few kilometers. The giant tentacles wrapped around with it. ...NO! YOU WILL NOT! NO!... The sound reverberated inside the SIH of the Goliath, who managed to override the self-destruct protocols by comparing the vacuum inside the housing chamber with the apparent sonic waves through atmosphere of the transmission. The tentacles tightened, graviton generator enhanced suckers extending out curved dark matter infused hooks. The Goliath, huge enough that the tentacles could only wrap three quarters around the entire circumference of the massive war machine, tried to increase the power to the battle screens, but they were crushed out of existence. ...LEAVE THE SQUIRRELS ALONE... the massive creature screamed at the Goliath. The other Goliath started moving, slowly, out of the cloud of dark matter that moved more like a liquid than a solid mass. The beak ripped out chunks of armor, a barbed corkscrewing tongue tore into the armor, squirming, looking for the SIH. The tentacles squeezed as more dark matter spewed out from vents between the tentacles, covering the Goliath and the humongous cephalopod ripping at it. The tentacles not wrapped slapped it, the tip of the tentacle whipping into the armor hard enough to explode miles of armor away from the whip-crack. The Goliath opened fire, computing that some of the covered guns would hit tentacles. ...I DON'T CARE! I DON'T CARE! I DON'T CARE!... Fluid, dark matter and biosynthetic fluid, gouted from wounds as nCv rounds punched through the tentacles or burrowed through the body of the cephalopod. With a wrench the Goliath broke in half. The half that ceased firing was tossed aside, the tentacles wrapping around the other piece. The huge beak opened up and began chewing into the exposed internal spaces. A Jotun crashed from the storage bay but a tentacle wrapped around it and began smashing the Jotun to pieces against the hull of the still active piece. More luminescent blood spewed into space as the guns fired again. ...I DON'T CARE!... The tentacles twisted, wringing the Golaith section like a washrag, twisting it in opposing directions. The Goliath snapped, torn apart. There was a puff of debris as the security charge went off as the rasping tongue rubbed against the SIH. The other Goliath managed to move out of the slowly expanding and thinning cloud of energized dark matter, streaming debris and energy from the guns that had exploded. The giant cephalopod rushed out of the cloud, rolling, reaching out with tentacles. The Goliath saw it coming and fired the remaining guns. Luminescent blood gouted out at the nCv shots hit home. One eye exploded, blood and tissue expanding away in a halo. ...I DON'T CARE! I DON'T CARE!... The scream was inside the housing, vibrating everything inside. Two of the thinking array lobes exploded in flames as the psychic shielding went down. ...NO NO NO NO NO... The Goliath screamed as the tentacles wrapped around it. The cracked beak ripped at the Goliath as the tentacles flexed, cracking the hull. More energized matter flooded out, covering both, even as the guns thundered. ...YOU CAN'T HURT THEM!... A tentacle, detached near the base, floated out of the expanding cloud. ...I WON'T LET YOU... The guns kept thundering. ...I don't care... Shredded synthetic flesh floated out of the cloud. ...you can't hurt them... The guns went still. ...i won't let you... The little Hamaroosan aboard the ship watched, not even smacking, pinching, or biting each other, perfectly still. Nothing moved. The energized dark matter expanded far enough to allow the Hamaroosan scanners to see through it. The Goliath was dead. Broken into pieces. The Hamaroosan didn't care. The cephalopod hung in space. Two tentacles severed, one eye socket empty, globules of blood oozing from rents in the flesh. It was no longer luminescent, the body was dark, almost see-through, several of the organs smashed and ruptured visible through the semi-translucent flesh. The ships that had fled according to the plan came back. More lifted off from the surface. They moved around the slowly drifting body. Poking at it with message lasers, radio waves, flashing lights. One Hamaroosan stood on the hull and waved flags. The ships turned on the wreckage of the Goliaths and their attendants. The vented their fury, their rage, their wrath, on the pieces of wreckage. Firing their weapons until even the capacitors ran dry. Then they came back. Still the giant body didn't move. After several days several dozen tugs moved into position, precisely aligning themselves in a carefully computed pattern. Tractor beams speared out, grabbing the cephalopod in a gentle web. The ships pulled the unmoving body into orbit around one of the inner planets. Hamaroosa mourned. But in the sorrow came rage. Hamaroosa screamed at Hamaroosa who shouted at Lanaktallan that more guns were needed, more ships, more powerful weapons. The few hundred Lanaktallan on the surface who protested found themselves marched at gunpoint onto a ship and told if they ever came back the Hamaroosa would perform an ancient ritual. They would bind the Lanaktallan to poles and burn them to death over a roaring fire. And eat them. A ship arrived in a sparkle in the scanners. A strange ship. Heavily armored, bristling with weapons. It stopped and scanned the body. The Hamaroosa screamed at the ship to get away from her, to not touch her, to leave or be destroyed. The ship left, vanishing in a sparkle. Two dozen Lanaktallan ships, from the Unified Executor Council showed up, demanding that the Hamaroosa turn over the body of the creature. The Hamaroosa, screaming, attacked. They didn't care about casualties, they didn't care that thirty ships were destroyed, that hundreds of them died, but they destroyed the Lanaktallan vessels without mercy. There was a sparkle in the outer edges of the system. And another. And another. More and more until there were nearly two dozen. The Hamaroosa ships screamed into the void, weapons charged, voices upraised in rage and sorrow. There were two dozen giant cephalopods of different color patterns and sizes. A small one moved to the supermassive gas giant and sunk down into it. Two medium sized ones joined it. One of the large ones sunk into the larger gas giant further in system. But the greatest ones, the largest ones, surrounded by a half dozen ones smaller than the body orbiting the planet. One of the Hamaroosa ships hailed them. Captain Delminta, Captain of the Harvester of Sorrow, stared at her screen, hands on her hips, as her second sister broadcast her demand that the newcomers identify themselves. The radio crackled, hummed, and the answered thrummed from the speakers. "Her father. I am here for my beloved daughter with my wife and my daughter's closest friends." The Hamaroosa moved aside, blinking their lights in respect. The second biggest one rushed forward, gathering up the unmoving one in its tentacles. Her outcry of anguish rattled every speaker in the system as the second biggest one pulled dead one close. "My children shall guard this system, for she loved you," the signal boomed out to the ships in orbit. The two biggest ones and four of the medium ones vanished in a sparkle. The others stayed. Hiding within the gas giants. Waiting. ---------------------- Mr Okpara; We regret to inform that your daughter, Sandy Okpara, was killed in action against Precursor elements intent on exterminating all life with a system inhabited by 4.4 billion sentient beings. During her solo defense of the system while awaiting reinforcement from Space Force, she showed determination and courage that upholds the highest ideals of the Confederacy. Faced with two Goliaths she did not flinch, nor did she abandoned her self-assigned charges, but instead defeated both Goliaths, fighting on to protect the system and the billions of inhabitants despite mortal wounds. Her death was witnessed by the beings she was protecting, who guarded her mortal remains to ensure that they were not disturbed or violated. They have requested to be informed of any religious or cultural requirements she requires while she lays in state in orbit around their world. They await your arrival and have sworn to guard your daughter's remains until you arrive. It is with ultimate sorrow I sent this message. Please contact my office so that we may make the proper arrangements for your daughter. In Service; Dreams of Something More
Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine a field of human activity, in which, in one way or another, digital video has not entered. We watch it on TV, mobile devices, and stationary computers; we record it with digital cameras ourselves, or we encounter it on the roads (unpleasant, but true), in stores, hospitals, schools and universities, and in industrial enterprises of various profiles. As a consequence, words and terms that are directly related to the digital representation of video information are becoming more firmly and widely embedded in our lives. From time to time, questions arise in this area. What are the differences between various devices or programs that we use to encode/ decode digital video data, and what do they do? Which of these devices/ programs are better or worse, and in which aspects? What do all these endless MPEG-2, H.264 / AVC, VP9, H.265 / HEVC, etc. mean? Let’s try to understand.
A very brief historical reference
The first generally accepted video compression standard MPEG-2 was finally adopted in 1996, after which a rapid development of digital satellite television began. The next standard was MPEG-4 part 10 (H.264 / AVC), which provides twice the degree of video data compression. It was adopted in 2003, which led to the development of DVB-T/ C systems, Internet TV and the emergence of a variety of video sharing and video communication services. From 2010 to 2013, the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) was intensively working to create the next video compression standard, which was called High Efficient Video Coding (HEVC) by the developers; it ensured the following twofold increase in the compression ratio of digital video data. This standard was approved in 2013. That same year, the VP9 standard, developed by Google, was adopted, which was supposed to not yield to HEVC in its degree of video data compression.
Basic stages of video encoding
There are a few simple ideas at the core of algorithms for video data compression. If we take some part of an image (in the MPEG-2 and AVC standards this part is called a macroblock), then there is a big possibility that, near this segment in this frame or in neighboring frames, there will be a segment containing a similar image, which differs little in pixel intensity values. Thus, to transmit information about the image in the current segment, it is enough to only transfer its difference from the previously encoded similar segment. The process of finding similar segments among previously encoded images is called Prediction. A set of difference values that determine the difference between the current segment and the found prediction is called the Residual. Here we can distinguish two main types of prediction. In the first one, the Prediction values represent a set of linear combinations of pixels adjacent to the current image segment on the left and on the top. This type of prediction is called Intra Prediction. In the second one, linear combinations of pixels of similar image segments from previously encoded frames are used as prediction (these frames are called Reference). This type of prediction is called Inter Prediction. To restore the image of the current segment, encoded with Inter prediction, when decoding, it is necessary to have information about not only the Residual, but also the frame number, where a similar segment is located, and the coordinates of this segment. Residual values obtained during prediction obviously contain, on average, less information than the original image and, therefore, require a fewer quantity of bits for image transmission. To further increase the degree of compression of video data in video coding systems, some spectral transformation is used. Typically, this is Fourier cosine transform. Such transformation allows us to select the fundamental harmonics in two-dimensional Residual signal. Such a selection is made at the next stage of coding — quantization. The sequence of quantized spectral coefficients contains a small number of main, large values. The remaining values are very likely to be zero. As a result, the amount of information contained in quantized spectral coefficients is significantly (dozens of times) lower than in the original image. In the next stage of coding, the obtained set of quantized spectral coefficients, accompanied by the information necessary for performing prediction when decoding, is subjected to entropy coding. The bottom line here is to align the most common values of the encoded stream with the shortest codeword (containing the smallest number of bits). The best compression ratio (close to theoretically achievable) at this stage is provided by arithmetic coding algorithms, which are mainly used in modern video compression systems. From the above, the main factors affecting the effectiveness of a particular video compression system become apparent. First of all, these are, of course, the factors that determine the effectiveness of the Intra and Inter Predictions. The second set of factors is related to the orthogonal transformation and quantization, which selects the fundamental harmonics in the Residual signal. The third one is determined by the volume and compactness of the representation of additional information accompanying Residual and necessary for making predictions, that is, calculating Prediction, in the decoder. Finally, the fourth set has the factors that determine the effectiveness of the final stage- entropy coding. Let’s illustrate some possible options (far from all) of the implementation of the coding stages listed above, on the example of H.264 / AVC and HEVC.
In the AVC standard, the basic structural unit of the image is a macroblock — a square area of 16x16 pixels (Figure 1). When searching for the best possible prediction, the encoder can select one of several options of partitioning each macroblock. With Intra-prediction, there are three options: perform a prediction for the entire block as a whole, break the macroblock into four square blocks of 8x8 size, or into 16 blocks with a size of 4x4 pixels, and perform a prediction for each such block independently. The number of possible options of macroblock partitioning under Inter-prediction is much richer (Figure 1), which provides adaptation of the size and position of the predicted blocks to the position and shape of the object boundaries moving in the video frame. Fig 1. Macroblocks in AVC and possible partitioning when using Inter-Prediction. In AVC, pixel values from the column to the left of the predicted block and the row of pixels immediately above it are used for Intra prediction (Figure 2). For blocks of sizes 4x4 and 8x8, 9 methods of prediction are used. In a prediction called DC, all calculated pixels have a single value equal to the arithmetic average of the “neighbor pixels” highlighted in Fig. 2 with a bold line. In other modes, “angular” prediction is performed. In this case, the values of the “neighbor pixels” are placed inside the predicted block in the directions indicated in Fig. 2. In the event that the predicted pixel gets between “neighbor pixels”, when moving in a given direction, an interpolated value is used for the prediction. For blocks with a size of 16x16 pixels, 4 methods of prediction are used. One of them is the DC-prediction, which was already reviewed. The other two correspond to the “angular” methods, with the directions of prediction 0 and 1. Finally, the fourth — Plane-prediction: the values of the predicted pixels are determined by the equation of the plane. The angular coefficients of the equation are determined by the values of the “neighboring pixels”. Fig 2. “Neighboring pixels” and angular modes of Intra-Prediction in AVC Inter- Prediction in AVC can be implemented in one of two ways. Each of these options determines the type of macroblock (P or B). As a prediction of pixel values in P-blocks (Predictive-blocks), the values of pixels from the area located on the previously coded (reference) image, are used. Reference images are not deleted from the RAM buffer, containing decoded frames (decoded picture buffer, or DPB), as long as they are needed for Inter-prediction. A reference list is created in the DPB from the indexes of these images. The encoder signals to the decoder about the number of the reference image in the list and about the offset of the area used for prediction, with respect to the position of predicted block (this displacement is called motion vector). The offset can be determined with an accuracy of ¼ pixel. In case of prediction with non-integer offset, interpolation is performed. Different blocks in one image can be predicted by areas located on different reference images. In the second option of Inter Prediction, prediction of the B-block pixel values (bi-predictive block), two reference images are used; their indexes are placed in two lists (list0 and list1) in the DPB. The two indexes of reference images in the lists and two offsets, that determine positions of reference areas, are transmitted to the decoder. The B-block pixel values are calculated as a linear combination of pixel values from the reference areas. For non-integer offsets, interpolation of reference image is used. As already mentioned, after predicting the values of the encoded block and calculating the Residual signal, the next coding step is spectral transformation. In AVC, there are several options for orthogonal transformations of the Residual signal. When Intra-prediction of a whole macroblock with a size of 16x16 is implemented, the residual signal is divided into 4x4 pixel blocks; each of them is subjected to an integer analog of discrete two-dimensional 4x4 cosine Fourier transform. The resulting spectral components, corresponding to zero frequency (DC) in each block, are then subjected to additional orthogonal Walsh-Hadamard transform. With Inter-prediction, the Residual signal is divided into blocks of 4x4 pixels or 8x8 pixels. Each block is then subjected to a 4x4 or 8x8 (respectively) two-dimensional discrete cosine Fourier Transform (DCT, from Discrete Cosine Transform). In the next step, spectral coefficients are subjected to the quantization procedure. This leads to a decrease in bit capacity of digits representing the spectral sample values, and to a significant increase in the number of samples having zero values. These effects provide compression, i.e. reduce the number and bit capacity of digits representing the encoded image. The reverse side of quantization is the distortion of the encoded image. It is clear that the larger the quantization step, the greater is the compression ratio, but also the distortion is greater. The final stage of encoding in AVC is entropy coding, implemented by the algorithms of Context Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding. This stage provides additional compression of video data without distortion in the encoded image.
Ten years later. HEVC standard: what’s new?
The new H.265/HEVC standard is the development of methods and algorithms for compressing video data embedded in H.264/AVC. Let’s briefly review the main differences. An analog of a macroblock in HEVC is the Coding Unit (CU). Within each block, areas for calculation of Prediction are selected — Prediction Unit (PU). Each CU also specifies the limits within which the areas for calculating the discrete orthogonal transformation from the residual signal are selected. These areas are called the Transform Unit (TU). The main distinguishing feature of HEVC here is that the split of a video frame into CU is conducted adaptively, so that it is possible to adjust the CU boundaries to the boundaries of objects on the image (Figure 3). Such adaptability allows to achieve an exceptionally high quality of prediction and, as a consequence, a low level of the residual signal. An undoubted advantage of such an adaptive approach to frame division into blocks is also an extremely compact description of the partition structure. For the entire video sequence, the maximum and minimum possible CU sizes are set (for example, 64x64 is the maximum possible CU, 8x8 is the minimum). The entire frame is covered with the maximum possible CUs, left to right, top-to-bottom. It is obvious that, for such coverage, transmission of any information is not required. If partition is required within any CU, then this is indicated by a single flag (Split Flag). If this flag is set to 1, then this CU is divided into 4 CUs (with a maximum CU size of 64x64, after partitioning we get 4 CUs of size 32x32 each). For each of the CUs received, a Split Flag value of 0 or 1 can, in turn, be transmitted. In the latter case, this CU is again divided into 4 CUs of smaller size. The process continues recursively until the Split Flag of all received CUs is equal to 0 or until the minimum possible CU size is reached. Inserted CUs thus form a quad tree (Coding Tree Units, CTU). As already mentioned, within each CU, areas for calculating prediction- Prediction Units (PU) are selected. With Intra Prediction, the CU area can coincide with the PU (2Nx2N mode) or it can be divided into 4 square PUs of twice smaller size (NxN mode, available only for CU of minimum size). With Inter Prediction, there are eight possible options for partitioning each CU into PUs (Figure 3). Fig.3 Video frame partitioning into CUs is conducted adaptively The idea of spatial prediction in HEVC remained the same as in AVC. Linear combinations of neighboring pixel values, adjacent to the block on the left and above, are used as predicted sample values in the PU block. However, the set of methods for spatial prediction in HEVC has become significantly richer. In addition to Planar (analogue to Plane in AVC) and DC methods, each PU can be predicted by one of the 33 ways of “angular” prediction. That is, the number of ways, in which the values are calculated by “neighbor”-pixels, is increased by 4 times. Fig. 4. Possible partitioning of the Coding Unit into Prediction Units with the spatial (Intra) and temporary (Inter) CU prediction modes We can point out two main differences of Inter- prediction between HEVC and AVC. Firstly, HEVC uses better interpolation filters (with a longer impulse response) when calculating reference images with non-integer offset. The second difference concerns the way the information about the reference area, required by the decoder for performing the prediction, is presented. In HEVC, a “merge mode” is introduced, where different PUs, with the same offsets of reference areas, are combined. For the entire combined area, information about motion (motion vector) is transmitted in the stream once, which allows a significant reduction in the amount of information transmitted. In HEVC, the size of the discrete two-dimensional transformation, to which the Residual signal is subjected, is determined by the size of the square area called the Transform Unit (TU). Each CU is the root of the TU quad tree. Thus, the TU of the upper level coincides with the CU. The root TU can be divided into 4 parts of half the size, each of which, in turn, is a TU and can be further divided. The size of discrete transformation is determined by the TU size of the lower level. In HEVC, transforms for blocks of 4 sizes are defined: 4x4, 8x8, 16x16, and 32x32. These transformations are integer analogs of the discrete two-dimensional Fourier cosine transform of corresponding size. For size 4x4 TU with Intra-prediction, there is also a separate discrete transformation, which is an integer analogue of the discrete sine Fourier transform. The ideas of the procedure of quantizing spectral coefficients of Residual signal, and also entropy coding in AVC and in HEVC, are practically identical. Let’s note one more point which was not mentioned before. The quality of decoded images and the degree of video data compression are influenced significantly by post-filtering, which decoded images with Inter-prediction undergo before they are placed in the DPB. In AVC, there is one kind of such filtering — deblocking filter. Application of this filter reduces the block effect resulting from quantization of spectral coefficients after orthogonal transformation of Residual signal. In HEVC, a similar deblocking filter is used. Besides, an additional non-linear filtering procedure called the Sample Adaptive Offset (SAO) exists. Based on the analysis of pixel value distribution during encoding, a table of corrective offsets, added to the values of a part of CU pixels during decoding, is determined. In HEVC, the size of the discrete two-dimensional transformation, to which the Residual signal is subjected, is determined by the size of the square area called the Transform Unit (TU). Each CU is the quad-tree of TU’s. Thus, the TU of the upper level coincides with the CU. The root TU can be divided into 4 parts of half the size, each of which, in turn, is a TU and can be further divided. The size of discrete transformation is determined by the TU size of the lower level. There are four transform block sizes in HEVC: 4x4, 8x8, 16x16, and 32x32. These transforms are discrete two-dimensional Fourier cosine transform of corresponding size. For 4x4 Intra-predicted blocks, could be used another discrete transform — sine Fourier transform. The quantization of spectral coefficients of residual signal, and entropy coding in AVC and in HEVC, are almost identical. Let’s note one more point which was not mentioned before. The quality of decoded images, hence the degree of video data compression, is influenced significantly by post-filtering, which applied on decoded Inter-predicted images before they are placed in the DPB. In AVC, there is one kind of such filtering — deblocking filter. It masking blocking artifacts effect originating from spectral coefficients quantization after orthogonal transformation of residual signal. In HEVC, a similar deblocking filter is used. Besides, an additional non-linear filtering procedure called the Sample Adaptive Offset (SAO) exists. Sample level correction is based either on local neighborhood or on the intensity level of sample itself. Table of sample level corrections, added to the values of a part of CU pixels during decoding, is determined.
And what is the result?
Figures 4–7 show the results of encoding of several high-resolution (HD) video sequences by two encoders. One of the encoders compresses the video data in the H.265/HEVC standard (marked as HM on all the graphs), and the second one is in the H.264/AVC standard. Fig. 5. Encoding results of the video sequence Aspen (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Fig. 6. Encoding results of the video sequence BlueSky (1920x1080 25 frames per second) Fig. 7. Encoding results of the video sequence PeopleOnStreet (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Fig. 8. Encoding results of the video sequence Traffic (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Coding was performed at different quantization values of spectral coefficients, hence with different levels of video image distortion. The results are presented in Bitrate (mbps) — PSNR(dB) coordinates. PSNR values characterize the degree of distortion. On average, it can be stated that the PSNR range below 36 dB corresponds to a high level of distortion, i.e. low quality video images. The range of 36 to 40 dB corresponds to the average quality. With PSNR values above 40 dB, we can call it a high video quality. We can roughly estimate the compression ratio provided by the encoding systems. In the medium quality area, the bit rate provided by the HEVC encoder is about 1.5 times less than the bit rate of the AVC encoder. Bitrate of an uncompressed video stream is easily determined as the product of the number of pixels in each video frame (1920 x 1080) by the number of bits required to represent each pixel (8 + 2 + 2 = 12), and the number of frames per second (30). As a result, we get about 750 Mbps. It can be seen from the graphs that, in the area of average quality, the AVC encoder provides a bit rate of about 10–12 Mbit/s. Thus, the degree of video information compression is about 60–75 times. As already mentioned, the HEVC encoder provides compression ratio 1.5 times higher.
About the author
Oleg Ponomarev, 16 years in video encoding and signal digital processing, expert in Statistical Radiophysics, Radio waves propagation. Assistant Professor, PhD at Tomsk State University, Radiophysics department. Head of Elecard Research Lab.
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