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First Chapter Chapter Fifteen
“Thank you, Ms. President, and Mr. Secretary-General. It’s my privilege to come and speak to everyone present during such a momentous time in human history. One which, I hope, will lead to a brighter future for us all…”
US President Correa’s boilerplate beginning flowed out as she scanned the room. Behind her rostrum sat a larger dais tiled with green marble, behind which sat the UN President, Secretary-General, and Under-Secretary-General. Two huge screens flanked the dais, and those screens now showed Correa’s face as she continued.
“…and we are committed to our country’s pledge to finding a peaceful and just way for Coalition technology to be incorporated worldwide, and to not attempt any reverse-engineering of our own. Make no mistake; we do not do this out of any sense of altruism or fairness, as pleasant as that may sound. We will hold this pledge sacred for the simple reason that, if the United States were
to attempt such efforts the rest of the world would, without a doubt, find out. That, of course, would lead to a great instability.”
‘Great instability’ was diplomatic-speak for ‘the rest of the world then gangs up on the USA and then everything goes to hell’.
“I know there has already been a great deal of debate in this august hall as to the best way to proceed forward, in a fair and impartial manner. We believe that we have found what one might call a ‘trial run’ which will allow us to work out such matters.”
The general murmuring from the many semi-circular rows of desks in front of her increased.
“To begin with, during the first weeks after first contact we wanted to make sure our guests from the Coalition would not starve to death. Much like humanity’s own ships during the Age of Sail, Coalition exploration vessels store enough provisions for years…but such provisions never last. They have very advanced recycling, but mostly for water and even that is only a stop-gap measure. It is unknown even at this time as to how long it will take to repair the Exultant Finger of Rithro
, and we did not want to risk the crew running out of food.
“Therefore, we undertook an emergency effort to have their ship’s medic examine various Earth foods to determine their compatibility with our guests’ varied biochemistries. I am pleased to report that there are quite a few Earth foodstuffs which are indeed compatible, although there are some specific items which act as allergens amongst some of the Coalition species. During these efforts, we did learn a bit about how their alien biochemistries work…information which has been duly published and is now openly available. We also began to get glimpses of something wonderful, and asked the Coalition crew for more details. They supplied us with some general ideas of what their medical technology can accomplish; I must emphasize that we do not possess any knowledge of how they can perform such miracles.”
Now the murmuring got quite a bit higher, but not quite to the point where they’d have to call for order.
“Yes, I use the word ‘miracles’ advisedly. For example, take Captain Sadaf. You have all seen her, and how she moves like a person in the prime of their life. Now. What if I told you that she is a little over four hundred years old?”
The murmuring died down into a shocked silence.
“Her species, the auhn, is no more long-lived than we are…but they are able to regenerate and remove the effects of aging. I hope the esteemed ambassadors can see what I am driving at. I propose that we set up a research institute, international in scope, to be placed at a neutral location which is still to be determined. The purpose of that institute will be to study and adapt Coalition medical technology for use in humans.”
Now the murmuring started again; she hoped they were actually listening instead of hatching side-deals with each other.
“You all have families and friends. I’m sure you have at least one family member, one good friend, who died of some horrible and unnecessary
affliction. Think of what this means to the world, to us. It is also an excellent way to determine the inevitable issues and frictions which will arise from such a concerted international effort, and that, in turn, will inform our efforts in mutual reverse-engineering of other Coalition technology.
“I know this is, in many ways, a frightening time. Change can be frightening. But I am convinced that you will all know the right way forward, and that you will all see the need for us to unite in this matter, even if others may not be so clear-cut. I thank you for the opportunity to speak.”
As she stepped away from the rostrum, the UN President cleared his throat.
“We will now begin the debate on Madame President Correa’s proposal. Paper copies, with specifics of the proposal, are now being distributed to you all. We’ll now begin the debate period…yes, the gentleman from Portugal…?”
Correa’s Chief of Staff was a shorter, tubby man with an olive complexion by the name of Pablo Rosas. He and Correa sat in a White House conference room, staring at a big screen which now showed the results of the UN vote. “Well, I suppose that went about as well as we could expect,” said Rosas.
“Yep. I was surprised they even agreed with our asking them to kick in some money.”
Rosas chuckled. “Keep in mind that all of this new medical tech will be available for anyone patent-free. Should be air-tight legally, since nobody here on Earth invented it; we’re merely adapting it. I think that was the sweetener we needed to get it passed.”
The president gave a brief nod, then tapped a few keys on the controls in front of her. The screen now showed a world map. “Now we just have to figure out where to put the damn thing without everyone getting butt-mad about it.”
“Hmm.” Rosas laced his fingers over his substantial gut as he regarded the map. “Someplace not ‘the usual’, then.”
Correa growled in frustration. “I keep thinking Switzerland, but I know there’s gonna be a lot of shit flung about that it’s too European-centric. Taiwan would be great; they’ve got both a good tech base and excellent transport infrastructure.”
“But way too controversial, for obvious reasons,” replied Rosas. “Japan?”
“China will, again, kick up a fuss. Huh. New Zealand?”
“That might work. They tend to be more neutral…but then again some might say they’re in too close with Australia, and that this whole effort is too Western-centric.” His eyes flicked back to north on the map. He was about to move his gaze elsewhere, but then he paused. “What about Iceland?”
“Iceland?” Correa almost scoffed, then looked more thoughtfully at the map. “Okay, they’re a NATO member which is a minus. But they tend to remain mostly neutral, which is a plus. Decent transportation infrastructure…don’t we have a naval air base there?”
“I think so, let me check…” Rosas tapped at his phone. “Hey, Jack? What can you tell me about any US naval air bases in Iceland? Just the highlights.” After a couple of minutes, he responded with a curt, “Okay, that’s enough, thanks.”
He put his phone away. “We kinda-sorta have one, at a place called Keflavik. The base there used to be a lot bigger during the Cold War. Then we shut it down after the Soviets were no longer a going concern. Iceland uses it now, and they allow us to fly submarine-search aircraft out of there, but a few years ago they nixed the DOD’s request to rebuild it into a more permanent base.”
“That does work in their favor. It makes for better optics if they’re known for keeping NATO at arm’s length.”
Rosas sat up. “Think the UN will go for it?”
“We can only try. I’ll have our ambassador in Reykjavik make some discreet inquiries, let’s see if they’d be okay with our proposing them as a candidate.”
The Chief of Staff smiled. “If it goes through, this institute will be pumping well north of a billion dollars per year into their economy. That should make it more than ‘okay’.
Agent Cécile Savoie sat in a secure-location breakroom, silently grumbling as she held an as-yet un-drunk mug of coffee in her hands. As the agent-in-charge of the security detail during the Camp David incident, she’d been put on administrative leave, right alongside every other agent who’d been there. But it wasn’t like she had much down time; the inquiry board into that incident now summoned her damn near every other day for yet another round of tedious questioning.
“Hey,” said Hanson as he strolled in, looking just as sour as she felt.
She looked up in surprise. “Hey yourself. I thought you were assigned to the alien detail.”
“I was,” he said as he seated himself across the circular table from her. “Guess being in Alabama when the shitshow went down wasn’t far enough away to be completely out of suspicion. I just finished running my own gauntlet. But the rumor is, I’m getting it easy compared to everyone who was at Camp David, including the special forces people. Especially you.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty much a colonoscopy every day,” she muttered. “Going over the timeline, where I was at which times, who I had direct line of sight on, who I was in radio contact with.” She finally sipped her coffee.
Hanson’s sour expression deepened. “Do you really think it was one of us?”
She sighed. “It has to be. My gut tells me that there’s more than one mole and I told the inquiry board as much. The fuckers who got in knew too much about our patrol patterns, where everyone was, when they’d have a clear shot at an infil. That means someone with access to our methods and comms, and as to the latter we don’t use CB radios.”
The other agent leaned back. “Fuck. I wish I knew why any of us would do that. We’re supposed to be quiet professionals, not frothing radicals.”
Savoie turned the mug in her hands. “Not to tell tales out of school but, through the whisper network, they’ve been leaning hard on the captured dudes from the attack. Apparently one of their main ‘objections’,” and here she made some one-handed air quotes, “is that they think the whole Breaker thing is a ruse. It’s all smoke and mirrors, so that we’ll beg the Coalition to come and save us. And then…well, it gets vague after that but I guess they claim that at best we’ll get turned into the galactic equivalent of a Native American reservation. Worst case, we all get harvested for our precious bodily fluids.”
Hanson stared at her for a moment in disbelief. “That is, if you will forgive the uncouth term, utterly retarded. For chrissake, the Hubble got some beautiful shots of their ship once they’d spun that shield around to reveal it to us. I mean, I’m no spacecraft expert but even I could tell it had gotten the shit pounded out of it.”
She responded with a shrug. “Hey, Flat Earthers are still a thing.”
“Flat Earthers don’t stage FUCKING mortar attacks in our nation’s capital,” snapped Hanson. Then he subsided and spoke more softly. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be so on edge. This whole thing just pisses me off.”
“Join the club,” said Savoie as she sipped more coffee. “I just don’t get it, though.”
Hanson made a gentle ‘continue’ wave of his hand.
She leaned forward. “Okay. Our comrades in the CIA managed to identify the four who made it into the compound. They were all mercenaries, each with at least ten or fifteen years of experience in kicking ass around some of the worst hot spots in the world. Syria, Burma, bunch of places in Africa. One of ‘em even turned out to be ex-Wagner group.”
“Okay?” It was a leading single-word question, but not an unkind one.
“So why was the rest of the attack made up of nothing but a bunch of goddamn shit-kickers? And that includes the aborted attempt in Decatur. I’ve seen the files of those we rounded up in the Camp David attack. They were all low-life idiots just banging around, maybe they might have once held a gun in their lives. Hell, from what I’ve heard, the shootings that triggered the alarm at Camp David were an accident; those intruders were supposed to sneak around
that patrol, not kill them. They all had the same top-of-the-line kit, so we know whoever is behind this has deep pockets. Why not hire an entire bunch of competent people instead of doing it onesy-twoseys?”
“It is a puzzle.” Hanson got up and set a styrofoam cup of water into the nearby microwave. As the cup turned within its electromagnetic prison, he leaned against the nearby counter and pondered her question. “Maybe the team in the woods was intended just as a distraction?”
“That’s what I thought at first, but then I reconsidered. I mean, what if the four who went in failed? You’d still need a proper backup plan. Same thing with the Decatur bunch. By the way, did they ever catch them?”
Hanson let out a dark chuckle. “Decatur PD found a pile of vests and rifles, hastily wiped down. They were able to pull a few partial prints off of ‘em. My guess is they’ve fled to the proverbial four winds, hoping to lay low for the rest of their lives. We’ll nab ‘em eventually.”
The microwave dinged and he retrieved his hot water, then pulled a tea bag out of his jacket pocket as he re-seated himself.
Savoie smiled. “I never figured you for a tea guy.”
He unwrapped the bag and with a bit of ceremony dunked it into his cup. “Well, I used to be a coffee guy, but my gut doesn’t agree with the acidity.”
“We do have tea here, you know.” She pointed to the storage bins behind him.
“Yeah, but it’s cheap-ass stuff. The brand I like is expensive, but worth it…” Hanson’s eyes widened as he trailed off.
She raised an eyebrow. “Hanson? Do you smell burnt toast?”
“They couldn’t afford it,” he said in a near-whisper.
Savoie was about to tell him to stop being overly dramatic, then she realized he might be on to something and that she didn’t dare distract him. “Keep talking.”
He leaned forward, his forearms on the table. “Okay. Imagine you’re a hard-bitten mercenary. You’ve been in the literal shit, in every nasty conflict anyone cares to name. Somehow, someone finds you and comes to you. They say ‘hey, these aliens are bad news, do you want to kill them?’ Even if you, as the hypothetical mercenary, are down with the cause…”
“From what the intruders were yelling, they were,” said Savoie.
“Yeah but even then, our mystery financier is asking you to infil and exfil out of one of the most heavily guarded pieces of real estate on the planet. Oh, and kill a bunch of special-forces-maybe and aliens-definitely in between. What do you do then?”
She replied with a grim smile. “If I’m that mercenary, then I ask for a metric fuck-ton of money. And there were four of them, they would have all done the same. Hell, they must have been doing collective bargaining.”
Hanson dunked his tea bag as he thought it through. “Okay, so our mystery mastermind has a lot of money, but not billions on hand to hire a literal army of hard cases. Huh. So those other dipshits might indeed have been a distraction.”
“Maybe. They must have also spent quite a bit on the mortar attack. That wasn’t made by some hobbyist in their bedroom, they knew what they were doing. Given that nobody saw them set up the launcher or leave, they were more pro.” Savoie hoped that the FBI’s efforts to track the various mortar components turned up something soon. Thus far, those efforts were bogged down; as it turned out, quite a few companies had ordered the identified components, and tracking the subsequent second-hand purchases was time-consuming.
“And those mortar-making pros would be more expensive.” Hanson sipped a bit of tea. “Did they ever get anything off of the launcher itself?”
“Sadly, no. Turns out the whole damned thing was homemade, constructed out of tubing and other off-the-shelf components. It was also wiped down thoroughly, no prints. Like I said, pros.”
“But limited in resources,” said Hanson. “Which explains one of the things that’s bugged me
. Namely, that our OPFOR didn’t use some proper artillery. If they have a couple of moles in the Secret Service, then it should be easy to recruit and pay some military dudes to slip ‘em some gear and alter the logs. They could stow a howitzer inside a semi-tractor-trailer. You could park that thing anywhere up to 25 miles away. Use a single 155mm Excalibur GPS-guided munition, boom. That would have pretty much obliterated the stage and everyone on it. Then you just re-stow the howitzer and toodle off all innocent-like, right when everyone is freaking the hell out.”
“So they couldn’t afford that type of arty strike,” she said. “Or they simply didn’t have the contacts to pull that off. Hmm. I wonder if our moles are getting paid at all?”
Hanson resumed his thousand-yard stare. “The mortar attack must have been planned first. The other two attacks feel much more like rush jobs.”
“Eh? Oh, I get it. Sadaf’s speech was known well in advance. It was going to be one of her first big public appearances since the initial presidential speech. They were broadcasting it online to the world. Having her get turned into chunky red salsa, in real time, would be one helluva statement. So that’s what they focused on.” She drank a bit more coffee, and now it was time for her eyes to widen. “Our mole or moles didn’t arrive at Camp David until after
Sadaf’s speech was announced.”
“That…oh, yeah, that makes sense. Originally the mortar attack is the OPFORs’ only focus, but yet somehow they’ve suborned one or two Secret Service agents and they have ‘em in their back pocket. Then one, or better yet both, of the moles gets assigned to the Camp David detail, and they realize that now that they have a golden opportunity to get at the other aliens as well. So they go off and hire four pros for the actual attack inside, plus a bunch of chucklefucks to act as a distraction, because that’s all they can afford since the four pros are asking for some serious money.”
Savoie leaned forward. “When did Chao and Grakosh leave Camp David?”
“It was, ah, three? No, four days after we got everyone settled, both the aliens and the special forces types.”
“Okay, so then
the OPFOR gets word, courtesy of our moles, that one of the aliens is now heading to Alabama. But now they’re stretched so thin that they can’t afford anything other than to hire another bunch of dipshits to make a run at them and hope for the best.”
“And then the second bunch lets the FNG drive.”
They both laughed, but that humor settled down as they both thought through the chain of inference.
“It is pretty thin,” said Savoie at last. “There’s a lot of assumptions in there.”
“Yeah. But I do like the idea of our moles getting assigned at the last minute.”
She rubbed her forehead. “We had a bunch of new people come in when they decided to stow the Rithro crew there. Seven, no eight in all.”
“It’s a place to start,” said Hanson. He finished his tea. “C’mon, let’s see if we can get a meeting with the inquiry board.”
A little while later and not very far away, three people sat in a well-lit but otherwise deadly dull room. At least the chairs were somewhat comfortable. Matt and Martinez sat at two chairs against one wall, while across from them McCoy sat sprawled sideways on another with a foul look on her face. She glowered at the far beige-painted wall. “This completely sucks. Why can’t we have our phones? I could at least play some mahjong.”
“This is a secure location, Corporal,” replied Matt. “Ixnay on the onephays.”
Martinez’s leg jittered. “How long are we gonna sit here? They said they’d call us in, like, an hour ago!”
“Dunno, it’s some kind of last-minute interview thing,” replied Matt with Zen-like calm.
The corporal looked over at Matt. “I don’t get you, man.”
Matt grinned. “Nobody gets me. I’m like the wind, baby!”
“That’s not…I mean, I watched you open up a dude like he was a bag of fuckin’ Doritos using nothing but a fuckin’ knife. Now you’re being all Caine from ‘Kung Fu’.”
“It’s good to know that the classics are still appreciated,” said Matt.
Martinez pointed at him. “If you start calling me ‘Grasshopper’ I will
McCoy turned her glare to the ceiling. “Maybe it’s a psychological test. They want to see if we crack under pressure and start yakking secrets.”
“I mean, I’m sure they’re recording us right now,” replied Matt. “But it’s merely as a precaution. I am also five-nines certain that none of us are suspects. We weren’t integrated into the compound’s overall security, and thus it would be unlikely that we could have let our four attackers in.”
“Not to mention, we were the ones to kill ‘em,” added Martinez. “Well, except for the one that Takh took care of.”
“Yep. This is…I won’t call it a formality, but the board just wants to know where you were and what you saw. Walk them through your personal timelines, understand? Tell them only what you know. If you don’t know something, then say so.”
McCoy turned herself around so that she now sprawled the other way. “This whole bullshit just bugs me. Takh and the others are off with a bunch of strangers and I…I mean, we aren't there to help protect them.”
Matt and Martinez shared a meaningful glance. “From what I heard, Takh is quite capable of taking care of himself,” said the latter with a grin. “You told me he pitched that one dude across the room like he was throwing a softball.”
For once, the petite corporal looked a bit flustered. “Yeah, but, I mean, what if some other potential bad guy gets the drop on him with a gun? I don’t like not being there. I just wanna know that he’s okay. I should be there, just to make sure.”
The smaller man snapped his fingers in the face of the taller, who sighed and took out his wallet. With great ceremony, Matt pulled out a five-dollar bill and placed it upon the now-upraised palm of Martinez.
“Told ya,” said Martinez with a grin.
She sat up and glared at them both. “That doesn’t mean anything! Takh is a good guy!”
“Nobody said he wasn’t,” replied Matt as he stowed his wallet. “He is indeed a good guy.”
“Yeah, seriously, we’re glad you two hooked up,” added Martinez. “Takh’s solid. Hell, I’d let him date my sister.”
“I. Am. Not. Hooked Up. With ANYONE.” McCoy now looked furious enough to chew nails.
Martinez stroked his chin. “Kissing might be a problem, though.”
Matt performed a similar chin-stroking action. “Hmm, indeed, Corporal, I do believe it might be a serious issue. One has all of those mandibles to contend with.” He hooked his fingers next to his mouth in an approximation of an udhyr’s face. “Still, I think that, with enough will and effort, one could figure it out. Like the man said, life finds a way.”
“But how much tongue is he packing?” posed Martinez. “You know what the man also says. Big dude, big tongue. Could make things more interesting, all around.”
The woman did not look amused. “Martinez, Toke? You are now both officially gigantic flatulating assholes.”
“C’mon, McCoy!” protested Martinez. “Think of it this way. A few years from now, let’s say we filthy humans are now part of the Coalition and I’m at some meet ‘n greet, and I just so happen to spy me an oh-so-very-fiiine udhyr mamacita from across the room. Now, I wanna do my bit for my species and approach her, and get some good old inter-species cultural interaction going on. But there’s all sorts of questions. How do I compliment her without insulting her culture? How am I supposed to get in good with her? How do the mechanics work? How do the various bits line up? We need details! You’re at the tip of the spear, we all need good intel!”
McCoy slumped back into her seat. “Over seven hundred billion Dimmadollars of defense spending, and yet somehow I wind up stuck in a room with you two fuckos…oh, by the way, Toke
,” she added, pointing a finger at Matt, “why the hell can you and Sarge never go back to Okinawa?”
“Nice distraction, McCoy,” said Martinez. “My guess is some sort of wet-work shit.”
Matt just smiled. “Oh for fuck’s sake, I don’t kill everyone
I meet. I was a Second LT at the time, managed to somehow leapfrog my way into officer ranks all the way from enlisted. Anyways, the Okinawa affair was merely a case of, well, one particular case of rye whiskey. The good sergeant…was he a sergeant then? Oh yeah, we had done some other stuff I can’t tell you about in someplace I can’t tell you where, and we were celebrating Shaw getting his third stripe. We’d got ahold of the previously-mentioned case of whiskey and then we began toasting to each other’s good health. We did a lot of toasting. Quite
a lot of toasting. As you can imagine, the toasting went on and on until we, um, well we did some unwise things. It started out with us sparring-for-fun with each other in public and escalated from there. No locals were harmed, and nothing we did was hella illegal, or I would’ve never made Captain. Buuut the local government would definitely throw a shitfit if me or, God forbid, both of us set foot back on the island.” He chuckled. “Hell, the Okinawan customs people probably still have both of our pictures taped up inside their booths with a big old sign saying ‘DO NOT ADMIT THIS PERSON, YOU FOOL’ written above them.”
“What did you do?” asked Martinez. His eyes were big and soulful, like a kid asking for yet one more story before bedtime.
Matt shrugged. “I mean, I don’t remember much for obvious reasons. I’m almost sure we didn’t piss on any monuments, that would have definitely been cause for a serious demotion. We did do a number on some shrubbery, that I do remember. We decided it needed to be trimmed back, and so we did so. Using our bare hands. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
A fearsome light came into McCoy’s eyes. “Martinez, do you know what this means?”
He looked at her all uncertain. “Um, Toke and Sarge have cast-iron livers?”
“No, you fool. Blackmail material
Matt pointed back at her. “Hey, now, I told you that in confidence. Besides, Shaw has a lot more to contend with right now.”
The reminder of the sergeant’s current crippled state brought the elevated atmosphere of the room back down. McCoy nodded as her smile faded. “Right. Hey, did you see the Prez’s speech at the UN?”
“Yep,” said Matt. “From what I’ve read, the political wrangling after it seems pretty tame compared to the usual.”
Martinez snorted. “No shit. Did either of you see the laundry list of shit that we might be able to do? Anti-aging, limb regrowth, cancer treatments which work well and which don’t
half-kill the patient…hell, maybe even Alzheimer’s could be in our rear-view mirror. The grand high muckity-mucks are falling all over themselves to get that out into the world, for themselves if nobody else.”
“You’re way too cynical, Martinez,” said Matt.
“Oh fuck off. What if…okay, I know this sounds like a cheesy sci-fi concept, but what if they hoard all of the good shit for themselves and we peons get just the crumbs?”
Matt lapsed back into his meditative demeanor. “In that case, my dear corporal, you or I or McCoy or someone like us will show those hypothetical elites that, while they are indeed long-lived, they are not in fact immortal.”
The trio fell into silence for a few minutes. Then Martinez leaned over towards Matt. “Ah, a little birdie told me you were involved in questioning the prisoners we nabbed at Camp David.”
“I merely facilitated certain conversations,” replied Matt.
Martinez sighed. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies…Corporal.”
McCoy let out a growl. “Well, I
heard these terrorist assholes are saying that the Breakers aren’t real, that it’s all fake videos from the Coalition.”
“Just to play devil’s advocate,” said Matt, “our AI image and video generation is already getting to the point where, soon, we puny humans could manufacture such evidence.”
“What?” Martinez looked as if he was about to launch himself at Matt.
Matt held up a calming hand. “I’m not saying it is
fake. The Hubble pics are damned convincing.”
Martinez hiked up one foot to place it on his seat, then rested his chin on his knee. “Fuck. I guess it didn’t convince everyone.” He mused for a few moments. “Wait. What if we made it even more convincing?”
“How?” asked Matt.
“We send some humans up to the Rithro
. Two or three at least. The boats can still make it up to the ship, right?”
For once Matt looked uncertain. “I think so? Dunno how many times they can come and go without recharging, we’ll have to ask ‘em.”
“Right, so we set up an even better publicity stunt than the Hubble pics. Choose a few people, from all over the world. We have ‘em travel up to the Rithro
, take pics and video up close showing the damage. Even take ‘em inside the ship and get a full tour, maybe…if the crew is okay with that, of course.”
“Huh.” Matt sat back and pondered the idea. “That’s a really good idea, Martinez. I guess you aren’t as dumb as you look.”
The corporal responded with a slight smile at the verbal jab. “We’d need to choose the right people, though.”
“They’d have to be trustworthy…or at least someone that the entire world will consider trustworthy,” said Matt.
“Well known,” added McCoy. She no longer looked vengeful. “With recognizable faces and voices, and then they can go on all the talk shows after and say that, yes indeed, I got a tour of the ship and it is indeed quite banged up.”
Martinez stared at the far wall. “Some kind of celebrity? Heh. You think Tom Cruise would be up for it?”
Matt laughed. “That beautiful maniac? Hell, he’d insist on shooting an entire movie up there, with at least one action scene where he’s hanging off of the outside of the ship.”
They all smiled at the resulting mental image.
“Chao could work,” said McCoy into the silence. “She’s kind of a celebrity now. After all, she was the first human to come into contact with aliens, eh?” She gave Matt a big and very un-subtle wink.
To skirt the rather…unconventional methods used to achieve a positive First Contact, Matt’s role had been very much demoted in the official story. Now every recounting of the tale included a bit of ‘…oh, and there was also another person who stumbled across our brave woman in the midst of her attempts at informational exchange with the aliens…” His exact identity was also not published, under the screen of ‘he wishes to remain anonymous’.
“Oh bite me, McCoy, it’s fun,” replied Matt. He waggled his eyebrows. “Besides, I work better in the shadows!” He threw his forearm across his face like a half-assed Count Dracula trying to hide behind his cape.
Then he dropped his arm. “Yeah, Chao would be good as a current social-media darling. Of course, she might not want that. She strikes me as more of the wallflower type, for the most part.”
“We need more people,” said Martinez, as he stared at the floor. “Chao might be good on her own, but she’s got that motor-mouth talking thing when you get her going. It’s one or the other. Either she’s trying to shrink into a corner and take up as little space as possible, or suddenly you’re getting pulled into another corner for a doctoral dissertation on how minimal-energy transfer-orbits work.”
Matt pondered for a moment. “Wait, when did she do that? I never sat through one of those lectures.”
Martinez looked away and…well, Matt hoped that their supposed overlords were indeed recording this particular moment in time because the hard-bitten Hispanic special-forces corporal actually blushed
McCoy, of course, realized a golden opportunity for payback and immediately pounced. “Why, Corporal
Martinez,” she purred. “Doooo tell us. When did Chao Me Chu, heh, pull
you into a corner? Hmmm?”
“She’s…she’s just real nice, that’s all,” replied Martinez. “I asked her a couple of questions, and she answered them. That’s all. We both love classic sci-fi, like Asimov and shit. I guess we bonded over that.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Aaaaand may I remind you two and
everyone listening in that we have all been cooped up nuts-to-butts for awhile? Don’t mistake familiarity for romantic bullshit.” He pointed over at Martinez. “But you. If you can follow at least half of what she talks about, then you are absolutely without-a-single-fucking-doubt wasted
as a corporal, even if you’re in a low-drag high-speed outfit like this. You hear me?”
“Um, yes sir.” It was the first time in McCoy’s memory that anyone had addressed Matt as befitting his perhaps-former rank.
“Good. You get your ass into college, somehow. You’re a smart guy, you’ll figure all that shit out. And as for Chao? Just give it room to breathe. Let her know you’re interested, but don’t press the matter.”
“Let her know?” For once Martinez looked completely lost. “How do I…” he trailed off. “I mean, I like her…and yeah, I mean I like her in that
way, but she’s so damn smart and pretty and I’m just some dipshit meathead.”
“Hey, don’t sell yourself short,” said Matt. “You’re our
McCoy’s vengeful smile faded. “Martinez…no, Luca.”
Martinez looked up in surprise at her use of his first name.
She continued. “Just talk to her. Neither of you have any clue as to what ‘normal’ social interactions look like. In your case, it’s because you’ve been a soldier for all of your adult life. In her case, it’s because she’s, well, because she’s Chao. So just walk up to her and be straightforward. Trust me, it’ll be like a breath of fresh air for her to not have to navigate social cues. Just say something like ‘Hey, I really like you, do you like me and do you want to go get a coffee sometime’? Start with that. Chao’s good people, the worst thing she’ll do is say no. She won’t yell at you or talk shit about you online. Buuuut, some sixth sense is telling me she won’t say no to getting some coffee with ya.”
Matt smiled. “McCoy, I think you might have a calling after you leave the military.”
She snorted. “Oh yeah, I’ll hang up my match-making shingle on the internet and start raking in the big bucks. Martinez is right, though. If we try to do a publicity stunt up at the Rithro
, then we’ll need somebody alongside Chao to win the world over. Somebody well-known, but preferably someone not in the traditional Western pop-culture sphere. That’ll make it more palatable…”
Her voice trailed off and she stared into space. The two men now looked at each other in genuine concern until she spoke again a few moments later.
“Guys? I think I just had the best idea ever.”
Any recommendations for US grocery stores that routinely carry good Italian veg sausages?
Aldi and Lidl both used to carry veg sausage but since covid supply issues neither seems to carry any brand. Do 70% of grocery shopping at Lidl.
I haven't checked new Sprouts store near us. Whole Foods and Trader Joes both a bit far just to go food shopping, but will go if otherwise in area.
Have Costco, Giant, Safeway and Food Lion nearby. Plus some international grocery stores.
Not a big fan of veggie breakfast sausages (too small and not tasty imho).
I've tried the Beyond Meat ones. They were okay but not easy to find consistently. Plus a bit $.
[M]/ I accidentally mislabelled this pot as an [Event] instead of [Econ], so have to re-publish it. Plus a couple extra links in case someone wants to have a read. /[M]
While being humorously "America junior" Canada has remained distinct in many respects, with its competition policy being arguably one of the starkest difference not just with the United States, but any other major economy. While remaining firmly on a more relaxed side when it comes to competition enforcement, Canada has take a step further, explicitly allowing greater market concentration in the name of market efficiency through the so-called "efficiencies defence
" clause in the Competition Act.
Moreover, Canada trails many other developed countries when it comes its institutional design. Unlike other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, Canada is a highly judiciary-centred model
, where even the enforcement body - Canada's Competition Bureau
- first has to prove there's a formidable threat to competition, brining the matter the quasi-judicial Competition Appeal Tribunal
, rather than act unilaterally, akin to the European Commission
However, despite having CAT in place, the scope for private enforcement and complaints to the Tribunal has been pretty limited, which combined with a heavily restrained and underfunded enforcement agency made it Canada's competition regime to be arguably the most tolerant
when it comes market concentration among the industrialised economies.
Taking competition off the leach
Following extensive consultations
with stakeholders, finalised through an unanticipated round of bilateral talks with provincial and territorial governments
, Ottawa is "releasing" the nation's competition enforcement institutions - a policy but at the centre of Canada's Fall Economic Update 2023
. Namely, the Competition Bureau is being removed from under the jurisdiction of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada - previously Industry Canada - and granted full operational independence
from the Government of Canada.
Aiming to give the CB real capacity to act on its own, a new funding mechanism
is being introduced: in addition to direct funding from Ottawa, the House of Commons also gains right to order the Government of Canada to expand funding through a simply majority vote, including as component of a private member's bill or acting on upon recommendations of theStanding Committee on Industry and Technology (INDU)
Additionally, the Commissioner of Competition - the person leading the CB - is set to be reposing to INDU and the Parliament, directly bypassing the executive brach, with any changes to the position to be approved by the House at the same manner of the Privacy Commissioner. Notably, the Commissioner is being granted the right to sponsor amendments to the Competition Act that regulates CB's activities every parliament, including re-introducing changes that could not be passed due to the House being dissolved.
Under its newfound powers, the Competition Bureau also obtains partially adjudicative role, as opposed to a strictly investigative one. Namely, CB no longer has to bring their decision under the consideration of the Competition Appeal Tribunal, so long the opposed party reforms from contusing the decision. For its part, CAT is set to be the final decision-maker
when it comes to any process relating to competition matters, including mergers and acquisitions, whenever there's a contradiction between the judgement made by the Bureau and the opposite party. Under the agreement with the provinces, CAT is set to be expanded on a two track-basis. First, the Tribunal is expanded to include an independent representative from each provinces, territory, and the Government of Canada - all appointed through a confirmatory vote in their respective legislatures every 5 years, aiming to achieve the greater possible degree of independence for the Tribunal, with one judicial member appointed from each provincial and territorial bar association, with the Chairman having no special powers, apart from nominal representation in the CAT.
Levelling the Playing Field
The Government of Canada is set to follow though with the proposals of the Competition Bureau
as it relates to amending the Competition Act, making all the adjustments recommend, with a notable exception of the Efficiencies Defence.
While not removing the clause completely from the Act, the government is restricting its use to solely to export-oriented companies, namely where over 60 per cent of the its revenue comes to exported products sold outside Canada. Moreover, efficiencies defence is set to be non-applicable whenever there's a possibly of creating a gatekeeper, capable in the long-run to support the creation of new market barriers to entry, defined as a player with more than 20 per cent of sales, including those made in Canada through importing products.
Unlike recommend, rather than allowing for CB to commission market studies, this power is being grated to the newly created Competition & Markets Commission of Canada (CMCC)
comprised of the Chairman of the Competition Appeal Tribunal, Head Commissioner of the Competition Bureau, as well as provincial appointed a provincial, territorial, and federal consumer protection authority is set to set direction for the CMC. Being an intergovernmental agency, whose funded and responsible to the Parliament, CMCC aims to provide better policy diffusion between consumer protection - traditionally a provincial matter - and competition considerations, through issuing policy recommendations, as well as commissioning market studies, and playing a central advocacy role
to incorporate market entry and concentration concerns thought the public policy space.
CMCC gains power to "red flag"
both existing and future legislation and regulations issued by governmental bodies of those may result in increased market concentration, create conditions conducive to future market entry barriers or significantly restrict supply for any purposes other than public health, safety, or existing international commitments, and appeal the matter directly to the CAT or request further investigation by competition watchdog.
Notably, the new version of the Competition Act explicitly equates both monopolies and monopsonies as per their negative impact on the market
, emphasising possible repercussions for local markets, be that an employer monopsony collaborations or exerting pressure on suppliers.
Additionally, the Act is set to be automatically reviewed every 5 years
, or upon the request of the Commissioner for Competition, included acting on behalf of a provincial consumer protection agency. The Act also openly permits private action and direct legal acton from private actors
to the Competition Appeal Tribunal when there's a perceive violation of the terms of the Act, with CAT being able to order the Competition Bureau to pursue further investigation of the matter. Additionally, the concept of a nation-wide "level playing field"
is being inserted into the Act, that both the Competition Bureau and the Competition Appeal Tribunal is tasked to protect.
LPF is defined as "regulatory, institutional, legal framework that governments a marketplace an manner that is neutral or more favourable towards new entrants, and where consumer sovereignty is preserved"
Moreover, the Act reverses the roles when it comes to competition enforcement
: it's set to be up to the defender to prove their actions shall not result in immediate or long-term lessening of competition, new entry barriers, or consumer harm, with the efficiencies gain remaining restricted to export-oriented companies.
The Act also introduces the so-called "Competition Override"
committing the Government of Canada to prioritising competition considerations when conducting any public policy, including problem procurement, government subsidies, and issuing or amending legislation relating to consumer protection or federally regulated industries. The override can be used by the Competition Bureau to bring the Government of Canada to CAT, and directly challenge any decision or regulation, including those issued by other independent agencies on competition grounds. However, this can only be used after an extensive enquiry by the Competition & Markets Commission of Canada has been conducted, unless the Bureau is compelled to act by a prior Tribunal ruling.
The Competition Act also allows for direct federal-provincial cooperation
, permitting the Competition Bureau and the CMCC to conduct enquiries on behalf of provincial governments, as well as brining respective public agencies directly into the CAT process, treating legal proceedings launched by provincial consumer protection agencies as essentially equivalent to those pursued by the Competition Bureau.
Those enjoying such legal equivalence include:
- Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Consumer Services
- Consumer Protection BC
- Consumer Protection Office within Manitoba Justice
- Financial and Consumer Services Commission (New Brunswick)
- Digital Government and Service NL, Consumer AffairsConsumer Affairs at Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Northern Territories)
- Service Nova Scotia and Internal ServicesConsumer Affairs at Department of Community and Government Services (Nunavut)
- Consumer Protection Ontario within the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery
- Consumer Services at theDepartment of Justice and Public Safety (Prince Edward Island)
- Office de la protection du consommateur (Québec)
- Consumer Protection Division of the Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan
- Consumer Services at the Department of Community Services (Yukon)
- Office of Consumer Affairs (Government of Canada)
A Canadian Single Market at last?
However, as one of the most important changes is concerned with last minute changes to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement
- an intergovernmental treaty negotiated to eliminated non-tariff barriers to trade between Canada's provinces and territories. The Competition Act is now directly referencing the CFTA as a framework for intergovernmental cooperation when it comes to competition enforcement, grating the Competition Bureau the right to directly petition both Ottawa and the Provinces to support and maintain a "level playing field, through promoting free and unrestricted movement of goods, services, capital, and labour within and across Canada".
The Act also permits unilateral action by the CB through CAT or any other legal means to protect and further develop the free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital, so long those remedies "do not result into changes to the division of powers between the Provinces and the Government of Canada or legal alteration of the Constitution of Act."
The Act also exempts restrictions imposed on the grounds of public health safety, or environmental protection from being challenged by the Bureau.
While otherwise possibly interpreted as an infringement of provincial rights, the clause of the Competition Bureau being explicitly allowed to bring federal and provincial governments to courts over breaking either the Level Playing Field provision of violating freedom of movement for goods, services, and capital may provide the necessary incentive to expedite further liberalisation of internal trade. Effectively, allowing the Bureau to become an additional stimulant whenever the institutions outlined in the Canadian Free Trade Agreement fail to deliver.
Impact of Domestic Politics
Canada's has been going through a period of surpassingly sticky inflation,
that has been in large part driven by increasing prices of food. Which in turn resulted in acquisitions the grocery sector been too monopolised, allowing retailers to extract exorbitantly high prices at the expense of already struggling households. Additionally, Canada received its fair share of negative coverage, thanks to its lacklustre productivity growth
, that has also been partially attributed to far lower completive pressures in the economy. Moreover, with the Trudeau government making somewhat expensive commitments
betting on repositioning Canada's during the global green transition some believed subsidy regime oversight was needed. It also may give the federal Liberals something to counter the conservative narrative
, looking much tougher cracking down on "gatekeepers" across Canada.
I'm thinking about building a pc for light gaming and and coding. i wanna know if these are the right options for me. im not gonna be running the latest high end games like spider-man, forza horizon 5, god of war, cyber punk 2077 or anything.. just wanna be able to play fortnite, cod, valorant, gta 5 and some unity and real engine games with 1080p settings smoothly. also id like to know what kind of games can i run with this setup.
these are the specs>>>
*Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 5600.
*Motherboard: MSI Pro B660M-E Ddr4
*Ram: XPG DDR4 D50 RGB 16GB (2x8GB) 3200MHz
*Storage: Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2
*Graphic card: ASUS Dual AMD Radeon RX 6400 4GB GDDR6
*Power supply: Ant Esports FB550B 80 Plus
*case: Ant Esports ICE-110
*Moniter: BenQ GW2480
Do i need to change anything or is this a decent set up? i dont plan to upgrade it anytime soon. any help is appreciated im new to this.
Playing destiny 2 I run a solid 200 frames and randomly after about 15-20 minutes game will crash instantly with no error code. GeForce experience shows cpu utilization but 0% for Gpu clock, Gpu temp, Gpu voltage, Gpu utilization, Gpu power, fan speed and memory clock.
Hardware NVIDIA GeForce 4070ti Gpu 13th Gen intel i5-13600k Cpu 32 GB Corsair ddr5 ram 750 watt 80 plus gold evga power supply Msi mpg z790 edge wifi Motherboard
I am curious how many there are that got their accounts frozen by Revolut and what you used your account for? As in, only bank transfer, shopping, any crypto hystory?, main account where income comes in and everything gets paid through that bank account or any of such sorts.
I've been using Revolut for a year now with the Plus(?) Plan. It is not my main bank account. I transfer the remaining money left from my income on my Revolut account and pay for things such as gas, pet food, groceries and such. I also have some subscriptions that go through with my Revolut account. I save up my money on Revolut as well bc of the Vault System, makes it look pretty organised. I used to have some crypto there that i got gifted through a Crypto App for like maybe 2 weeks, but sold it bc I don't wanna have anything to do with that. My account has never been frozen. My card got frozen ONCE bc they thought there was a suspicious transaction happening while I was trying to buy concert tickets, but I was able to unfreeze my card on my own through the app.
I would like to see if there's maybe a pattern in the accounts that get frozen, because I still doubt any bank just freezes your account for no reason? I've been with many FinTech/Online only banks and none of them ever freezed my account.
Hey there! I'm a friendly and quiet professional in my early 30s. I like to keep myself busy with various activities like reading, working out, coding, and playing video games. Currently, I'm studying to attend grad school and also working a second job for fun, so my days are pretty packed. I usually wake up early and come home late.
Believe it or not, I actually find cleaning to be a great stress reliever. I'm also a fan of pets, so having them around is no problem for me. Every now and then, I might have a guest over, but don't worry, I'll always communicate with you beforehand. I believe in being considerate and making sure we're both comfortable with any visitors.
When it comes to finding a roommate, I'm looking for someone who shares similar qualities and interests. It would be great to have a roommate who is friendly, responsible, and respectful of personal space. If you're someone who values a clean and tidy living environment, that would be a big plus. I believe in open communication and creating a living atmosphere where we can both feel comfortable.
In terms of budget, I'm looking for a place in the range of $850 to $1300 because I'm trying to save up for grad school. I'm aiming to move in sometime between the end of June and early July.
If you're interested, we could grab a coffee to see if we vibe and get along well. Feel free to reach out to me through chat or DM. Looking forward to connecting with you!
Seeking ITP: West Midtown, Midtown, Inman Park, VA Highlands, Kirkwood, Edgewood, Castleberry Hill...you get the point. Possibly Buckhead depending on the situation.