How to Read Odds in Sports Betting: American Odds Explained

Probiotics

The humans seemed relatively easy to infiltrate. Shave his fur, dye his skin, undergo extensive facial reconstructive surgery... Some would have said that last requirement made infiltration far from easy, but Egil's great-uncle had needed extra vertebrae added to his neck and a prosthetic tail in order to infiltrate the Raquids before their assimilation by the Cultivators' Combine. Egil was shorter and stockier than the human norm, but there was enough variation in the species that he should be able to pass with only the occasional double-take. A species that had obviously never developed the germ theory of disease couldn't possibly have sufficient medical sophistication to detect the internal differences in his anatomy.

That assumption proved to be in error. Every career path that might lead to an inside look at the human military capabilities was barricaded by the need for a physical exam, either to make sure he wouldn't kill himself trying to do the job or else for their "health insurance". Egil escaped detection at the unexpectedly thorough initial exam by feigning a panic attack (apparently these humans regarded phobias as a disability to be worked around rather than a character flaw), but he found himself relegated to the less bureaucratized sections of the human economy.

Even the criminal element proved instructive--but in a way that Egil found most disheartening. The weapons available on the civilian black market were sufficiently advanced to make any ground assault a bloodbath. Presumably these were inferior to what the human militaries possessed. Worse, a non-negligible percentage of the humans he observed in hostile interactions with each other displayed sufficient spite to destroy resources they could not prevent a rival from seizing.

"We have limited time," Egil reported over the hyper-com he'd set up. "They are currently scrambling to preserve the remnants of their system's fourth planet's productivity. Once they realize that the effort is futile, they will almost certainly begin expanding their agricultural efforts on the third. From what i have seen, they will be unwilling to restrict themselves to starvation rations, and the population density is already much higher than we had thought possible based on their current land usage. Although they have not yet fully exploited their potential arable land, we can assume the clock to have started ticking.

"Unfortunately," Egil continued, "despite their minimal space based infrastructure, their suborbital weaponry is sufficient to render a ground assault useful only for population reduction. We also cannot count on orbital superiority to cow them into submission: too many of them score too high for spite. We could exterminate them if we were willing to glass a farm world to do it; we cannot assimilate them by force."

"You look unwell, Egil," the officer taking his report said. "Is it merely fretting over our collective future if we cannot obtain this world and its resources?"

Egil shook his head and answered, "I am unwell. This planet's fungi and bacteria are astonishingly prolific. I had a great deal of difficulty in finding quarters that could be adequately sanitized. I finally had to resort to removing all non-essential wall materials and furnishings, and i've been buying disinfectants in quantities that are getting me odd looks from the neighbors. Despite my best efforts, however, i've developed severe diarrhea, and the antibiotics i'm taking are becoming ever less effective. I'm already taking the maximum unsupervised dosage; i would appreciate an opportunity to consult with one of our medics about whether i should risk going higher.

"I would advise against medical evacuation," Egil continued. "This is not something to risk introducing to the home ships."

The recording officer bowed his head in acknowledgement. "That's an exemplary conduct medal, at a minimum, should the worst come to pass. Obviously the preferred reward would be a long life--but such is not within our power to grant or withhold. I will see about arranging a medical consultation window."

--------------------

Egil awakened in a human hospital bed with multiple IVs feeding him fluids. Three of the humans in the room had dark suits and postures that screamed 'security'; three wore white coats, gloves, and surgical masks; and one wore a business suit and gave the impression of being some kind of diplomat. There were also multiple cameras and microphones and screens apparently intended to allow two way communication.

"He's awake," someone noted.

"Well, Mr. Extra-terrestrial," one of the doctors said, "i don't know whether to thank you for giving us a new class of antibiotics or chew you out for giving us a strain of C. diff that's already resistant to it. Although i suppose the C. diff is doing a pretty good job of that for us."

" 'Already'?" Egil asked groggily. "This resistance to the antibiotics is something you expect to happen?"

"We usually get a year or two after introducing a new antibiotic before resistant strains start turning up in awkward places, but yes, it's inevitable. The resistant strains already exist in trace amounts--even in the one case of a completely synthetic class of antibiotic--they just suffer from sufficient metabolic penalties that they can only proliferate in the presence of the relevant antibiotics."

"I see," Egil said. "You haven't exterminated your microbes because you can't, not because you don't know they cause illness. This explains many of the seeming contradictions. I suppose that putting enough chlorine in your water to kill all the microbes rather than most would exceed your own threshold of toxicity?"

"Precisely," the doctor answered. "That isn't our only reason for not attempting to exterminate all microbes, however. Pathogenic strains are a minuscule minority among microbes; most are harmless or beneficial."

"Beneficial!" Egil said incredulously. "What possible benefit could a parasite be?"

"Some of our gut microbes break down complex sugars that we can't; others produce essential vitamins. Most help inhibit the growth of pathogenic strains; some help regulate our immune reactions. There's a skin bacteria whose whole job is to help calm the inflammatory response to minimize the risk of overreactions. I'd bet that when your people first exterminated their micro-flora, they saw a massive spike in allergy rates."

"I am not a historian," Egil said. "We lose maybe ten percent of our children to severe food allergies, however. Not because we don't know how to treat them but because supporting that many with chronic conditions would jeopardize our ability to support everyone else. We keep hoping it will be bred out of our population--but we've been hoping that for over a thousand years."

"Brutal," the diplomat said. "But based on your research notes, i can see why your people feel they don't have a choice in the matter."

"You know, then," Egil said. "Why go to all this trouble," he indicated the medical equipment, "for a spy?"

"Because we want a channel to open negotiations through before your people's warships arrive. Your comm gear is both bio-metrically coded and password protected, which means we need you alive," the diplomatic explained. "I won't deny that we're all indulging in a little schadenfreude at your diarrhea problem, but we'll be a lot happier if you can convince your people to hand over enough medical data for us to keep you alive." He looked to the doctors. "How hard is that going to be, anyway?"

"Hydration is straightforward enough," a different doctor than the one that had addressed Egil previously answered. "But we're guessing at the electrolyte balance. We can work out the normal nutritional requirements based on his supply of emergency rations and supplements--but what's needed for maintaining good health can be different than what's needed to replenish one's reserves after a major illness."

Egil nodded slowly. "The recommended solution for mild diarrhea is similar to what's in your sports drinks; it's assumed that there's no point in including severe cases in the basic emergency medical training because you can't do anything if you've passed out, anyway. Was that how i was found out?"

"No," the diplomat said. "You were buying household disinfectants in suspiciously large quantities. Large enough to get you on a terrorism watch list. It didn't take long to determine that you were using all that bleach for its intended purpose, and were only in danger of accidentally gassing yourself--but by then it was equally clear that you were spying for somebody, and that you weren't making your reports in any known language. At least that nasty little C. diff infection you've got exonerates you from suspicion of planning a chemical attack."

"Is it untreatable, then?" Egil asked. "If my antibiotics don't work, and yours don't work either..."

The first doctor answered, "The most effective treatment for recurring C. diff infections is a fecal transplant. Although C. diff has a frustrating ability to survive on surfaces and is immune to alcohol based sanitizers, it is fairly weak against competing micro-flora. Unfortunately, we don't know which microbes are harmful and which are benign in your species. Obviously, none are absolutely essential, since you haven't died off from the lack of gut bacteria. You said it's been a thousand years since you exterminated them--that may be long enough that your species has lost the ability to interface properly with mutualistic microbes. On the other hand, since you haven't been able to breed out the susceptibility to fatal allergic reactions, it's possible that your immune requirements haven't changed enough to matter. But trial and error testing on a sample size of one is problematic on both ethical and procedural counts."

Egil nodded slowly. "I fail to see how you could make things any worse than they are now. Even if you decided to send me home, i would refuse to go--i will not risk introducing this pathogen to our ships. But if my condition seems stable, it might be prudent to defer any such experiments until after we have opened channels for whatever negotiations you think are possible."

"Your people need food, correct?" the diplomat asked.

"Yes," Egil said. "All of our home ships and capital warships have extensive hydroponic sections, but that's only enough for starvation rations. A single farmworld can double our food supply to something comfortable."

"Uh-huh," the diplomat said slowly. "How many people do you think our planet currently supports."

"Based on how much of your arable land you're actually using, around five hundred million," Egil answered. "Double that if you're on starvation rations--which from my observations, most of you clearly aren't."

Everyone in the room, security men included, struggled to not burst out laughing. "We passed the one billion mark approximately two and a half centuries ago," the diplomat explained. "We're well past eight billion now; i can't remember if the estimate is flirting with nine billion yet. Figure eight and a half billion plus or minus a couple of hundred million."

Egil sat up so hard that one of the IVs threatened to pull out. "That's impossible!"

"Let me guess," the diplomat said. "Your people took the same kill everything approach to crop pathogens that you did to personal ones, didn't you?"

"Of course," Egil said. "Microbes are dangerous; every civilization exterminates them once they realize how disease is transmitted."

"Many diseases are caused by microbes," the first doctor said. "Not all of them. Some are genetic, some are idiopathic--and some are caused by not having enough of the right microbes."

"And when you wiped out the environmental microbiome," the diplomat said, "you also wiped out the nitrogen fixing bacteria and the fungal networks that share nutrients between plants and the microbes that break down dead organic matter so that the nutrients can be recycled. No wonder your people kill planets so fast."

"To keep a planet productive for a hundred years is a feat we have finally learned to duplicate reliably. It is the pinnacle of multiple civilizations' accomplishments."

"And for how many millennia were these planets fertile before your ignorance touched them?" the diplomat demanded. He practically snarled, "How much do your people need to live--per year, that is."

Egil named a figure, and everyone in the room stared at him in disbelief. Probably wondering how a single planet could supply that much. "That's all?" one of the doctors said, not quite under his breath.

"And how many planets have you used up?" the diplomat asked.

"I'm not sure," Egil said. "Based on the number of species in the combine, it must be over seven hundred. Probably higher, since some did not survive long enough to be absorbed. Sometimes because they refused to assimilate, sometimes dead before we discovered their world, sometimes reason they died off unknown."

"If i thought there was any chance we could make up the tech difference in time," the diplomat said, "i'd tell you all to go to hell. But since there's no way we can pull off space superiority before your fleets arrive, i'll have to settle for a small wager."

"What do you think you have to wager with?" Egil asked.

"Our planet, of course," the diplomat answered. "You advised your superiors against conquest by force just based on an incomplete knowledge of our conventional weapons. You missed the fact that we still have stockpiles of nuclear weapons large enough to go scorched earth in a way that only the microbes your people are so terrified of could hope to survive."

"Nuclear weapons?" Egil asked. "What, like weaponized fission reactors? As good as fission reactors are for power to fuel ratios, we wouldn't risk using them on any ship that might end up in the same system as a farmworld, just from the potential severity of the accidents."

"We deployed two of them in combat," the diplomat said. "Not sure how many got detonated in above-ground testing before we decided that was a bad idea. Doesn't seem to have done any but localized harm, and that for a shorter duration than many of us expected. Mad as it is, mutually assured destruction is the only true strategic defense there is--otherwise some idiot just has to think he has the upper hand to get a lot of people killed trying to take your stuff."

"We cannot risk the possibility that you are not bluffing about your willingness to use these weapons," Egil said. "But we equally cannot afford to leave empty handed. What do you propose?"

"Ten years," the diplomat said. "We give you the amount of food you have stated, and you give us cargo ships and the coordinates of these no longer fertile worlds. If we get these planets producing food again, we keep half of them. If not, we keep feeding you from ours."

"What is to stop you from taking these cargo ships and turning them into warships?" Egil demanded.

"What is to stop you from taking all the worlds we restore, if we do not?" the diplomat returned. "If you could somehow make us all disappear while leaving earth untouched, you would gain only a single planet that you would use up in only a single century. But if you take this wager, you get hundreds of planets to feed from, and the knowledge of how to keep them fertile."

Something had been nagging at Egil, and he finally identified it. "You lie. Your system's fourth planet. You have not been able to save it."

"Save it?" the diplomat asked puzzled. "What do you mean, save Mars?" Then he realized, "You think it started habitable?" The other humans echoed his incredulity. "We're terraforming it. Until we accidentally introduced a few microbes with our rovers, that place was dead as a doornail."

Egil fainted. The idea was just too preposterous.

----------------------

Terrance took a deep breath as he prepared to address the UN general assembly. Despite the alien Combine's bizarre ignorance of basic ecology, he had the feeling that they were the easier group to convince to accept his proposal.

"Fellow humans, for generations we have speculated on the whether might life might exist elsewhere in the universe. For generations we imagined what a first meeting might be like, whether they would find us or we would find them. Whether they would be better than us, or worse; whether they would be like us, or too alien to understand.

"One of the scenarios we imagined was that they might find us as an adult finds a wayward child carelessly destroying the things he needs in order to survive. That they would lecture us on how we have been destroying our environment and teach us how to live better.

"Instead, we have learned that at our worst we barely put our ecosystem into the scratch and dent section, while they have done--this!" The screen behind Terrance changed to display a selection of dramatic views of the aliens' former farmworlds. Some were dust bowls, some were deserts, some looked like the immediate aftermath of a forest fire or volcanic eruption. All were barren.

Terrance continued, "Every one of these worlds was, within living memory, as green as our earth. But these aliens believe that any organism that is not useful is a pathogen or a pest to be exterminated. They believe that any organism with no known use is useless. They don't even understand that grass-eating animals need their gut bacteria in order to digest cellulose! As a result, they destroyed every organism that contributed to the survival of their food crops and animals.

"Having exhausted the last of their worlds, and being able to produce only starvation rations from their ships' gardens, they have turned their attention to our world. Allowed to have their way, they will do to earth just as they have to each of these worlds.

"As you know, space superiority is a well nigh insurmountable advantage: this is why we have treaties prohibiting space weaponization. These aliens are not party to our treaties, nor will they see any reason why they should be. Our only advantage is that they need our world intact, and we can, if we choose, put up enough of a fight to go out with a blaze of glory instead of the slow century long withering away they intend for our world."

Terrance waited for the delegates to absorb the implications and then added, "We do have one other advantage. The amount i was told they require per year to feed their population is only a tenth of our global production."

That got everyone's attention. "So i propose we make a wager with this Cultivators' Combine. We give them the food they need. In return, they give us ships so that we can travel to these worlds they have destroyed and begin restoring them. If we succeed, we keep half the planets. If we fail, better to have us doing the farming here on earth than them. And, of course, we can set aside a small fraction of those ships to reverse engineer to start building fleets of our own--just in case these aliens try to weasel out of their agreement when we win the bet."

Terrance signaled that he was finished, and ready to begin taking questions.

"How many planets are we talking about?"

"Twelve hundred and sixty-seven," Terrance answered. "I left the question of what should be done with the odd one to this assembly's more subtle diplomatic skills."

"How are the worlds to be divided?"

"I made it absolutely clear that their choosing their half first was unacceptable," Terrance said. "Whether it is better to draw a line on a starmap or to play 'i choose one, you choose one' with them is something i defer to your judgement, as well as being a question that may have a different answer after we've been working with them for a decade or so than it does at this time."

"I understand why you think these planets are salvageable--at worst, it can't be any harder than terraforming Mars; but why do you think it can be done so quickly?"

"Invasive species," Terrance said, getting a laugh. "Really, though, these are habitable planets. They still have breathable atmospheres and robust magnetic fields. They just need a planet-sized dose of probiotics. And there are enough of them that we don't have to waste time arguing over the best way to go about it, the way we are with Mars. We can try one plan on one planet, a different plan on another. As long as we aren't exporting seed-stock faster than earth can replenish it, we can't lose."
submitted by Petrified_Lioness to HFY [link] [comments]

The truth about the dbrand Grip...

The truth about the dbrand Grip...
Grips. Let's talk about 'em.
If you've spent any amount of time on this subreddit, you've likely seen at least one post about a Grip case that has fallen apart. Most of you have seen several. We know this because we've seen every single one. We’d like to see less of them. Ideally, none.
Over the past 18 months, we’ve been on an odyssey to fix the underlying problem. What follows is a chronicle of that journey.
Our objectives in writing this post are three-fold. There will be a tl;dr version at the end of this post, summarizing each of the three:
  1. Offer an in-depth technical explanation as to why Grip cases fall apart.
  2. Outline the improvements we've made to the Grip case to mitigate and eventually solve the issue.
  3. Provide some much-needed context as to how widespread the issue truly is, and what our next steps are for affected Grip SKUs.
Since you're still here, you must be in it for the long haul. Assuming an average reading speed of 250 words per minute, this is going to take you nearly 24 minutes to get through. We'll try to make it the most informative 24 minutes of your life. Let's get started.

PART ONE

Why Do Grips Fall Apart?
Most phone cases are made out of a single material. The material itself varies from case to case, though the most common is Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU). The Grip case, as a point of comparison, is made of two different materials: an elastomer and a polycarbonate.
The word elastomer is a combination of the words elastic and polymer. That's because it describes polymers that have elastic properties - like the one that forms the outer rim of your Grip case. The elastomer that we use is responsible for two critical properties of the Grip case: impact protection and grip.
If you fell off of a rooftop, would you rather land on a hard plastic surface, or a rubber surface? If you value your life at all, you'd choose the rubber - its elastic properties would absorb much more force from the impact. Guess what rubber is? First one to answer "an elastomer" wins a prize!
Next, imagine you’re a pervert, gently running your finger across every surface of a No. 2 Pencil. Which part of the pencil do you think would provide the most resistance to the tracing of your finger? If you guessed "the eraser," congratulations: you possess a basic understanding of coefficients of friction. Erasers are made of rubber. Rubber has a high coefficient of friction because of its elastic properties.
The Grip case's elastomer isn't rubber - it's our own specially-formulated compound. It's still a useful comparison, as all elastomers share similar properties - provided they have the same degree of Shore Hardness.
One person reading this is asking: “Shore Hardness?” The next section is their fault.

A Beginner's Guide to Material Science
The Shore Hardness scale gauges the hardness of various elastomers. It can be measured with a device called a durometer. You probably don't have one.
  • Low Shore Hardness = softer, more malleable, less dense, more rubber-like.
  • High Shore Hardness = harder, less malleable, more dense, more plastic-like.
If you fell out of a building and landed on a rubber surface with a high Shore Hardness, injury or death would be much more likely.
If you used an eraser with a high Shore Hardness, you'd find it wouldn't actually do much erasing.
Now, what if you made a phone case out of an elastomer with a high Shore Hardness? It wouldn't offer much grip or impact protection.
The Grip's outer rim is made from an elastomer with a low Shore Hardness. As a result, the material is grippy and impact-resistant, but much more malleable and thus more likely to deform. That's why we bond the elastomer to a polycarbonate skeleton.
Polycarbonates don't require as much explanation as elastomers: they're a category of plastic. On your Grip case, the back plate is made of polycarbonate. The elastomer rim is bonded to the polycarbonate plate on all sides of the Grip, providing structural rigidity to the elastomer, fighting to keep it from deforming. At least, that's the idea. As we've all seen, it hasn't worked out that way.
Bonding two distinct materials together is much more complicated than gluing them together. Instead, we rely on a thermal bonding process. Basically, that means we heat both of our polymers to a degree which would turn you from “rare” to “well done” in moments. This heat melts the polymers, which we then inject at a pressure which would turn you from “solid” to “paste” even faster.
Once injected, these two materials get fused together along the seams. To further reinforce the bonds, we use a series of interlocking "teeth" to provide a greater surface area on which the bonding process can occur. Consider these teeth the mechanical bond, which exists to strengthen the thermal bond.

Pictured: Bonding mechanic between the elastomer and polycarbonate.
With that out of the way: why do Grips fall apart?
The elastomer rim around the edge of the Grip case is naturally inclined to deform and stretch. The bonding mechanisms we described above are designed to keep that from happening, but it often isn’t strong enough. As soon as the bond fails at any point, it's only a matter of time until a total structural failure occurs.

PART TWO

How Are We Stopping Grips From Falling Apart?
Philosophically, there are two approaches to take:
  1. We can investigate why, exactly, the bond between the elastomer and the polycarbonate is failing.
  2. We can tweak and iterate the thermal and mechanical bond - strengthening it to the point where it's statistically improbable that your case will fall apart.
We tried the first approach - it's the road to madness. The number of variables is irrationally large. What's the temperature like where you live? The altitude? The humidity? Do you bring your phone into environments that deviate from the ambient temperature of your location? Does your school or workplace have extremely dry air? Do you bring your phone into a sauna? What sort of soap do you wash your hands with? Do you have oily hands? What sort of food do you cook? Do you smoke? How hard do you press on the buttons? What's your angle of approach when you actuate a button? How big are your hands? How often do you take your phone out of the case? Do you remove it from the top, the bottom, the sides?
We could follow all of these roads, find out exactly which factors are causing the bond to fail, then implement preventative measures to keep it from happening - but that would take a decade. We don't have that long. Much like you, we want this fixed yesterday.
So, from the moment we received our first complaint about a Grip deforming around the buttons, we've been making structural, thermal, and mechanical improvements to the design and production process of the Grip case - some visible, some not. Every new phone release has brought a new iteration on the core Grip design, with each one reducing the failure rate, incrementally. We'll bring the receipts in the next chapter. For now, let's highlight the most noteworthy improvements.

The Most Noteworthy Improvements
The first signs of trouble were the buttons. Months before we'd received our first report of a Grip case de-bonding, we saw the first examples of buttons that had bent out of shape.

Pictured: Button deformation.
Why the buttons? Because you press down on them. The force from button actuation puts strain on the elastomer, causing displacement of the material in the surrounding area. Through a combination of time, repeated button actuations and the above-mentioned force, the case would permanently deform around the buttons. This concept is called the "compression set" of the elastomer - Google it.
The solution to this problem was two-fold:
  1. First, we increased the compression set of the elastomer. Essentially, we made it as dense as we could, without compromising on the elastic properties of the material.
  2. Second, we added relief slits surrounding the buttons - they're plainly visible on any newer Grip case model. These relief slits are an escape route for the force generated by button actuation. They also had the positive effect of making button actuation significantly more satisfying (read: clicky).

Pictured: Relief slits to improve button tactility and durability.
Another early issue, pre-dating the first reports of total de-bonding, was a deformation of the elastomer along the bottom of the case - where the charging port and speakers are.
Since we've covered the basics on how the interlock between the elastomer and the polycarbonate creates a bond, this is how the interlocking teeth along the top edge of the polycarbonate skeleton of the Grip used to look.

Pictured: First-gen interlocking teeth on the top of the Grip.
...and here's the bottom of that very same Grip case.

Pictured: First-gen interlocking teeth on the bottom of the Grip.
Notice anything? Around the charging port, there is absolutely nothing keeping the elastomer in place. No teeth, no structural reinforcements... it's no coincidence that an overwhelming majority of early Grip deformations happened along the bottom.
Since then, we’ve added a reinforced polycarbonate structure around the bottom of the Grip case. You'll see what that looks like in a bit.
So, why didn't the launch portfolio of Grip cases have mechanical interlocks or a polycarbonate support structure along the bottom?
The answer may or may not be complicated, depending on how much you know about plastic injection molding. We'll assume the worst and explain the concept of "undercut" to you with a ridiculous metaphor.

The Ridiculous Metaphor
Imagine you had a tube full of melted cheese. Next, imagine you emptied that entire tube into your mouth. Rather than swallowing the cheese, you decide to let it sit in your mouth and harden. Why are you doing this? We don't know. Let's just say you want a brick of cheese that's perfectly molded to the contours of your mouth - a very normal thing to want.
So, your mouth is completely filled with cheese. It hardens. You reach into your mouth to remove the brick of cheese. As you're removing it, you encounter a problem: your teeth are in the way. This wasn't a problem when you were putting the cheese into your mouth, but that was because the cheese was melted and could flow around your teeth. Now that the cheese has hardened, this is no longer the case.
In the world of plastic injection molding, this is an undercut. Our concern was that, by molding a structurally rigid piece of polycarbonate around the charging port and speaker holes, we'd find ourselves unable to remove the Grip Case from the mold once hardened. Imagine spending $30,000 on industrial tooling only to get a $30 phone case stuck inside of it.
Once we saw Grip cases deforming along the bottom cutouts, we knew we'd need to find a way to remove the cheese from your mouth without breaking your teeth. To make a long story short: we did it. The cheese is out of your mouth, and you get to keep your teeth. Congratulations! Now, keep reading.
On newer models of the Grip case, the result is a polycarbonate bridge extending around the bottom cutouts, adding both structural reinforcement and interlock mechanisms to promote mechanical bond, much like the ones which line the perimeter of the rest of the Grip case.

Pictured: Newest-gen structural reinforcement on the bottom of the Grip.
On the subject of structural reinforcements, this design revision was around the time we flanked the buttons with some fins, working in tandem with the heightened compression set and button relief slits, detailed above, to further guarantee that button actuation would have no impact on the overall durability of the Grip case.

Pictured: Lack of button fins on the first-gen Grip.

Pictured: Button fins on the newest-gen Grip.
As an aside: Unrelated to the de-bonding issues, we've also made a number of smaller improvements to the Grip case with each new iteration. For instance, we chamfered the front lip of the case to make edge-swiping more pleasant and reduce dust accumulation along the rim. Those raised parallelogram shapes along the sides of your Grip case that create its distinctive handfeel? We made those way bigger for a better in-hand experience. In short: product development is a complex and multifaceted process. Each new iteration of the Grip case is better than the one that came before, and that applies to more than just failure rates.
Speaking of failure rates: all of these improvements were in place by the time we launched iPhone 11-series Grip cases. The failure rate for these cases decreased exponentially... but didn't disappear entirely.

The Even More Ridiculous Metaphor
With these improvements, we achieved our desired outcome: the case was no longer deforming around the buttons or the charging port. Instead, the structure of the case began to fail literally anywhere else around the perimeter of the phone.
Think of it this way… you’re a roof carpenter. The greatest roof carpenter of all time. Like the son of God, but if he was a carpenter. Unfortunately, you’ve been paired with the Donald Trump of wall-builders.
You're tasked with building a house. You spend all of your time and energy perfecting your roofcraft. You've designed a roof that's so durable, it may as well have been made of Nokia 3310s. Nothing's getting through that bad boy.
The wall guy? Instead of building that wall he said Mexico would pay for, he's been tweeting about the miraculous medicinal properties of bleach while a plague kills hundreds of thousands of Americans.
The point here is that you can build the greatest roof of all time, but the walls need to be strong enough to match.
To strengthen the Grip case's metaphorical walls, we needed to re-design the inside of the Grip case from scratch. More specifically, the mechanical interlock between the springy elastomer and rigid polycarbonate skeleton. We took every tooth at the bonding point between the two materials and made them as large as we possibly could. Then, we added more teeth.

Pictured: Polycarbonate teeth on the newest-gen Grip.
To jog your memory: this is how the teeth used to look...

Pictured: Polycarbonate teeth on the first-gen Grip.
If time proves that these changes aren’t enough, our engineers still have a number of ideas on how to improve the bond between the elastomer and polycarbonate. Will we ever need to implement those ideas? Again - that’s a question only time can answer. Each change might be the silver bullet that puts this problem to bed for good... but there's only one way to find out: it involves real-world testing and, with each iteration, months of careful observation.

PART THREE

So, Where Are We Now?
Have the improvements we've made to the Grip case been successful? You bet.
For the sake of comparison: we began shipping iPhone 11 series Grips on September 30th, 2019. Within six months of that date, we had received 52 reports of structural failures - a big improvement over the early days, but still not good enough.
Fast forward two months. We began shipping Note 10 Plus Grip cases on November 21st, 2019. In the first six months of availability, we received exactly eight reports of Note 10 Plus Grips falling apart. Again, a major improvement over the iPhone series in the same stretch of time. If we'd launched the first Grip cases with a failure rate that low, we wouldn't be writing this post right now and you’d have nothing to read while pretending to do work.
How about the Galaxy S20 series, which began shipping on February 10th, 2020? They're the most recent and improved set of SKUs we’ve made to date, leveraging everything we've learned and making further improvements over the Note 10 Plus. No reports so far. Same goes for the iPhone SE and OnePlus 8 series - these SKUs share all the improvements we've made to the underlying design of the Grip case thus far.
Does that mean these numbers will hold forever? Who knows. That's the thing: every improvement we make, we need to wait several months to see how effective it's been. No amount of internal testing can replace the real-world data of shipping cases to hundreds of thousands of users across nearly 200 countries.
We could always just throw in the towel, make the entire case out of rigid plastic, and call it a solved issue... but that would be the easy way out. The Grip case and its unique design properties can't reach their full potential unless we make incremental improvements - then wait and see how they pan out in the real world.
All of which is to say: it's far too early to say the newest set of improvements have officially solved the problem. While the failure rate is still zero, we need to keep watching. We've made a ton of progress, but we're not going to rest until we've killed this issue for good - without sacrificing the unique properties that make the Grip case stand out in a sea of derivative hard plastic and TPU phone cases.
That's probably enough to inspire confidence in someone who's on the fence about buying an S20 Ultra Grip, an iPhone SE Grip, or any Grip we release in the future. But what if you're one of the people who bought an older Grip model?

"I'm One Of The People Who Bought An Older Grip Model!"
We won't sugarcoat it. The failure rates for older Grip models is way higher than we deem acceptable. Why has it taken us this long to publicly address the issue, then?
Easy: it's not as widespread as you might think. Some humans reading this might be looking at their iPhone X Grip, purchased in 2019 and still intact, wondering what all the fuss is about. That's an important consideration: most people who have functioning, still-bonded Grip cases aren't posting on /dbrand about how unbroken it is. The people who've had issues around total product failure are in the minority.
We're not using the word "minority" as a get-out-of-jail-free card here. It's still a way larger number than we'd ever be comfortable with. We simply don't want our transparency and candor in writing this to be misinterpreted as an admission that every single Grip case we've made for older devices is going to fall apart. Statistically speaking, this is an issue for a minority of Grip owners.
Our philosophy at first was that, while it was unfortunate and frustrating that Grip cases were falling apart, dramatic PR action wasn't necessary. Instead, we resolved to:
  1. Quietly and diligently work in the background to improve the underlying design of the Grip case.
  2. Ship free replacements to anyone whose Grip case had failed.
To date, we've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on shipping fees alone for replacement Grips. As you can imagine, that number gets a lot higher once you add in the cost of actually making the thing. We've been fine with writing these costs off as sort of an R&D expense, since every example of a deformed or de-bonded Grip provides invaluable data on how to improve the product.
Where our strategy backfired was in the narrative that began to take root as Grip cases continued to fall apart. Look at it this way: the failure rate of older Grip case SKUs is anywhere between 1% and 20%, depending on how early we released the SKU. Since the improvements we've already made to the underlying design were rolled out incrementally with each new phone release, that number has been on a steady downward trend.
For the purpose of this thought experiment, we'll go with the earliest, shittiest Grip cases - putting us at a long-term failure rate of 20%.
So, 20% of customers for this device have a Grip case fall apart at some point in the product's lifespan. Every single one of those people writes in to our Customer Experience team about the issue. They all receive a replacement, free of charge.
Since this replacement is identical to the first Grip case they'd received, it also has a 20% failure rate. We're now dealing with percentages of percentages. Stop panicking, we'll do the math for you: that means 4% of these hypothetical Grip owners will have a second Grip case fail on them in the long run.
Four percent is a lot better than twenty… but it's also a lot of people who've been burned twice. These people are going to be extra vocal about how shitty the Grip case is. To be fair, they've got every right.
So, we've got four groups of customers for this SKU:
  • Group A: Has had two or more Grip cases fail (4%).
  • Group B: Has had exactly one Grip case fail (16%).
  • Group C: Bought a Grip which has not failed (80%).
  • Group D: Has not purchased a Grip case (NA%).
Group A is livid about the repeated issues they've had - rightfully so.
Group B, having been burned before, reads about Group A's experience. They take it to mean their replacement will inevitably fail on them as well, and they'll one day get the dubious honor of joining Group A.
Group C, despite not having had any issues yet, reads the experiences of Groups A and B. Then, a significant portion of this group begins to operate under the assumption that it's only a matter of time before their Grip falls apart as well.
Group D reads all of the above and decides they don't have enough confidence in the Grip case to ever purchase one.
A narrative begins to form that this hypothetical failure rate is close to 100%. Worse yet: people with newer phones, unaware that each new iteration of the Grip case has a dramatically reduced failure rate over the last, start to assume their case also has a 100% failure rate. That's where our original strategy - the one where we quietly improved the product in the background while offering replacements for defective units - backfired on us.
This narrative only exists because we've continued to leverage existing stock with too high a failure rate, which, in hindsight, was like pouring gasoline on a gender reveal forest fire of disappointment and regret. This brings us to our next chapter.

Mass Destruction
At this point, you're probably aware that a number of Grip SKUs for older phones have been listed as "Sold Out" on our website, and haven't been restocked since.
We stopped production on these cases because we knew they'd have all the same issues as the original production runs. See, it's not as simple as pushing a "make the Grip not fall apart" button at the factory - we'd need to redesign the case from scratch, implementing all of the design improvements we've made up to this point, then re-tool our existing machinery to produce this new version. We'll have more to say about re-tooling a bit later - for now, focus on the fact that some Grips have been listed as "Sold Out".
If someone's Grip case falls apart while listed as "Sold Out", we don't have any replacements to send them. Instead, dbrand's Customer Experience team has been issuing refunds wherever possible, and store credit otherwise. Just in case you're wondering what we mean by "where possible": PayPal doesn't allow refunds on transactions that are more than six months old. Store credit, on the other hand, can be offered indefinitely.
What we've come to realize is that we're never going to be able to escape this downward spiral until we rip the band-aid off and stop stocking these old, flawed SKUs.
Today, we're ripping the bandaid off. As you're reading this, we're disposing of all of our old stock. All of the flawed Grip SKUs are now listed as "Sold Out".
Head over to our Grip listing and take a look at what's available. Everything that you can currently buy is up to spec with the improvements we've made over the past year - meeting or exceeding the standard of quality set by the Galaxy S20 series, the iPhone SE, and the OnePlus 8 series. In some cases - take, for instance, the iPhone 11 series - this means we've already re-tooled our production lines to meet that quality benchmark.
If a Grip case is listed on "Backorder", it means we've begun the process of re-tooling the SKU to match the improved quality standard you've spent the last five hours reading about.
However, if a Grip case is now listed as "Sold Out", that means no more reshipments.
If you own a sold out Grip case that hasn't fallen apart yet: that's great! Don't assume that your Grip is doomed to fail just because we devoted 5661 words to explaining why it might fall apart. You've still got better odds than you would at a casino.
As always, if you run into any issues with your case, sold out or not, shoot an email to one of our Robots. They'll still take care of you - it just won't be with a replacement case… for now.

Mass Production
Remember when we said we'd talk more about re-tooling a bit later? That's right now.
So, why are so many Grip models not being fixed? Why haven't we re-tooled these old SKUs with all of the quality improvements made to the case's build quality? It's a little complicated.
Taking the improvements we've made to the most recent suite of Grip models and retroactively applying those changes to older SKUs isn't a simple task - it would require us to throw out our existing production tools and create new ones, from scratch. Suffice it to say that doing so is a wildly expensive endeavor.
To recoup that cost, we'd need to produce more Grips than we're likely to ever sell for aging, irrelevant hardware. Let's use the Pixel 3 as an example.
If we replaced every single de-bonded Pixel 3 Grip, that would account for about 3% of the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity) on a re-tooled Pixel 3 Grip case. Now we're sitting on 97% of that MOQ as overstock. Pixel 3 owners have had their phone for nearly two years now. If they want a phone case, they already have one. They're not looking for new Pixel 3 cases, they're getting ready to buy a new phone. Simply put, it’s no longer a viable market.
Now, say the Pixel 3 was a significantly more popular phone - enough that we'd be shipping out, say, 50% of the MOQ as replacements on day one. Now, that's a lot more tempting to us - we'd still lose boatloads of money, but at least it would go towards some consumer goodwill.
To figure out how much money we'd lose on re-tooling, we gave our bean-counting Robots a giant jar of beans and told them to get to work. They emerged three days later. When asked how many beans were in the jar, they gave us a blank stare. When asked if it was possible to re-tool any of our production lines for old Grip SKUs without losing obscene amounts of money, they said:
"Absolutely not."
Still, we're no strangers to throwing away obscene amounts of money to make the internet happy. Remember Amazon gift cards? Those were the days. The only question that remains is "How much money are we willing to set on fire?"
We can't tell you yet. Why? Because we're currently running a detailed cost-benefit analysis on the subject of re-tooling old production lines, on a SKU-by-SKU basis. That's business talk for "the bean-counting Robots have been given more beans to count."
The objective is to determine the viability of producing new-and-improved Grip stock for older phones: how many units would be tied up in replacements for that model, how many we could reasonably expect to sell to new customers, and how much overstock would be left from the MOQ.
From there, we can determine what the financial impact of re-tooling would be and make the final decision on how much cash we're dumping into the ocean somewhere off the coast of the Seychelles. We'll have our results by early next week.
These re-tooled models, if produced, would feature every improvement we’ve made thus far to the Grip case line, plus a few that have yet to be released. Remember how the S20s, the iPhone SE and the OnePlus 8s haven't had any reported failures yet? Picture that, but for the phone you've got.
If we go ahead with re-tooling production lines for your phone, a few things will happen:
  1. The Grip case for your phone will go from "Sold Out" to "Backorder".
  2. Our Customer Experience Robots will shift their communication strategy from "we no longer support your phone," to "we'll get you a replacement once we've got improved units in stock."
None of these things will happen until we've run the simulations on which phones are getting restocked. Why are we posting this today, then? We could have waited a week and had concrete answers to offer about the future of our out-of-stock Grip cases. Well…

Take Our Survey
This is it: your chance to have some say in how much money we set on fire as a goodwill exercise for this whole R&D clusterfuck.
Those simulations we're running? They'll be great for telling us how much money we're going to lose on each Grip SKU, but it won't tell us anything about how much money our customers want us to lose on each Grip SKU.
To that end, we've prepared a survey for people who have purchased a Grip case. We'll be taking your feedback into consideration during our decision-making process.
We have only one request: don't be a jackass. Answer the questions honestly.
Click here to take the survey.

In Closing...
We're sharing a special moment right now. We're all seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
For us, that light is "we're almost done with a year-long R&D effort to stop the Grip case from falling apart."
For you, the light is "the end of a 5661-word marathon of a Reddit post."
We just want to take a minute to recognize that we couldn't have gotten this far without your collective support. At any point in the past year, we might have pulled the plug on the Grip project entirely if we'd reached a critical mass of negative sentiment from our customers. Instead, we've got an army of devotees who have no problem paying us for the privilege of being our guinea pigs.
Product development isn't a one-and-done process. It's easy to forget, but our skins weren't always to the world-class, record-setting, Michael-Jordan-in-his-prime standard you expect from us today. If you happen to have an iPhone 4 skin lying around, apply it and let us know how it goes. You'll immediately appreciate how many process improvements we've made. We weren’t born as the greatest skin manufacturer in history. We got there through a process of methodical improvement. Each jump in quality was driven by a bottomless well of user feedback, sourced from millions upon millions of customers. That, and the competition was comically inept.
It's the same story for the Grip case. Your continued support has enabled us to make huge strides in developing a product that's on the cusp of blowing everyone else out of the water. We're going to keep working until it gets there.

TL;DR VERSION

Please note that by reading this tl;dr, you’re missing out on several outlandish metaphors, including classics such as:
  • Plastic injection molding melted cheese into your face hole.
  • What if Jesus and Donald Trump built a house?
  • How to turn yourself from “rare to well done” and “solid to paste”.
  • Pencil Perverts.

WHY DOES THE GRIP FALL APART?
  • The Grip case is made from two materials: a polycarbonate skeleton and an elastomer frame.
  • The elastomer frame provides the majority of the case's impact protection and grip, but is prone to deformation.
  • We prevent deformation by bonding the material to a polycarbonate skeleton (i.e. the rigid back plate on the Grip case).
  • The bond between the two materials was not as strong as we'd originally anticipated, causing the elastomer to de-bond from the polycarbonate skeleton and the case to sometimes fall apart.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO FIX IT?
  • Through a series of design revisions, we've made countless improvements to promote a stronger bond between the two materials.
  • These changes have incrementally reduced the failure rate of Grip cases. Our most recent SKUs are yielding extremely promising results.
  • Each time we improve the Grip case, we need to play a months-long waiting game to observe the real-world effects.

HOW ABOUT THE GRIPS YOU'VE ALREADY SOLD?
  • Since we're using you as guinea pigs for the purposes of product development, we've been uncharacteristically generous with our warranty policy.
  • However, that warranty policy only lasts as long as we have stock. Once we're out of Grips, we're out of replacements.
  • We've finally reached the point where we need to rip off the bandaid and dispose of all of our Grip stock produced during 2019.
  • If your Grip for any of these older phones falls apart, you can no longer get a replacement.
  • You should still write in to our Customer Experience team if it happens to you - we'll work something out.
  • On the bright side, our Grip SKUs from 2020 onwards have dramatically reduced, if not outright eliminated, the failure rate of previous models. We have no reported cases to date.
  • It's not economically viable to re-tool production lines to apply our improved industrial designs to any of the Grip cases that are currently marked as "Sold Out".
  • We're probably going to do it anyways.
  • We're running the simulations right now to determine which older devices will be re-tooled.
  • Take our survey to help determine which devices we'll be re-tooling.
submitted by db_inc to dbrand [link] [comments]

Every three months my daughter and I have to move. I've finally told her why. Chapter 4

Hi. Tim Collins here. I would have posted an update sooner, but the last few days have been… difficult. Before I go into detail, I want to make it clear that Steph and I are both alive and well, and safe for the time being.
I had planned on telling Steph everything on Saturday, after she’d had a chance to hang out with her friends, but… it didn’t work out that way. She left Tuesday afternoon to meet up with a group of kids she’d known since she was in diapers, and I got a text around 8pm asking if she could stay out longer. I didn’t see any reason why she couldn’t, so I said she could as long as she stayed safe and let me know when she was on her way back. I spent a few hours talking with Kathy, hammering out the details on how we were going to talk with Steph, and then played some Call of Duty while I waited for Steph to text that she was on her way back. When 2am rolled around and I still hadn’t heard from her, I wasn’t too worried She had a good group of friends. I sent a reminder text to Steph and then headed to bed.
When my alarm went off the next morning, I automatically checked my phone to see if Steph had responded. She hadn’t, so I got up and checked her bedroom, figuring she’d probably crashed as soon as she got home. Wishful thinking, I know. She wasn’t there.
I tried calling her, but no answer. I called her friend Antje, same thing. Finally, I tried giving her friend Leo a call. I was so relieved when he picked up the phone.
“Leo, it’s Tim. Steph’s dad.”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Collins. Stephanie went to Antje’s house last night.”
“Do you know where she is now? I tried calling both her and Antje but neither of them are picking up.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t know much about that.”
I recognized the tone of voice Leo was using. It was the same one I’d used when I lied to my friends’ parents. I sighed.
“Listen, Leo, if you promised not to tell me where she is, then fine. I just want to know if she’s safe, and when she plans on coming back home.”
There was silence on the other end for a moment. Then, Leo spoke, in a low, cautious voice.
“She’s not going to be happy with me for telling you this, but… Stephanie doesn’t want to stay in Germany anymore. She said she was going to find a way back to America.”
My heart sank. “Did she say how?”
“No. I don’t think she has a plan. She was very upset yesterday, and then Antje suggested she stay with her so they could come up with a plan. I think Antje was going to try to convince her to talk to you.”
That was a relief. Antje was a good kid, and I was sure that she would be able to get through to Steph. Even so, I was worried.
“Did Steph say anything about why she wants to go back?”
Leo hesitated. He probably didn’t want to tell me what Steph had said about me. He just said she missed her grandparents.
I sighed. “I’m sure she does, but I get the feeling that’s not the whole story.”
“No,” Leo admitted. “She’s… not happy with you.”
“I know. And I’m not mad at her, or you, or Antje. Truth be told, this whole thing is kind of my fault.”
Another moment of silence, then, “I’m about to leave for Olympiapark to meet them. If you meet me at Prinzregentenplatz, I can bring you to her.”
“Thank you, Leo. I’ll see you there.”
--
When I found Leo at the station, he looked miserable. I didn’t blame him. He was going to catch hell from Steph for this. I felt bad for the kid, since he was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation, so I told him I’d follow from a distance and he could pretend he didn’t know I was there. That made him relax, and I was able to get a little more information out of him as we made our way to Olympiapark. Evidently, Steph had been thinking about this for some time, and she'd been coming up with stories to tell at the airport to convince them to let her on a plane to Dallas. She had also brought up the idea of sneaking onto a cargo ship, but Leo had talked her out of that one pretty quickly. I thanked him profusely for this.
When we got to the park, I slowed my pace and waited for Leo to get ahead of me. He seemed to be meandering a bit, and I was beginning to wonder if he was really leading me to my daughter when I spotted her. She and Antje were sitting in the shade of a giant oak tree, and they waved him over. Steph had her laptop out, and she didn’t notice me until I was a few feet away. Leo acted surprised to see me, too. Not the best acting job, but Steph was too distracted by me to notice.
“Dad? What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t answer my texts. I was worried,” I explained.
Steph slammed her laptop shut and stood. “Damn it, Leo, why the hell did you tell him?”
“He didn’t. I was looking for you by the station and I saw him, so I figured I’d follow.”
“So you just decided to start stalking my friends?” Steph screamed at me. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t you just leave me alone for a day?”
“I told you to text me last night. You know you’re not supposed to have sleepovers without asking me first.”
Antje and Leo were standing off to the side. It was hard to see their expressions under their masks, but they were clearly uncomfortable about the whole situation. I felt bad for them, but I focused on Steph.
“Come on. Get your stuff, we’re going home.”
“No! I don’t want to go back!”
I was about to start one of my stern dad lectures when I had a sudden thought. “Then where do you want to go?” I asked.
“I want to go home!”
I raised an eyebrow. I knew what she meant, but I couldn’t help giving her a little bit of a hard time. “You just said you didn’t want to go home.”
Steph let out an aggravated screech. “No! I mean our real home! I want to go back to the ranch and just… just fucking stay there!”
“Why?”
“Because I’m fucking sick of you dragging me around everywhere! There’s a fucking pandemic going on, dad, and you’re just ignoring it so you can make me follow you around while you go work a job that doesn’t even need you here! I’m sick of it! I want to go home!”
“Okay.”
I wish I could have taken a picture of the sheer confusion on Antje and Leo’s faces. Steph was taken aback as well, and she stared at me before asking, “What?”
“If you really want to go back to the US, then we’ll go back,” I said calmly. Leo’s eyes were opened so wide that for a moment I wondered if they were going to fall out of his head.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Steph screamed.
I shook my head. “No. I’m serious. I’ll even book the ticket right now, but only if you promise me something.”
Steph snorted. “Of course,” she muttered as she threw up her hands.
“It’s nothing that bad, Steph. I just want to talk to you.”
“No offense, dad, but you’re the last person I want to talk to right now.”
“I know, and that’s understandable, but this is important. If you don’t want me to tell you, then you can ask grandma Kathy, but I think it’s better if you hear it from me.”
That got her attention. “Hear what from you?”
I glanced over at Leo and Antje. “It’s… not something we can talk about in public, but it has to do with your mother, and why I haven’t let you stay with my dad or grandma Kathy.”
Steph looked skeptical, but after glancing at her friends, she sighed and nodded. “Fine. But if you don’t keep your promise-“
“I will. Antje and Leo can be our witnesses. I won’t tell their parents about this, either.”
I saw the relief on all three of their faces and smiled under my mask. These three really cared about each other. It made me happy that Steph had such good friends.
Steph put her laptop back in her bag, and she hugged Antje and Leo before walking away with me. I waved at them as we headed out of the park.
--
When we got home, Steph dropped her bags on the floor and plopped into her spot on the living room couch. I sat on the other couch across from her.
“So,” I began.
“So.”
Steph was regarding me with suspicion, which didn’t surprise me. I leaned forward, my hands clasped and resting on my knees. “I guess you’ve known for a while that this whole travel thing isn’t because of my work.”
“Yeah.”
“Why do you think we’ve been doing this, then?”
Steph scoffed and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Because you want me to be all multicultural and shit?”
“That’s just an added bonus,” I said.
“Then why do I have to keep coming with you? Especially when we were supposed to be in lockdown! People are dying, dad, we can’t just act like everything’s normal!”
“I know. And believe me, I wouldn’t be making you do this if I had any other choice, but there’s…”
I faltered. I knew I had to tell her, but I just couldn’t summon the words.
“Dad?”
I looked at Steph. She was looking at me with concern in her eyes. I was struck by just how much she looked like her mother.
I could feel the tears brimming in my eyes, and I bowed my head. “I’m sorry, Stephie. I’m so, so sorry. I should have told you this years ago, but…”
My breath hitched in my throat.
Steph’s entire demeanor changed. She stood and stepped around the table to sit in front of me. “Dad, what’s wrong? What happened?”
“I fucked up, Steph. I did some stupid fucking shit when I was in college and I’ve been paying for it ever since. I never wanted any of this to affect you but I couldn’t stop it from taking over your life and I’m so sorry.”
“Dad, what are you talking about? Are you in trouble?”
I took a deep breath and shook my head. “Not… not in the way you might think. Look, this… this is going to be hard for you to believe. I still have troubles believing it sometimes. It’s… it shouldn’t be possible. You might think I’m crazy after this, but I swear to you, everything I’m telling you is the truth. Just… just promise me you’ll hear me out, okay?”
Steph looked a bit hesitant, but she nodded. “I promise, dad.”
I smiled at her. “You are the best daughter anyone could ever ask for. All right, it started when I was a senior in college. I had this friend named Scott, and he told me about this creepy abandoned warehouse out in the woods, so one night we went to go check it out…”
--
Steph… took it well. As well as she could, anyway. She was stoic for the most part, until I got to the point where the creature had come after her for the first time. She had a small panic attack at that point, and when she finally calmed down enough to tell me why, all she could say was that it felt too familiar. I nodded and suggested she might have some memory of it in her subconscious. I offered to stop there, but she insisted I continue. She wanted to know what happened to her mother.
I tried to be vague. I told her that we didn’t know about the pregnancy, and that the creature had no interest in Katie, which is why we were able to see her before she died. Steph didn’t need to know all the details to understand what happened. She knew that her mother’s womb had been ripped open.
I held her hair and gently rubbed her back as she vomited into the toilet. Once she’d emptied her stomach and collapsed against the bathroom wall, I got a water bottle from the kitchen. She was sobbing when I returned, and I just handed her the water and sat next to her. I wanted nothing more than to hug her and hold her close, but that wasn’t what she needed right now.
Once she’d recovered, she took a huge gulp of water and rested her head against the wall, her eyes focused on the ceiling. It was quiet for a little while longer, then she spoke in a near-whisper, her voice raspy. “I remember the hospital. And the doctor. He’s the one who told me that mom wasn’t coming back because you and grandma couldn’t stop crying.”
I nodded, the tears coming back to my eyes. “I wish I could have been stronger for you, but I just… couldn’t. Losing your mother destroyed me, and the only reason I could pull myself together was because you needed me.”
Steph was quiet for a moment. “Will it do the same thing to me?”
“Not if I can help it,” I said firmly. “I’ve lost too many people to this thing already.”
“But what if I have kids? Am I going to have to do the exact same thing with them?” Steph began to cry again. “Why does it even care about me? I’m not you, I wasn’t alive when this thing showed up, I didn’t even know it existed until now, so why do I have to live with your stupid curse?”
She sobbed, and I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “I wish I knew. You don’t deserve this. You should never have been dragged into this bullshit, but that fucking shitass… thing doesn’t seem to care about anything besides eating its next victim.”
“Can’t you kill it?”
“I’ve tried, but I don’t know how. I wanted to make sure you could take care of yourself before I started looking into it again.”
“I can take care of myself, dad. You know that.”
I smiled and hugged her tight. “I do know that. You were ready to learn about this a long time before I was ready to tell you. Just promise me you won’t try to go after it, okay?”
Steph elbowed me in the ribs. “I’m not that stupid, dad. You’re the one who keeps saying how I got mom’s planning skills.”
I laughed. “You did, but you also got my tendency to do stupid, impulsive shit.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not going to repeat your mistakes,” Steph declared as she shakily got to her feet. “There’s got to be something about this thing online. If we do enough research-“
“Why did I know you were going to say that?” I laughed. “Don’t worry about it right now, Steph.”
“But-“
“We’ll have plenty of time to do research when we go see grandma Kathy,” I said. “But I want you to take it easy today. I’ve got stuff to do before we head back to the states.”
Steph rolled her eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh. “Ugh, fine. But I still want to see you book the tickets.”
I smiled. “I’m kind of surprised how easily you’re believing all this.”
“Yeah, well, me too,” Steph replied as she walked into the kitchen. “I mean, it sounds like bullshit. Or a shitty-ass prank that only an asshole with a shitty sense of humor would pull.”
“Well, I am an asshole with a shitty sense of humor,” I said with a smirk, causing Steph to laugh as she pulled a pizza from the freezer. “But this isn’t a prank, and as much as I wish this was all a bunch of bullshit, it’s not. It’s real.”
“Yeah. It’s weird, but when you talked about it finding me when I was little…” Steph shuddered, and she looked like she was going to be sick again, but she took a deep breath and continued. “It sounded… familiar, I guess? Like, I can’t remember it happening, but I just get this weird sense of déjà vu. I can almost picture this thing walking through grandma’s yard towards me…”
She stopped and suppressed a sob. I rubbed her back. “You okay?”
“Y-yeah. It’s just… I never told you, but sometimes I have this… this nightmare, where something’s following me. I can never really see it, it’s just this… weird, tall shadow, but it’s always coming straight for me.”
She stood still for a moment, staring at the baking sheet she’d gotten out for the pizza, then looked up at me. “Do you think it’s coming for me in my dreams?”
It was my turn to feel sick, but I put on a brave face. “Nah, you’re fine. If it could come for people in their sleep it would’ve done it to me a long time ago.”
Steph looked skeptical for a moment, but she either accepted my words or was willing to humor me, as she didn’t bring it up again. Instead, she put the pizza in the oven, and we shifted the conversation to other, happier things as we waited for our food.
--
We got to California a day later. Steph was doing surprisingly well, considering the circumstances. She’d spent most of our remaining time in Munich going over her mother’s notes and doing some research of her own. She also read my posts here and would like to thank everyone who told me to stop dragging my feet and tell her what’s going on.
Steph spent most of the first two days in California talking with her grandmother. She had asked on the way over if I could give her some space, and I was happy to oblige. I had some other things I wanted to do, anyway. Some of you were curious about the warehouse, so I decided to dig deeper into the history there. I was also able to get in touch with a man who specialized in the paranormal. His name was Frank Henderson, and he was very interested to hear about my situation. He’d never encountered this creature before, but after I told him everything I knew about it, he told me he had a few theories and that he wanted to meet in person. I talked it over with Kathy and Steph and we decided to meet him at a park in Los Angeles.
Let me tell you, Frank was not what I expected. He’s a bit… odd, to be sure, but friendly, and extremely kind and sympathetic. He’d lost his younger brother to a supernatural entity when he was a kid, and that was why he was in this line of work. He was determined to help us find a solution for Steph’s sake; he hated creatures that targeted children.
The first thing he wanted to do was visit the warehouse. Well, he wanted to see the creature first, but since it was somewhere in Tennessee at the time – not to mention the whole ‘invisible to everyone except its targets’ thing – he settled for the warehouse. Steph wanted to come, too, but I was worried that her presence could trigger something, so I convinced her to stay at home after promising I’d take plenty of pictures and video.
The trip to the warehouse was uneventful. Frank’s equipment didn’t pick up any of the usual signs of paranormal activity, and hardly anything had changed since that fateful night nearly twenty years ago. Just some new graffiti, more trash littering the floor, and a mattress lying on the ground just past the entrance. Other than a few stains on the mattress that indicated an… amorous encounter, there was nothing interesting about it.
We found the blood message again. There was some graffiti covering bits of it, but it was still legible. Don’t stop moving. The words had a much more chilling effect on me this time around. I wondered whose blood it was, as I didn’t think a victim of the creature could have written it once it had caught them. Frank did more of his usual tests in the room, then pulled out a candle and a satchel, along with a few other things that were very out of place with all his modern technology. He said he was going to try a ritual, and that he needed me to leave the room for a while. I was a little concerned, but I agreed and said I would take a look around outside. Frank nodded and waved a hand at me as he focused on preparing his ritual.
I walked around the parking lot for a while, thinking of the first night I’d come to this place. I could still remember the exact place the creature had stood while it tried to get into Scott’s car. I felt sick as I remembered the look of terror on Sam’s face as she screamed for our help. I thought I’d done the right thing by distracting that creature, but sometimes I wonder if maybe I’d angered it when I threw that rock.
It occurred to me then that I could try to retrace the creature’s steps. Sam said it had come from the forest and gone straight to the car, and the car had been facing north that night, so I turned to the east and made my way into the trees. I walked for five or ten minutes, not seeing anything unusual, then decided to turn back before I got lost. When I got back to the warehouse, Frank was outside, looking at his phone. I called to him and he waved before putting his phone away.
“I was just about to call you. I was wondering where you went,” he said.
“Just wanted to check out the woods,” I said. “How’d the ritual go?”
Frank shrugged. “Didn’t get the results I wanted, but there’s definitely some kind of presence tied to this place. How about you?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. I thought if I walked the way the thing came from, maybe I’d find something, but it looks pretty normal to me out there.”
Frank gave me a pat on the shoulder. “Maybe you just don’t know what to look for. Come on, you’ve got me curious now.”
I sighed and followed Frank back into the woods. Despite what he’d said, Frank didn’t seem too interested in looking at anything as we walked. He’d glance at a few trees from time to time, but he never stopped to take a closer look. I followed him, trying to get answers as we walked, but he either ignored my questions or responded with, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
We hadn’t gotten very far when he stopped suddenly, almost causing me to run into him. “There. You see that?”
I frowned as I looked where he was pointing. “See what?”
“That boulder right there. Looks a little unnatural, doesn’t it?”
I shook my head. It looked the same as everything else in this forest.
Frank sighed and walked over to the boulder. “I know it’s hard to tell, but if you compare it to the other rocks around here, it’s clear that this one hasn’t been here as long. Plus, look at the limbs on the trees behind it. Some of them have been cut.”
I looked at the trees, and sure enough, it looked as though the lower limbs had been sawn off. It must have happened a long time ago, however, as the stumps of the limbs had almost been overtaken by the newer rings of the trees. Frank circled around the boulder and let out an excited exclamation.
“Hot damn, Tim, look at this!”
I ran around the boulder to see what Frank was looking at and stared in amazement. Someone had put a lot of work into attaching a chain to this thing. It was anchored in there pretty well, too. I tried pulling on it and it felt firm.
Frank found the end of the chain after a moment of searching, and he took a picture of the end before telling me to take a look at it. I did, and I noticed that it had been snapped in two. We looked for the part that had broken off, but it was nowhere to be found.
“This chain… I think it’s made of silver,” Frank remarked.
“Silver? Doesn’t that have some kind of special property when it comes to this kinda stuff?”
Frank nodded. “That’s right. Now, I’m not an expert on metallurgy, but this break right here doesn’t look like it happened naturally.”
“Do silver chains ever break naturally?” I asked.
Frank snorted. “I meant it didn't happen over a long period of time. It looks more like something broke it.”
“Like what?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m betting it was a bulldozer or something. I’m also betting that it happened around the same time the warehouse was constructed.”
I was beginning to see where he was going with this. “And maybe these chains were holding something prisoner.”
Frank grinned and nodded. “Now you’re getting it. People didn’t start to go missing from here until the warehouse went up, right?”
“As far as I know,” I replied. “But then why would they drag it out into the woods and leave it? If that chain’s actually made of silver, then wouldn’t whoever found it want to sell it?”
“Not if they dug up a monster at the same time,” Frank pointed out. “Plus, look at the anchor. I think there’s something written there.”
I wiped some of the dirt off the anchor with my sleeve. Sure enough, there was something engraved in the metal. Do not break the chains, or it will walk free. Do not look into its eyes, or it will follow you. Do not wait for it, or it will consume you.
I was stunned. Was this real? Had this been here the entire time, just sitting a few hundred yards away from the warehouse?
I felt an anger rising in me. This could have helped us. This could have saved Sam and Katie. If we’d just spent a little more time looking back then…
“God fucking damn it!” I screamed, kicking the rock in frustration.
Frank was shocked. “Dude, what’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy about this!”
“Oh, yeah, I’m real fucking happy,” I yelled. “I’m just so fucking thrilled that I wasted twenty years thinking there were no answers, and this thing was just fucking sitting here the whole goddamn time! We fucking looked, Frank! We came out here and looked everywhere to find something – anything – that could tell us how to beat this thing, and here it is! Here it fucking is, thirteen years too late to save her!”
Frank put a hand on my shoulder. I shoved it away, but he put it right back again and squeezed hard. “Look, Tim, I get it. You lost someone you loved, and you can’t stop thinking about how you could have saved them, and it hurts. It hurts so damn much, I know. But you can still save someone.”
I was quiet for a while. Frank was right. I was doing this for Steph. She had a chance to be free of this monster, and I wasn’t about to lose it. I took a deep breath and nodded.
“Sorry, Frank. Just… old wounds, you know?”
“I get it, man. I still lay in bed at night thinking about everything I could have done to save my brother. I can’t do anything for him now, but I can do something for you. For Steph. We can figure this out, Tim.”
I nodded. “So… what now?”
Frank began to gather up the chain. “There’s still some questions that need answers. This thing can walk through walls, so we need to find out if this chain can really stop it. There’s also the question of why you can see it when others can’t, and whether it’s really got a connection to this place or if it’s got something to do with its imprisonment, not to mention who brought it here in the first place-“
“Right, right, I get it,” I said. “Are you planning on taking that with you?”
“I want to take a closer look at it, maybe get an acquaintance of mine to look at it, too,” Frank explained as he placed the chain in a pile on top of the boulder. “I’ll probably have to come back with some bolt cutters or something. The chain’s already been broken, so I see no harm in removing it completely.”
I nodded, and we headed back to the car.
--
Frank got back to me a couple days later. He wanted to head east to find the creature, and he wanted both me and Steph to come along. I tried to argue that it was too dangerous for Steph to come with us, but the fucker went and told her about his plans. Steph has a way of wearing me down when she really wants to, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to let her come along. I made it clear that I wasn’t happy about, however. Even though Frank assured me that he would keep her safe, I still worried. I mean, how could I not? Steph is my baby.
We set out in Frank’s RV. Yes, he has an RV, and it’s about what you’d expect from a guy who hunts the supernatural for a living. Frank and I took turns driving and discussing what he’d learned. The chain wasn’t just silver. It also had something engraved in it. Words of protection, Frank called them. The same phrases, repeated over and over and over again. He’d also gotten someone to look at the broken end of the chain. It was definitely broken by some kind of heavy machinery. The attachment to the boulder was apparently made in the 1950s, so Frank suspected that someone had bound the creature to the stone and buried it in the forest under the assumption that nobody would ever find it.
As for what he had planned when we spotted the creature, well, he just wanted to test a few things.
We made it all the way to Amarillo, Texas before stopping to rest, and set out again early the next morning. We estimated that we’d encounter the creature somewhere in Tennessee, so it would probably be dark by the time we found it. At least we’d have less people around to see our confrontation with this “invisible” being. Frank said he knew a good place to stage our meeting. It was an old, abandoned farm with a huge field, surrounded by old trees and far away from any other houses. He’d investigated a supposed haunting there back in the day, he said, but it had turned out to be a hoax done by a neighbor who wanted to buy out the land. Said neighbor also murdered the husband, so the wife and kids had moved away, but kept the property out of spite.
Frank has a lot of interesting stories to tell. Maybe someday I’ll convince him to share them with you.
The sun was setting when we crossed into Tennessee, and Steph was texting with her grandmother in the back, so I went up to sit with Frank for a while. It was about time to start keeping an eye out for the creature, anyway. Frank glanced over at me and nodded before turning his eyes back on the road.
“You ready for this?”
I sighed. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, but I can fake it.”
“We’ll be okay. This thing won’t attack until it’s within six feet of its target, so as long as you keep your distance, you’ll be fine.”
“Great, more social distancing,” I said, and Frank laughed.
“If only we could kill this thing with the coronavirus.”
It was quiet for a moment before I brought up something that had been bothering me. “You seem to know a lot about this creature.”
“Your wife kept good notes,” Frank said.
“Not about this thing’s attack range,” I pointed out. “Did one of your rituals tell you that, or are you just throwing out numbers?”
Frank stared out at the road for a while before answering. “Tim, I gotta be honest with you. I didn’t just answer your email because it sounded interesting.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Then why did you answer it?”
Frank sighed. “I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure, but the thing is, I’ve been looking for this creature for a long time.”
I frowned but didn’t speak. Frank rubbed his head nervously.
“Yeah, so, I mentioned I started doing this because of my brother, but that’s not where I first got interested. It was actually my great-uncle who’s responsible for my obsession.”
“Your great-uncle? Was he into this shit, too?” I asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” Frank said. “His son was a victim of the Walker, and he dedicated his life to destroying it.”
The Walker. A fitting name, I thought. “Is he the one who made that chain we found?”
“That’s right. He figured out how to trap the thing, and then he brought it out to the woods, bound it to that rock, and buried the whole damn thing. He thought that was the end of it, but he made a mistake.”
“He buried it too close to civilization?”
Frank shook his head. “No, he thought he’d buried it in a national park. You know, someplace where there wouldn’t be any construction that could dig it up. But he wasn’t the greatest navigator, and he ended up being way off. It took so long for him to realize his mistake that by the time he figured it out, he didn’t know where he’d buried it.”
“How the hell do you not remember something like that?” I asked.
“The guy was old by this point. You can’t blame him for going senile,” Frank said.
“So why did you wait until now to tell me this?” I asked.
“Because I wanted to be sure, and then I just didn’t know how to bring it up,” Frank explained. “You should understand how that is, right?”
I sighed. Considering how long it had taken me to tell Steph about the Walker, I wasn’t really fit to judge. “So how come it took you so long to find this thing?” I asked.
“I’ve been busy,” Frank said. “The Walker isn’t the only dangerous entity out there killing people. In fact, it’s one of the least threatening creatures I know of. And I don’t mean to say that it’s not threatening. There’s just a lot out there that’s worse. Plus, I’ve had to work. I’ve never been that well off, and doing this costs money. I spent most of my life selling insurance just to cover the costs of this stuff. Sure, I’ve been trying to find where my great-uncle buried this thing, but I was having absolutely no luck until I found your posts.”
“So do you know how to stop this thing?”
Frank shook his head. “Not exactly. I mean, I know what we have to do, but there’s one step that I can’t figure out.”
“And that would be…?”
“Making it solidify. The chains won’t work until it’s solid enough to bind, and it’s only solid under two conditions. First is when it’s eating, and second is when it’s waiting for a new victim.”
“That must be why it couldn’t get into the car back then!” I heard Steph exclaim from right behind me, and I nearly jumped out of my seat. How long had she been there?
“But it wasn’t waiting for a new victim when it was trying to get to Sam. It already saw her.”
“True, but it was still in the waiting grounds,” Frank explained.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Whenever the Walker is done hunting, it doesn’t start right back up again. It returns to wherever it found its last victim and it waits for another one to come along. The area where it waits is what I called the waiting grounds, and when it’s there, it does some kind of ritual, and then it waits. It stays right where it is for six days, then it begins to walk in circles, each one a meter or so further away from the anchor point. It stays solid until maybe the fiftieth circle, and then it becomes invisible to everyone until it finds a victim. If it finds prey before the fiftieth circle, it stays solid unless the target leaves the waiting grounds.”
“So when it found us at the warehouse…”
“It must have been on an early circle. The other thing about these circles is that it takes the exact same amount of time to complete each one, despite them growing in size with each completion.”
“So the first circle must take forever,” Steph remarked.
“That’s right. And whatever speed it’s going at when it spots a new victim, it stays at that speed until it’s succeeded in its hunt.”
“So if it doesn’t find a new victim for a while…”
“It moves real damn fast. And like your wife figured out all those years ago, it won’t consume anyone it hasn’t made direct eye contact with. You’ll always be able to see it if you encounter it at the waiting grounds, but unless you look it straight in the eye, you’ll be safe.”
“How do you know all this?” Steph asked.
“My great-uncle’s son had a bit of an obsession with the creature. He saw it kill someone, and he spent years learning everything he could about it. Unfortunately, that meant testing some of his theories on actual people, but he mostly chose people that wouldn’t be missed.”
My stomach dropped, and I saw Steph’s face go white. Frank’s cousin was an absolute monster. I was glad the thing had killed him.
Frank’s face was grim. “You’re just as horrified as I was when I found out about all this. That’s right, my dad’s cousin was a cruel, heartless piece of shit, and my great-uncle was the one who stopped him. He used his son as bait and trapped the creature as it was feasting, and that was supposed to be the end of it.”
“But then it escaped,” I said.
“That’s right. And I don’t know how we’re going to trap it again without letting it catch another victim,” Frank replied.
I felt a pit of dread in my stomach, and I glanced back at Steph. She seemed to have the same idea I did. I turned to Frank, trying to stay calm, but I was angry.
“So which one of us were you going to sacrifice?” I asked.
“Excuse me?”
“You heard me. That… thing only has two targets right now, and they’re both sitting here in your RV, so who is it?”
Frank looked over at me, his eyes wide. “Tim, no, you’ve got it all wrong-“
“Really? Because you’re the one who insisted we all go together, you asshole!”
Frank suddenly slammed on the brakes. I jerked forward in my seat and barely missed hitting my head on the glove compartment. Frank put the RV in park and turned to me.
“Tim, you absolute shithead, do you really think I want to follow in my cousin’s footsteps?” he snapped. “I didn’t bring you two along to give that thing a nice meal!”
“Then why are we here?” Steph asked.
“Because I can’t see the fucking thing! How am I supposed to stop a monster I can’t even see?”
“But you just said you can’t stop it without sacrificing someone,” Steph pointed out as she got out of her seat.
“No, I said I don’t know how to stop it. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done!”
“So you’re just going to let it chase it around until a lightbulb goes off in your head?” Steph snapped. She was getting angry now, and I unbuckled my seatbelt and stood. I wanted to avoid coming to blows.
“Well, what else am I supposed to do? My goddamn cousin was too busy watching this thing kill people to find out anything about stopping it!”
I held my hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay, I get it. Steph, sit down.”
Steph did so, still glaring at Frank. I sat down as well and nodded at Frank, who started the RV again and continued down the road. The sky was dark now, and we could only see what the headlights illuminated. After a while, Frank said we had about twenty miles to go before we got to the turnoff to the farm. Steph grunted in response. I kept my eyes on the road. We had to be getting close to the creature.
Sure enough, we’d barely gone a mile when I saw a shadow on the road. I sat up straight and nudged Frank. “Go in the other lane.”
“What?”
“NOW.”
Frank immediately swerved into the left lane. The Walker began to alter its course, but we passed it before it could cross over the yellow line. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding as we sped away from it and looked at Steph.
“That was it, wasn’t it?” she asked me in a shaky voice.
I nodded grimly. “Yeah.”
It was dark in the cabin, but I could still see tears in her eyes. “It’s just like the thing from my dreams.”
I got up and knelt by her seat, pulling her into an awkward hug. “It’s okay, Steph. We won’t let it get anywhere near you.”
Steph buried her head in my chest. We sat like that until Frank began to slow down. He turned onto a small dirt road and drove slowly through the trees, which soon gave way to an open field. I could see the silhouette of a house in front of us. Frank pulled up to it, turned the RV around, and parked it so we could speed out of there.
“Here we are.”
We got out of our seats. Steph stayed close to me until we exited the RV, then kept her distance while Frank and I unpacked. He had brought some floodlights, which we positioned strategically around the RV to light up the area. Steph watched us set up for a little while, but she kept looking back at the driveway. Once we were done with the lights, I came up to her and patted her on the shoulder.
“It’s going to be a while, Steph. You might want to get some rest.”
Steph shook her head. “I don’t want it to sneak up on me.”
“It won’t. We know where it’s coming from and how far away it is. If your mother was here she’d tell you exactly how long we have before it come walking through those trees.”
Steph took a deep breath and looked at me. “I don’t like this, dad.”
I hugged her. “I don’t like it either, but if we can trap this thing, then we never have to worry about it again.”
“But how are we going to trap it?”
“I have a few ideas we can try,” Frank said, coming out of the RV with a massive rifle. Steph stiffened, and Frank quickly added, “Ideas that don’t involve using either of you as bait,” as he set the gun aside.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked.
“One of your commenters suggested shooting it in the eyes. I think that’s a good place to start,” Frank said, gesturing to the gun. “There’s also holy water, a salt circle, a couple of prayer rites, and if we get real desperate, we can try the flamethrower.”
“What if you start a wildfire?” Steph asked.
“I’ve got a friend who’ll be calling the fire department if he doesn’t hear from me by a certain time,” Frank said.
Eventually, Steph was willing to go inside the RV and play a game of cards while we waited. Well, it was more like five card games, and she spent the whole time glancing out the window at the road. I tried a few times to convince her to take a nap, but she refused. She didn’t want to risk it.
I couldn’t blame her.
When we had about an hour left, we put away the cards and began getting ready. Steph put on her running shoes and strapped on her headlamp, and Frank and I checked over our equipment. I fired a few practice rounds with regular bullets before switching over to silver ones.
None of us spoke as we stared out into the woods. The silence was tense, but nobody wanted to break it. Then, Steph made a small noise.
I glanced at her. She was staring directly into the woods. I followed her gaze, and my breath hitched in my throat. The Walker was approaching.
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The HEL Jumper [Chapter 3.27]

Book 1 of The HEL Jumper
Book 2 of The HEL Jumper
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“Knock knock, anyone home?” Alice called, rapping politely against the door frame of Sentaura’s dwelling. Compared to anything on Earth it was modest, but it was easily one of the nicer homes in the village. She didn’t mind, however. Antoth had apologized profusely several times since placing Alice in her now cozy little blockhouse, and she’d waved him off each time for good measure.
It helped that new furnishings and technology from the Event Horizon showed up almost daily with Pilot Cromwell. She had a desk and lamp, a second sleeping pad and pillow, a laptop for recording her notes and working with photographic documentation of Cauthan life, and a digital picture frame that alternated between a photograph of her family and one of her and Russell with Veera, Lachlan, Xan, Asha, and Zolta. In short, the idea of Lachlan staying at a ‘nicer’ residence than hers was a moot point. Instead she saw it as a testament to Ratha’s influence and the kindness of the village at large. The man in question poked his head out of the bedroom as Sentaura and her son prepared breakfast.
“Good mornin’, lassie! What brings ya ta this neck o’ the woods?”
“The amazing cooking, of course. It smells wonderful in here,” Alice replied, earning an approving glance from the matron of the family. She waved her in, a cooking spoon in hand.
“Please, no need to wait outside in the streets. Do you have need of Lachlan today?”
“I sense she was lookin’ fer a bite,” the Marine jested, prompting Alice to reach into her satchel and withdraw two ration bars and wave them in his face.
“I am perfectly capable of feeding myself, Lachlan,” she declared proudly, earning a confused look from him.
“If that’s yer wish I ain’t gonna stop ya. So what’s going on, Alice?” he asked, wiping a bit of sleep from his eyes. Sentaura rose and began her labors at the crack of dawn every day, and apparently Alice was capable of such a thing as well. Her reply was interrupted as Ursol latched onto Lachlan’s leg and proceeded to hide from Alice behind him. “Now what’s gotten into you, fluffy lad? It’s just Alice! You were grabbin’ her hair the first time you two met. Now go say good mornin’ nice and polite, would ya?”
“Do as Uncle Lachlan says, Ursol,” his mother commanded, now busy peeling dato with a simple knife. Alice meanwhile was looking quite surprised and excited at how Sentaura had referred to her houseguest. As though suddenly struck by the memory that Alice was, indeed, a human he’d interacted with before, minus the different clothing and the fact her hair was done up in a bun that day, the little furball toddled over to her and waved.
“Morning!”
“Selah and good morning to you!” Alice replied, her pitch rising as she ribbed her friend after greeting the young Cauthan. “So Uncle Lachlan, huh? Super cute. I might start using it. How are you, Ursol?”
“I’m good! Are you going to play with me today?” he asked, prompting Alice to pick him up as Sentaura sighed and shook her head.
“You humans pamper him.” She didn’t seem upset about that fact.
“That could be arranged,” Alice considered, happy that she’d done her hair up that morning. Ursol didn’t explicitly go after it, but much like a human child he was very hands-on. There was no need to present him with extra targets. He settled down soon though, looking around curiously from his new vantage point. “There you go, I’m not going to drop you. So, what’s up Lachlan?”
The Marine cocked his brow at her with an exasperated smile. “I was asking ya the same question, lassie. What brings you over here today?”
“First day on our own,” Alice laughed. “Natori and the Event Horizon are gone, my brother and Veera are off at the other site. Just you and me for a couple days! Figured I’d come by and say hi. But yeah, there is something I need to talk to you about.”
“Oh I don’t like that phrase,” Lachlan replied cautiously. “When a lass says we need to talk, that ne’er ends well.”
“Oh stop it you! We aren’t even dating. And it’s got nothing to do with you and me, well not directly anyway,” she clarified.
“If it is not a secret for human ears only, perhaps you could discuss it over breakfast,” Sentaura suggested.
“Oh that’s so nice of you, but I wouldn’t want to impose. There’s only so much food and all,” Alice demurred. Sentaura waved her off.
“Nonsense. You can have some of Lachlan’s portion and then share your human food with him later if he’s still hungry. Ursol, go fetch some water for us. No complaints if you want to play today.”
Alice set the young boy down, allowing him to pick up an empty bucket and toddle off out the door. “Will he be alright?” she wondered.
“If he is not, he will be punished later,” Sentaura clarified easily. “Breakfast will be ready soon, but please do not let me keep you from your necessary conversation.”
Lachlan gestured to one of the chairs in the room but Alice waved him off, depositing her bag by the door instead and leaning against the wall. “I’m fine, Lachlan. Did Natori tell you before he left?”
“Tell me what? What’s the Admiral up to now?” MacGregor demanded uneasily as he and Alice both couldn’t help a bit of a smirk. Natori was just such a man.
“This time? Nothing, believe it or not, but I had assumed he would at least have told you before leaving. It’s actually about something Gentia said when we were explaining where Thantis would be going.”
“I think I’ve had quite enough of ya beatin’ around the bush, lassie. What did the head mum have to say?” he pressed. At the mention of Gentia’s name, Sentaura’s ears perked up as well, though she made a point of looking busy around the cooking fire. There was still plenty to do.
“Well, it’s kind of crazy,” Alice admitted, reaching for a strand of her hair to play with that proved elusive. “You know that little cub Ketra, the one who lost her parents last year?”
“Aye.”
“Yeah so, she said she wants Ketra to be raised or adopted by humans.” Alice fell silent as Lachlan stared quietly at her, letting the ambient sounds of the cooking fire fill the space again. Sentaura was shaking her feathers.
“Perhaps her age is finally getting to her,” she murmured, more perplexed than anything.
“Not to risk offendin’ a high priest, but that does sound a bit… off?” Lachlan tried. Alice furrowed her brows at him and squared her shoulders against the wooden wall behind her.
“She wants Ketra to have a better life. What’s wrong with that? We should be thrilled that her experience with humanity has been so positive!”
“Nothin’s wrong with it, of course,” Lachlan acknowledged. “But ya don’t think it would be a bit odd for Ketra ta grow up and eventually start askin’ why no one looks like her?”
“Of course I know it would be odd, but I think we should still do it if everyone agrees. No one says we need to hide Ketra from her heritage even if she’s raised like a human child. Xan proposed that a Cauthan be involved, probably a woman since Ketra is a girl too. I think it’s a splendid idea,” Alice reasoned. It was the Scotsman’s turn to frown.
“How about we take a few steps back, Alice. When you say ‘we’, I’m startin’ ta get the idea that-”
“I do think you and I should be candidates,” she confirmed. “That’s why I came to talk with you today. I think we should speak with Gentia without Natori looking over our shoulders. That’s assuming you’re amenable, of course. Please?”
“Hmm, how bold,” Sentaura chuckled lightly, finding some small enjoyment in Lachlan’s flustered demeanor as her son returned from his task, sloshing plenty of water onto the street as he did so. “Thank you, sweetie. Now come help me stir the pot while Uncle Lachlan and Alice have their talk.”
“No that’s quite alright, mum. This conversation is over, I’m thinkin’,” the Marine insisted firmly. “Alice, be reasonable here!”
“This isn’t even my idea! How am I being unreasonable?” she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest. Lachlan let out a bark of laughter.
“Where do ya want me to start, lassie? The bit about goin’ behind Admiral Kaczynski’s back or the bit where you think you or I should be helpin’ to raise an orphan?”
“Oh yes, heaven forbid people like us raise a child. I’m serious, Lachlan!” Alice protested.
“I know ye are, and that’s the problem!” he said firmly, though his tone remained moderate. “Think about it, Alice.”
“Oh really? That’s the line you want to go with? ‘Think about it, Alice’,” she mimicked sarcastically. “It’s literally my job to think about things like this! And you know what I think? I think Natori might do something foolish, like putting Ketra with Gerard and Yvonne Dupuis for starters. I would bet my entire year’s salary he accepts Gentia’s offer and then the question is who? If my brother and Veera turn the offer down, as they have once already, I can’t think of a better idea. Can you? Do you have any other humans in mind who have spent a day living around Cauthan, much less weeks?”
Lachlan paused a moment, rubbing his face as he silently acknowledged Alice’s point on the subject of a particular Admiral and the given circumstances. He glanced back to Sentraura and Ursol, finding them quite enraptured as they stirred a morning stew of vegetables and dato. He smiled at the little cub, whose curious face and eyes could melt even the sternest of hearts. “Alice, what’s wrong with the doctors? They’re experienced parents and Yvonne’s got a degree in infant care among other things, right?”
Alice’s mouth curled slightly as Lachlan moved from denial to bargaining. “Nothing is wrong with Gerard and Yvonne, Lachlan. I have no doubt they’d make exceptional surrogate parents or grandparents. The latter would be better, I think. I’m just saying though, how would you feel if you were raised by aliens and your alien parents were elderly and passed away shortly after you reached maturity? That’s a much different life than being raised by a young couple who, God willing, should be around to guide you until you have your own children and such.”
“I daresay she has been giving this a bit of thought, Lachlan,” Sentaura interrupted with an approving tone. “Please, everyone grab a bowl and eat while it’s hot. I don’t mean to be rude but I’ll not be serving my guests cold stew.”
The pause in conversation was most welcome for the young Marine, and Lachlan insisted that Sentaura take the first bowl herself, followed by Ursol. He then ladled out a portion for himself and Alice, which was more than he might eat on a given morning but certainly less than two humans might consume. Alice rested a hand on his arm and smiled at him, indicating her approval. “Awawa, hot! Mama, it’s hot!” Ursol declared, dropping a steaming piece of dato back into his bowl and splashing a bit on his tunic. Sentaura sighed and wiped him down quickly.
“Ursol, you’re a big boy now. Surely you can blow on your own food to cool it down? And not too hard. If you spill your soup you’ll be in trouble,” she warned. Lachlan pointed his spoon at the little Cauthan, pursed his lips, and demonstrated.
“Nice an’ easy, laddie. Yer mum didn’t work so hard this mornin’ just to have you splashin’ it about now!” Alice watched in fascination as Ursol did just that, blowing lightly on his food before observing it keenly, giving it a sniff, and then taking a nibble. Satisfied that it was of a reasonable temperature, he swiftly took the rest into his mouth only to scrunch up his face in discomfort.
“Still hot!”
Lachlan and Alice laughed lightly, sounds that seemed to make Ursol very pleased with his antics before he busied himself with breakfast again. Sentaura managed a wan smile, and the meal continued without major disturbance. When they concluded, Alice stood and ruffled MacGregor’s hair before handing him one of her ration bars. “Sorry, Mac. I’ll be at the temple if you want to stop by.”
“Momma, she touched his feathers!” Ursol immediately remarked, pointing and bouncing on the balls of his feet as Lachlan looked at the entryway with a mixture of confusion and annoyance on his face. Sentaura smiled genuinely and took her son’s empty bowl.
“Yes, but humans are different from Cauthan, Ursol. We do not touch feathers like that. If you wish to learn how to touch humans correctly, you must speak with Lachlan or Alice or Winters.”
“But the white one is scary,” Ursol murmured. MacGregor watched closely as Sentaura set aside the dirty dinnerware and took her son into her arms, soothing him with a gentle voice.
“Sometimes, my son, you need to be scary to protect the things you love. I am sure Lachlan would be happy to teach you instead.” He nodded an affirmative when she glanced his way.
“Course, mum,” the Marine replied quietly, wondering for the first time what Ursol might or might not have seen on the night of the raid, perhaps when fleeing his burning home. “I’m sorry about Alice. Sometimes she just has these ideas and-”
“It sounds like it was the Mother’s idea, Lachlan, not Alice’s. If she wishes to play a role in such a thing, that is for Gentia to decide. And it is clear she will look to you for support,” Sentaura pointed out, her tone indicating that such things were obvious. She cleaned the fur around Ursol’s muzzle with a few licks of her tongue before turning him over to Lachlan. “Could I trouble you to see him to the temple this morning?”
“Of course, Sentaura,” he agreed easily.
“Uncle Lachlan, hunter games?” Ursol suggested. The Marine laughed and picked him up, placing the young boy on his knee.
“Right after breakfast? You’ll be crampin’ up something awful, laddie,” he warned.
“Nuh-uh!” Ursol insisted pointedly as his mother gathered her effects for another day in the fields as harvest season approached.
“Alright, but don’t blame me if you find yerself losing that breakfast! Let’s go. One lap around the village before school then. Hunters gotta be fast, right?”
“Right!” Ursol cheered, hopping to the ground and running out the door. Sentaura handed him Ursol’s lunch for the day, swishing her tail behind her in contemplation.
“This… may not be my place Lachlan, but you have been a welcome addition to my home and I would ask this question of you.”
“Is that… is that Cauthan for we need ta talk? Because there’s only so much of that a man can take in a day,” he protested lightly. Her eyes narrowed slightly as her expression softened.
“We have not known each other for long, but I would hope that by now you would understand that if we needed to talk I would out and say it. I just wanted to know if there is something wrong with Alice. Is she not fertile? Are her features undesirable?”
The Marine was caught flatfooted. “I don’t get your meanin’, Sentaura.”
“Are you mated to another female then?”
“Oh that’s what this is-” Lachlan rubbed his face with his hands, pulling his moustache downward before running his fingers through his beard. “It’s complicated, Sentaura. An’ even if it weren’t complicated I couldn’t just hop to it without knowin’ I love her.”
The young but world-wise Cauthan blinked twice, cocking her head as she mulled over her question. “How could you know such a thing like love without bringing life into the world with her?”
“Uncle Lachlan, I wanna play!” Ursol popped his head back in the door, is face fraught with childish impatience.
“I should be going, Sentaura. I’ll see ya in the fields later,” Lachlan insisted softly, bowing in thanks for breakfast before grabbing his gear and heading out after Ursol.
“Ah well, Valta only knows no male is perfect,” Sentaura concluded.
-----
“Alice Winters, good morning to you. What brings you to my temple today? Feeling restless with your brother gone?” Gentia asked knowingly, leaving a small gaggle of young Cauthan under the care of several of her acolytes while she went to speak with the human.
“Selah to you, Gentia,” Alice replied formally before easing into the conversation. They sat on a bench nearby, so the acolytes and children alike would know that the head priestess was still watching them learn. “I daresay you must feel the same. Would it be rude to ask how long it was since you spent a night away from Thantis?”
“You remind me of myself when I was young,” the old Cauthan admitted. “Always asking the pointed questions, hmm? I will be frank; it was difficult. We have been constant companions for more years than I can number. All I can pray for is that when the time comes, the Mother and her father see fit to receive us at the same time. I’m sorry, you surely didn’t come here to listen to an old female like me ruminate on life and death.”
“No, but don’t let me stop you. I’m sure I could learn a lot from that sort of chat,” Alice responded politely. Gentia waved her off.
“Bah, how depressing. We will have words if he’s not returned to me soon instead, hmm! Now, what else is on your mind? Your forehead is wrinkled. When your brother does this it usually means he’s frustrated or thinking very hard about something. Is that painful?”
Alice placed her fingers to her lips and giggled. Gentia joined in quietly for just a moment. “No, thankfully it’s not painful. Our faces are like your feathers. We have a great deal of control over the muscles under the skin, and we’re very attuned to one another’s expressions.” To demonstrate, Alice waggled her eyebrows and showed off how much minute control she had over the movement of her lips and mouth.
“You have made your point quite splendidly,” Gentia told her as multiple young Cauthan began trying to imitate her with various degrees of success. “Oh just go on and play, all of you. We will have lessons this afternoon instead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Alice suddenly adopted a reserved expression as the gathering of cubs immediately scattered laughing and shouting to the far corners of the temple to play. Thankfully, none bolted for the door.
“Oh, them? Think nothing of it, Alice. They’ve been looking for an excuse all morning. Sometimes it is best to give a little and then take. Though I will say Ursol has been instigating disruptions far less than usual over the past cycle. Please give your companion my thanks. I assume it’s on account of him running the boy ragged every day. Meylith bless him.”
“That’s… actually what I wanted to discuss today,” Alice continued, taken aback as Gentia’s eyes began to sparkle in a manner reminiscent of her husband.
“O-ho! You’ve decided to be his mate then? We would be happy to allow you use of this space for your ceremony!” Gentia nodded, quite pleased with herself indeed as Alice spluttered and waved her hands quickly in front of her.
“No no no! That’s not what I meant at all! I was referring to your suggestion to Natori the other day, about Ketra.”
“My condition, you mean?” the Cauthan clarified sharply, looking around her temple and quickly locating the ball of light brown fur. “Of course, let us talk then. Centille, you can leave Ketra with us.”
“Thank you, Gentia,” the younger priestess replied with relief audible in her voice. The little cub was discontented for one reason or another that morning, and was quite indisposed to remaining in Centille’s arms. “I’ll go look after the others.”
“Please bring us a bit of grain and water first, she may be hungry. Then you may go,” Gentia requested. Centille bowed before hurrying off to the granary to comply with her orders while the older female addressed the cub on her lap. “Now what’s gotten your feathers all bent out of shape, little one? Oh, it is your feathers! Well look at you, you’ll be a fine young female with a grand crest one day. All the rowdy little males will be clamoring to be yours.”
Alice watched with great interest as Gentia unsheathed her claws ever so slightly and began running them in one direction from the top of Ketra’s forehead, over top, and all the way down to the base of her neck. The tiny Cauthan let out something of a squeak but settled down shortly as her elder scratched the itch of new feather growth. Gentia rested her cane against the bench and adjusted her hold on the little one before speaking quietly to Alice again. “I will have to teach Centille about this, I suppose. She is wonderful with the older cubs. I am sure that will change when she has her own. Ah, thank you Centille. Just place the bowl here, would you?”
The acolyte left the small amount of food on the bench next to Gentia before bowing and returning to her duties. “She’s so cute,” Alice couldn’t help but whisper, waving her fingers at Ketra who, being pampered, looked ready to doze off for a little snooze instead of continuing to be difficult.
“She’s a handful and a half is what she is,” Gentia said. Alice tittered.
“So that was your plan then? Have the humans raise the difficult child?” she joked, hoping the translation would prove adequate.
“How could you suggest something so very like me?” The priestess feigned shock before pivoting to a quite serious demeanor. “Do you think it is a wise decision?”
“I… a- what?” Alice stammered. “You’re asking me?”
Gentia gazed at her for several seconds as she ordered her thoughts. “If I understand correctly you have spent almost all of your life studying and learning, no? Surely that counts for something. Even I am still subject to fits of passion or flights of fancy. I serve the Mother, but no one says I must always act like her, hmm? Sometimes calling on a bit of Valta or the Twins might be prudent. But it strikes me now that humans wouldn’t know to do what I’m doing. I wonder how many other moments in her life would be subject to the same problem.”
“Well, you could always teach us? I liked Xan’s idea,” Alice admitted, hands in her lap.
“And what happens when you return to your home?” Gentia pointed out.
“Yeah, I know. Part of me wants to say that all mothers have to go through that though, even human ones. We have to learn how to take care of our children on our own, maybe with our own mother’s help. You can know about teething all you like but I’m sure that it’s different when you have your own baby in your arms. That’s when our infants get their first set of teeth, by the way,” she explained.
“Your young are not born with teeth? How do they eat?” Gentia asked.
“They consume food in liquid form exclusively for quite some time and then slowly transition to a solid diet,” Alice explained.
“I can never decide if your people are more similar or different to mine than at first glance,” the priestess mused, humming gently to the cub that was now snoozing in her arms, one stubby paw hanging limp at her side. “But it would appear that question will need to wait for another time, Alice. I have a great duty to fulfill this morning it would seem.”
That duty took the form of none other than the village Huntress, as Ratha stood silently just inside the doorway to the temple. Alice found herself feeling quite nervous under the Cauthan’s scrutiny, as no amount of height disadvantage or pregnant belly seemed capable of dulling Ratha’s sharp, predatory gaze. “Want to have a little fun?” Gentia asked.
“With Ratha? No, I think I’m good,” Alice decided immediately.
“Be that as it may, unless you intend to examine her yourself I would ask you to take this bundle of joy from me, just for now. Should she wake, simply repeat what I was doing to calm her, or soak some grain in water and offer it to her. Gods willing this will not take long, despite the fact that her first visit should have been a season ago,” the priestess said, raising her voice enough so that Ratha would be able to hear her.
“Well I’m here now, Gentia. I can come back later. Human,” came the Huntress’ greeting. Alice’s capacity to respond was replaced by the need to accept a snoozing Ketra from Gentia. She was very careful to ensure the cub’s head remained supported as she cradled the little fuzzball, but the developmental differences between humans and Cauthan seemed to render that consideration a bit less important. If young Cauthan were born with teeth, Alice supposed it wasn’t too much to assume they would be capable of supporting the weight of their own heads much earlier in life.
“No no, far be it from me to impose upon you, Ratha. I just pray you didn’t finally come to us because something is amiss. Thank you, Alice. Call upon any of the acolytes if you have need of them. And no snide comments, my dear,” Gentia insisted of Ratha. “As you can see her feathers are coming in and we just got her to sleep.”
A shiver ran up Alice’s spine from the way Ratha sized her up, but if the Huntress had any thoughts about a human holding one of her village’s orphans, she kept it to herself. So far as Alice knew, Ketra was not the daughter of any of ‘Ratha’s people’. Instead the auburn furred Cauthan strode onward, accompanied by Gentia who immediately launched into what Alice supposed was a standard set of questions for expecting Cauthan mothers. Ratha did not speak a word until they disappeared into the next room over. “Well, that was terrifying,” Alice whispered, looking down at Ketra. “To think she used to look like you one day, long ago. Okay I’m sorry, please don’t wake up! I’ll talk inside my own head.”
To Alice’s relief, Ketra’s sudden movement was nothing more than a sleepy adjustment as the little one snuggled up to her, presumably for warmth. Alice had to bring her free hand to her mouth in an attempt to contain a squeal of delight before whipping her head around as a low voice spoke to her from behind. “Practicin’?”
“Lachlan!” she hissed, gesturing for him to sit next to here. Ursol had just run off to join his fellows, having arrived after his jog around the village. “She just fell asleep and Gentia had to leave.”
The Marine yielded and held his hands up in front of his chest, content to take a moment and join Alice in silent watch over the little one. Though he’d made something of a habit out of it, there was nothing stipulating he had to assist Sentaura in the fields each day. Instead he watched Alice as she rocked her torso gently back and forth, once or twice reaching for her hair before remembering again it was tied tightly behind her head. It was a side of her that he’d not seen before, and Sentaura’s words came back to haunt him. He didn’t know about love, but there was something undeniably compelling about a woman caring for an infant. Given how fluffy the infant in question was, the species barrier was a non-issue in terms of the adorable factor. If anything, it was a plus.
“What was the last time you showered?” Alice suddenly asked. Lachlan groaned and scooched away from her on the bench.
“Look, it’s not like I can get back up ta the ship right now.”
“I know, I’m just teasing,” she assured him quietly. “That’s the real reason we’re not supposed to interact with pre-industrial civilizations. No indoor plumbing. Oh no no no no no! I’m sorry! Please go back to sleep!”
Ketra’s surprise at finding herself in the arms of an alien was more than apparent as her little eyes fluttered open and she evaluated the situation rather than return to slumber. Alice began to panic as Ketra grew restless, squirming around and making adorable but disgruntled noises.
“Ok then, how about some food?” she suggested, taking a piece of Maran grain and dipping it in the water before offering it to the cub. She was not impressed. “No? Oh geez, alright. Is it your feathers? Are they annoying you?”
Lachlan watched in nervous silence as Alice began running her nails, which had last been painted pink so long ago than more than half of the enamel had chipped off, along Ketra’s scalp. More than one of the priestesses of Meylith was watching out of the corner of their eye, but Alice was intent on salvaging the situation and they seemed amenable to allowing her the chance.
“Rock a bye baby, on the tree tops,” Alice began singing. “When the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and… oh my God, why is that even a nursery rhyme?” she whispered as Ketra began to protest her current condition more loudly. “Lachlan, help!”
“What am I supposed ta do?” he demanded.
“You’re so good with Ursol!”
“He’s four! He ain’t an infant. There’s nothin’ alike about-” his protests died as Alice gave him the most overblown puppy eyes he’d ever seen. “Oh by me grandpa’s kilt! Alright, wee one. What’s got ye so bent outta shape? Ketra, stop makin’ life difficult for Alice here.”
When Ketra realized that the alien with the facial fur and deep voice was addressing her, she gave him a moment of her attention. Afraid that it wouldn’t last, he swallowed his embarrassment and tried his hand at singing, though his song was not a nursery rhyme by any means. “Red is the rose, that in yonder garden grows. Fair is the lily of the valley. Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne, but my love is fairer than any.”
Not knowing the rest of the lyrics, he hummed the tune instead, his voice and Alice’s gentle scratching finally working as Ketra ceased attempting to escape from Alice’s grasp. By the time Lachlan made it around to the chorus again, Ketra was accepting individual pieces of grain from Alice’s fingers and chewing them slowly. Her eyes never moved from Lachlan. “Isn’t that an Irish ballad?” Alice whispered as Ketra took her breakfast, finally, in some amount of peace.
“An’ what? I can’t like it cause I’m Scottish?” Lachlan asked. “We both hate the English after all.”
“No no, of course not. I was just surprised,” Alice remarked, tilting her head as she looked at him. “Thank you. You’re really good with them.”
“Perhaps you can teach that song to me sometime,” a low voice suggested from nearby. Alice almost screamed but managed to hold it in, providing Ketra with a bit of amusement. Antoth clearly possessed a bit of Ratha’s stealth. That or the two of them had been far too concerned with the immediate problem to notice him walking up behind them. “Her feathers?”
“Oh, yes Antoth. Good morning to you,” Alice stammered, shifting Ketra so she could activate her translation program. She suddenly felt every bit as self-conscious as she had been around Ratha. “Gentia said to scratch her like that if she woke up, and your wife is over in the other room.”
“Mmm, I’ll have to make note of that as well,” the high priest said, blinking at Ketra who had become quite still in the presence of so many adults. “I hope my cubs are as polite as her when I’m around. So, am I to take this to mean that the two of you were chosen by Natori?”
“Wha- what? No, it’s nothing like that. Natori left on the resupply mission before saying anything about Gentia’s proposal. I just- yes yes sweetie, here’s another piece. Gentle now. There you go,” Alice cooed as Ketra used both of her stubby little paws to move the morsel of food to her mouth. “Sorry Antoth, I just thought it would be a nice thing to do today to come see her. With everyone else gone there isn’t much to do. Is everything fine with Ratha?”
“I hope Gentia will say so,” the black-furred Cauthan replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “You saw her today, I presume? She didn’t say anything untoward?”
“No, she didn’t say anything to me at all, really,” Alice confirmed.
Antoth breathed out a relieved sigh. “That is good. I would not say a bad word about her, but pregnancy is… an interesting challenge.”
“No need ta explain to us, Antoth. We understand,” Lachlan assured him. The Cauthan’s eyes grew a bit wider.
“Oh? I didn’t know you had cubs of your own. Are they aboard your ship?” he asked politely.
“I’m not even married, Antoth. Just saying ya have my sympathies. Pregnancy’s pretty bad on human women too.”
“You’re welcome,” Alice chipped in proudly.
“Fer what? You don’t have any either,” he ribbed her.
“Well on behalf of womankind, you’re welcome anyway. Right, Ketra? We’re the real tough ones. They don’t know what it’s like,” Alice cooed in a high pitched voice. Ketra seemed far more accepting now that the alien had established itself as a source of nourishment and comfort.
“Neither do you,” Lachlan pressed, earning Alice’s finger jabbing into his bicep.
“Well one day I will, mister. And if you’re the daddy you best believe I’ll be reminding you of this regularly!”
Antoth laughed loudly as Lachlan leaned away from Alice as far as he could. She joined in, sticking her tongue out at him. “I continue to insist that once she gets over humans in general, my mate will find you quite agreeable,” Antoth stated as Gentia and Ratha emerged from the ‘maternity ward’ of the temple. “Ratha.”
“Don’t you have something better to be doing than waiting around to see what’s wrong with me?” she demanded.
“No,” he replied firmly. Ratha’s face softened several degrees and she rested her head against his chest where his left arm met his shoulder.
“Good answer, Scarface. Our spawn is just fine,” she informed him. The humans couldn’t help but smile as Antoth’s shoulders sagged with relief.
“The tenderness on the underside of her belly is normal, as is the nausea. There is a possibility the cub may come into the world feet first, but that’s nothing we cannot handle,” Gentia reported before hardening her tone. “Do not wait next time, Huntress. Listen to your body.”
“I know my body better than anyone,” Ratha insisted hotly.
Gentia did not give an inch. “And I know pregnancy better than you ever will.”
“When you never had a cub yourself? Spare me.”
“Ratha, that’s enough!” Antoth stepped in, his voice not quite a shout. She leered at him before stalking proudly from the temple, her hand supporting the bottom of her belly. “You have my apologies, Gentia. I will ensure she returns to do the same.”
“You and I both know such a thing is pointless,” Gentia said tiredly, standing beside him. “She is afraid. Her body is betraying her. It is natural for her to behave this way. Support her as best you can.”
He growled quietly in acceptance. “I do not know what we will do when you go to the Mother’s side, Gentia.”
“One of my very capable assistants will take my place. And unlike me, she will have had cubs of her own. I was not the first, and I will not be the last, Antoth.”
“You have my apologies as well, humans. That was not something for you to see or hear.” He bowed to them all before leaving after his mate. Even Ketra was looking around silently in his wake.
“Way to read the room, wee lassie,” Lachlan congratulated her. Gentia refocused on them with a brightening expression.
“Thank you both. She seems to have taken a liking to this arrangement. Maybe the two of you can make things official at the harvest festival, hmm?” she tittered.
“Why does every Cauthan we know insist we should be gettin’ hitched?!” Lachlan lamented. Gentia poked his stomach with her cane as she explained. A small group of male cubs, including Ursol, ran past them playing what seemed to be tag.
“Because if our youth were like you, still unmated in the prime of their lives, we would die out as surely as Seil rises in the west. Ratha and Antoth are an exception, not the rule.”
Lachlan and Alice stared at one another quietly.
-----
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Warzone Solo Strategy - My Tips for Kills and Success

Hi everyone, I have been playing almost exclusively warzone solos for a while now and I've noticed there is actually not much in the way of good strategy guides just for solos. I am a bit above average (KD 1.24) but far from the best player around, nevertheless I believe I have a great deal of experience in fine-tuning different solo strategies and seeing what works and what doesn't. In this post I will go through my process of what to do, when to do it, why I'm doing it and how I go about doing it. Gun-skill and situational awareness are two prerequisites that should be nailed down before thinking about macro-strategy, and can only be learnt by practice.
Note that the strategy below is probably not the best one for overall win-rate. That one would probably the do-10-recons-and-camp-the-final-circle strategy but if you like to play more aggressively getting lots of kills and dislike the camping playstyle, read on.
Step 1 - The Drop
The very first step to a successful game is a good drop. As with many things, you should be able to drop anywhere and make it work, so this is mostly about efficiently getting kitted up as soon as possible so you a) don't get into a position where you are encountering loaded-out players while you're stuck with ground loot and b) can get your loadout as soon as possible and start racking up kills on players that haven't yet got theirs.
Dropping locations vary on a scale of hot (many players landing in a condensed location) to cold (no other players landing there). The heat of a particular drop location depends on the following:
  1. Relative position to the flight path. Almost without fail the hottest drop locations are immediately below the point where the plane enters the map. These are the players who are in a mad rush to start looting and don't want to waste any time in the air. The middle of the plane's flight path is still pretty hot for much the same reason, just not so much as the beginning or end. The end point of the flight path is hot because this is where the AFK players get kicked out. Usually there are about five AFK players but also another five who want to grab some easy kills on them. Conversely, the longer the transverse distance from the flight path the colder it gets because it takes longer to get to, risks being shot while parachuting and is frankly a little bit tedious. That is not to say that it is necessarily a bad thing to do.
  2. Relative position to first circle. There does not appear to be much variation in heat within the first circle which is marked on the map - the centre is not particularly hotter than the edges. But the further you get outside the first circle you get the colder it becomes. The reason for this is obvious, you only have a couple of minutes to loot before the gas closes and if you are far outside the circle you will have to race back to safety.
  3. Scavenger contracts. These contracts can turn an area from a cold to a hot drop location, simply because most people realise that these are one of the best ways to begin a solo game.
  4. High-value locations. These locations will generally always be hot, more or less-so depending on where they are, relative to the flight path and first circle. High-value locations are places which have a lot of valuable loot in a small area and are consequently the quickest way to get decent ground loot and the money for a loadout. Examples include the train, superstore and passcode bunkers.
What is good to keep in mind is that a drop location will be hot for a reason - people want to drop in a certain place because it offers a certain advantage. Equally, a cold location will be cold generally because it offers little advantage. On the other hand, lots of competition in the early game is very risky. Even if you have great gun-skill it is very easy to get third-partied and therefore in half the games you drop hot you will get sent to the gulag within a minute or two. In solos the player count drops from 150 to 120 or less in about a minute - those 30 almost certainly dropped hot and paid for it. Cold drops, while taking longer to reach, will allow you more time to loot in peace and will generally give you enough space to seek out enemies on your own terms. However in the coldest spots you may struggle to find anyone, which isn't very fun at all.
As with most things in life, a compromise is often the best option. You should be able to handle the heat of two or three players dropping within 100m or you, so no need to go colder than that. Go much hotter and it becomes a toss-up if you'll survive into the top 100.
Obviously there's more to it than simply trying to pick a lukewarm drop position. You have to think about what you want to do upon landing. A contract is generally your answer. Bounties, while rewarding, aren't generally the best thing to get straight away. For a start, often your bounty target will still be in the air and will soon be hundreds of meters away. Alternatively they could have had a lucky drop and have found far better weapons than you. There is one situation however where I would recommend bounties straight away, and that is when you are the one who got a lucky drop and you were able to get a very good ground loot weapon very quickly. For example, with the season 6 ground loot origins even if the bounty target hides like a rat upstairs in a building, you can reliably rush them. Time is the great equalizer; after about five minutes you can assume that everyone has a good weapon. Before that time, if you have a powerful ground loot weapon then squeeze as many kills as you can. Recons are only good in my opinion if you go big on recons till the end (as I mentioned above). Supply runs are a bit meh, at the start you want to be focusing on looting items not buying stuff. That leaves us with scavengers.
While I did mention above that these contracts make for pretty hot locations, they do so for good reason. A scavenger contract only takes a minute or so to complete and rewards you with all the plates you'll need, a high chance of rare/legendary weapon and often enough cash to go straight for a loadout. Essentially, they reward you for what you would be doing anyway at this point in the game - looting. Furthermore, in season 6 the drop rate for plates decreased a lot - meaning that generic looting cannot guarantee you will get enough plates as quick as you will need them. With a scavenger, you avoid getting stuck without armour - suffice to say this is not a good position to find yourself.
Since scavengers are hot drops, you'll want to go for one on the colder end of the spectrum so you actually have a chance to reach it first and not die in the process. So long as you pick one that's not under the flight path you should be fine. Also, think contingencies. Think 'what am I going to do if I can't get that contract?'. This is why, ideally, you should go for a spot with a few scavengers in the vicinity so that if one gets taken there will still be others to grab. Ironically these locations are often less hot than places with just one scavenger - in such places there will likely be three or more players all converging on one place. Another tip is that some scavenger icons on the map are hard to see because they are under other icons or place names - many players would have missed those, leaving them all to you!
Alternatively, instead of going for a contract you could drop on the train. The train is pretty much a moving bunker's worth of loot but avoids the risk of getting trapped inside by another player. Admittedly, if the train is close to the flight path it can get really hot and therefore not worth the risk. If it is far away however it is possible to have the whole train to yourself. If you do then you often will get twice the loot of a scavenger contract in a fraction of the time; then jump off the train at a buy station and you could get your loadout within a minute of the drop. Obviously it is a lottery whether other players have the same idea as well and most of the time you will have to fight the other passengers. What's good about the train is that it is easy to bail and escape a bad gunfight if you feel you need to.
An ideal drop that leaves both strategies open is if you aim for a scavenger contract near to the train track and loot until the train approaches. Then you can quickly see if it is unlooted in which case you can jump on and do the honours, if it is currently being looted it is quite easy to kill the looter who, thinking they had the train to themselves, is focusing on looting. If the train has been looted and the looter has skedaddled, no worries! You still have a scavenger contract to keep you busy.
One final thing I will say about dropping is that it is preferable to drop fairly centrally in the first circle. The reason for this is that you'll want to have your free loadout drop deep in the circle which means it will stick around into the mid-late game. You will want this because if and when you get sent to the gulag and return you will want to be able to grab your loadout ASAP. The later in the game it is the harder and more dangerous cash is to find, making raising 10k a tough prospect.
To summarise, drop on a scavenger or the train (ideally both) in a medium-heat location in the centre of the circle.
Step 2 - Early Game (drop -> loadout)
Ok, so you've dropped on your scavenger and have started looting. Your priorities here are as follows:
  1. Getting a decent weapon. Doesn't need to be fantastic, just lose your pistol as quick as you can. Even the plain old grey Uzi will serve you well in the early game. As you loot further you can pick up better weapons.
  2. Getting plates. The one plate you need to get from your starting two to the full 250 health bar is critical. You don't want to enter any gunfights until you are fully plated - ideally with a few more in the pocket to sustain prolonged intermittent firefights. Don't panic if there aren't any plates around - just focus on completing the scavenger and you'll get all the plates you need.
  3. Getting cash. The ultimate aim for early game is saving up the 10k for a loadout. A scavenger won't generally give you enough cash on its own, so as you proceed from box to box make sure you open regular blue boxes en route to try and grab more cash.
Once you've completed the scavenger take a look at your cash stack. If you have 10k, then head to the nearest buy station and grab a loadout marker. If you are short of the 10k, you will need to either loot some more or grab a bounty. I'm partial to a bounty at this point if I have a decent weapon and I'm not in downtown (bounties in downtown are very difficult to pull off). A bounty will give you 6k in addition to whatever the target drops, so if you kill them you will have more than enough for a loadout as well as a self res or UAV.
Buying and grabbing your loadout is one of the most dangerous parts of the early game - the red smoke is difficult to hide and often snipers will wait for you to stand still for half a second while you open the loadout before they dome you. There are however ways to mitigate the danger. One tactic is to run off into the woods or mountains on the edge of the map and drop the marker there. This method is fairly safe (so long as you make sure you're not being followed) but it takes a while to get there, if you're in the centre of the map it can be unfeasible. Another method is to find a building with an accessible roof, clear it of any enemies, and drop your marker on the ground floor. This will both hide most of the smoke and put the loadout on the roof, hopefully avoiding people sneaking up on you while you grab it. Note that this latter method is vulnerable to snipers, so avoid using buildings that are close to even higher buildings (e.g. downtown) and remember to go prone while opening the loadout.
This brings me to the question that is always on the mind of warzone players - what loadout should I get? The only rule I would stick to is to make sure you have the ghost perk. You are playing at a massive strategical disadvantage, especially in mid to late-game, if you don't run ghost. Overkill may be tempting, but at this point you should have a good enough ground loot weapon to keep on hand along with whatever loadout weapon you pick. Even if you don't have anything decent, just go with an all-comers weapon like an assault rifle. Honestly, it's not worth being the one guy that everyone will be making a bee-line too when they start popping UAVs in mid-game.
Since you'll only be getting one primary weapon in your loadout, you ought to pick whatever complements your best current ground loot weapon. As a rule of thumb, you always want something to cover mid-range (assault rifles, long range SMGs, LMGs) and then you can pick a long-range (snipers) or short-range (SMGs, shotguns) weapon depending on where the circle is moving and/or your playstyle. The northern part of the map has a lot of open spaces that reward sniping, while in the more urban areas you will want something to handle close-quarter encounters. Personal preference is of course a major factor - don't pick a sniper if you hate sniping. If you like rushing buildings then don't leave without an MP5 or good shotgun.
In season 6 there are good ground loots weapons in every category. When you head to buy your loadout, have a think of what you want to keep and what you'll want to pick up (make sure to do the thinking before you throw down the loadout marker, you want to pick up the loadout as quick as humanly possible after that). Below is a list of what I would recommend getting depending on what you have on hand, in terms of ground-loot:
The other things to consider are perks, tacticals and lethals. Everyone has their favourites, but for solos I recommend the following:
Once you have picked up your loadout, remember to pick up whatever ground loot weapon you decided to keep (if any, you may prefer a launcher secondary to handle vehicles) and high-tail it out of the area as quickly as possible. You want to put distance between you and the red smoke which has probably caught the eye of some thirsty players who are now running there trying to catch an easy kill. You could wait and try and kill some of these players, but consider they could be coming from any direction and you will have to keep an eye on 360 degrees of approach.
At some point, 13s before the gas reaches the first circle IIRC, you will get a free loadout. Leave it alone unless you're coming back from the gulag. For one, it will likely be camped and become a deathtrap, secondly you want to leave your future self a lifeline if you go to the gulag and redeploy. Again, this is why it is helpful to be near the centre of the circle when the free loadout spawns so that you can take advantage of it even if you redeploy late-game.
Optional Step 2.5 - Gulag
Fairly often in the early game you will get unlucky or outplayed and get sent to the gulag. It happens to everyone and is far from the end of the game. I would say that at least half of my wins have come after returning from the gulag. I can't tell you how to win the gulag - that comes down mostly to gun-skill and muscle memory. If you lose the gulag, it's not the end of the world, just play again. Now let's say you kick your opponents ass and you redeploy, you should aim straight for the free loadout if it has spawned yet. If not, drop on a scavenger and go through the early-game process of getting plates, weapons, cash etc. Then grab the loadout when it arrives. Doing this is dangerous especially if many players' loadouts drop together, but so is waiting around without your loadout. Either approach as soon as it drops and grab it before people settle in to camp it, or encircle the loadout and clear out potential camping spots before grabbing it.
Optional step 2.6 - Bunkers
If at any point in the game (except perhaps late game) you find a red access card, drop everything and head to the nearest card bunker. There are four I believe; dam, military base, hills and prison. Especially since season 6 these are incredibly valuable. Now there will always be, right at the back of the bunker, a 'super-legendary' item. This could be a loadout drop marker (a.k.a. 10k cash), durable gas mask, advanced UAV, minigun, foresight or juggernaut. All are incredibly useful (except perhaps the minigun) and potentially game-winning, especially the juggernaut and foresight. If you pick up a juggernaut it is very hard to lose in solos. It feels like a cheap win, but a win is a win. Foresight is also incredibly broken, it's gives you the exact position of the final circle including all the circle movement. When I talk about the late-game I emphasise how important circle movement is to victory, and this gives you all that intel on a silver platter. If you fancy a relaxing game it also tells you exactly what house to go and have a nap in until the late game. Even if you get none of these items, the sheer amount of cash you can loot from the bunker can mean you'll never need to worry about money for the rest of the game.
Be careful getting to the bunker though. By all means take a vehicle, just don't park it right outside the door. That's just asking for an uninvited guest to crash the party. Park a hundred meters or so away and take the rest by foot, making sure nobody sees you go in. If you're trapped in there by someone waiting at the door there's no other way out.
Step 3 - Mid game (loadout -> top 20)
Now this is where the fun begins! When you have your loadout you could pick a building and sit in there like a loser. What is much more rewarding is to go out hunting. Players could be anywhere, just wandering around aimlessly is not the key to a high-kill game. You need targets to aim for and approach strategically like a tiger. How can you find targets? You can see players visually and follow them, which is a cheap and effective method but unreliable, furthermore if they have decent situational awareness they will spot you back very soon after you do, leaving a limited time window to attack with the element of surprise.
Another way to locate targets is to head in the direction of unsuppressed fire, which will place a temporary red dot on the mini-map. If this happens close to you then you have a prime opportunity to third-party someone and get a cheap kill, but if you have to travel a few hundred meters it becomes a less reliable way of getting kills. Consider that the player who has been firing their unsuppressed weapon is fully aware that they have just broadcasted their location and will be quickly relocating after the fight if they have any game sense. Furthermore, many players will likely have the same idea as you and will flock like moths to a flame hoping to get a few juicy kills, this can often create a chain reaction of third-party attacks as people arrive to intervene in the unsuppressed gunfight, who fire more unsuppressed shots thereby attracting more people. This generally ends badly for 90% of those involved, so best avoided if you can.
There are only two methods to reliably locate targets - UAVs and bounty contracts. The former costs money, while the latter awards it. However, the crucial difference is that someone highlighted by an UAV is completely unaware that they have been targeted and that you are heading straight for them. Granted, they will hear the 'UAV overhead' announcement but that is so common in solos that it doesn't have much meaning - in mid-game solos you can reliably assume that there is always at least one UAV overhead from someone. In contrast, when someone is chosen as a bounty target they know that they specifically have been singled out and how close their hunter is. Most players' reaction to this is to just camp in a building for the three minutes until the time expires. If you have a decent short range SMG or shotgun you should be able to rush a building in which your target is hiding, but it is no guarantee of success. Remember, just because you have a bounty target it does not mean you have to attack - if they're hiding upstairs in a house with an origin and claymores on the stairs, it's not a fight you have much chance of winning. Move along.
In short, if you have the money buy a UAV and hunt with whatever intel it gives you. Ideally the kill you get with that intel will fund your next UAV purchase and you will snowball round the map racking up the kills. Remember if there are no UAV targets near you and it runs out of fuel before you reach the red dots, you can try and pinpoint them with your heartbeat sensor. Think of it like a mini-UAV. I should probably mention at this point that if you have left over money from buying a UAV, pick up a self-res if you can. 80% of the time they won't help but you'll feel incredibly grateful for the 20% of times they do. Of course, if there is a fire sale you might as well grab one for free.
If your snowball of death grinds to a halt; maybe you ran out of non-ghosted players in the vicinity or you ran out of money by killing too many poor players, now is a good time to pick up a bounty target to get the snowball going again.
A third way to find targets more reliably than just wandering around, but without the risk of bounties or the cost of UAVs is to employ the famous 'pinwheel rotation'. Popularised by youtuber Icemanisaac, this is where you hug the gas while it is stationary and then rotate into the next circle at a 45 degree angle to the gas when it closes in. The logic for this strategy is that you will catch players moving into the inner circle directly perpendicular to the gas, including players flushed out of their camping spots by the encroaching gas. What's more, you don't need to worry so much about your outside flank since that will be covered by the gas. I find this strategy works best mid to late game when the gas isn't moving as fast and the amount of non-ghosted players diminishes the value of UAVs. Be sure to grab a gas mask if you're using this strategy as you will occasionally need to dip into the gas. Note that you can use UAVs as you pinwheel, giving you extra intel (e.g. if the UAV picks up someone in a building on the edge of the gas, you can expect them to be flushed out where you will be waiting for them).
Using our toolkit of UAVS, bounties, unsuppressed fire and the pinwheel rotation, you should be able to grab a good amount of kills in the mid-game.
Step 4 - Late game (top 20 -> Warzone Victory)
Generally around the top 20 the real end-game begins. Now the value from UAVs is diminished, since non-ghosted players are probably dead and in any event you don't have the liberty anymore to start running around everywhere looking for kills. Bounties aren't worth it anymore because cash becomes more or less irrelevant at this point - there's probably only one or two buy stations left and they're most likely camped. If you come across a bounty you can take it just for the extra intel it gives you, just be very careful about going after them. At this point in the game you need to play a lot more cautiously. I would say camping is fine at this stage - you've had your fun already.
If you can secure a house in the final circle then that's ideal, what is more likely is that the recon-ers have already secured all the nice camping spots. If you have a good MP5 or shotgun you could rush the building but its a risky prospect and liable to third parties joining in the fun. If you are stuck outside in the cold then, if it's an open area, your best bet is probably to continue to pinwheel in as the gas closes, albeit at a slower, more cautious pace. If the final circle is a more urban area like downtown or promenade, you can slowly but surely proceed into the circle making sure to check all your corners, make maximum use of cover and dial the situational awareness up to 11. You can still get quite a few kills this way as often players won't hear your approach if you don't run.
At the final circle it all comes down to gun-skill, stealth and a healthy dollop of luck. In the top 3, try to third party the other two. Nine times out of ten the two players who start the gunfight lose to the player who waited and finished off the victor. Of course, you often don't have the luxury of picking your fights. When the circle starts moving, this is where the RNG can give you or steal away the win. If the circle moves to your side then it's simply a matter of waiting for the gas to deliver your opponent(s) into your arms. If not, then the opposite will apply. The odds will be against you in this case but it's by no means a done deal. Here your only chance of survival is superior gun-skill.
And there you have it! The entire process from dropping to winning the game. This took way longer than I thought it would but I hope I've given some useful tips. I would love for you guys to offer any thoughts on my strategy and stuff you do that also works well.
submitted by bonbanarma to CODWarzone [link] [comments]

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