Piercing studios near me

We would have a cool kid...

2023.06.08 17:55 Tanuki-Trickery We would have a cool kid...

And that's even more reason why I can't bring them here. I was a cool kid, but I was bullied my entire existence at school, two teachers, and I can point to every bully in my yearbook. My mom was my only friend for a time, and it makes these emotions complicated when I've learned behaviors from my parents. Good, bad, or indifferent. I have a memory of my dad spanking me so hard when I was a child that you could see his whole handprint, he never struck me again after that, but it's strange having him be kind to me when I have such a jarring meory from so long ago... as I got older and learned more of my family history I realized my father is just a fucked up child who grew up without a dad (played with a gun and whoops) with a mother of five who went/was insane. I can't blame my dad for growing up without any support structure or a soft place to land. Where was he to learn any kindess and patience when he was never offered any? Mom being such a huge portion of my life is having a hard time being an empty nester and I feel like some learned helplessness is applied sometimes just so she can see me. Everyone is disabled and I've been a caretaker of sorts for so long... my husband encourages me to do things I want to do, but I know if an emergency comes up I am the only one to help. My panic attacks are really just a fear of me dying as I've witnessed three near-deaths of my mom already. And like death is everywhere... bees dying, my beloved animal went over rainbow bridge, 11 year old shot... the tragedy never ends. And it's coming. My loves will die, and in a few decades (maybe even less by how we devour media and info these days - an hour) I'll be forgotten completely. Beautiful irony. Incredibly moot.
Ah, I want to be sterile so I can stop worrying all the damn time. I'm gonna stop this spinning wheel.
submitted by Tanuki-Trickery to antinatalism [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:55 ThatsSomeWap 30 [M4M] looking for chats/hangouts, kinda bored lately

about me: I am 5'7, 85kg, working professional mostly at home, loves watching movies/series, plays pc games. Have few tatts and piercings
You: preferably same age or 3 yrs youngeolder, height doesn't matter.
Not into hookups, mostly chats and hangout. I'm from Bulacan but I go to Makati sometimes for work.
Hit me up if interested.
submitted by ThatsSomeWap to phlgbtr4r [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:54 Level_Ostrich_8636 Help Sorting What is and Isn't in My Control and Boundaries

My family had both struggles with alcohol and mental health. Both lead to premature deaths and many generations of issues.
I don't live with my family now but my current partner started to struggle with depression in the last 4 months. We have been together for about 1 year. I have identical coping behaviors.
She is crying, has negative self talk. I can see even when she is 'okay' that she really is barely hanging on.
There have been multiple times where we are hanging out and she just breaks down into tears, curls up into a ball and can barely talk. I'm very concerned to say the least. But as I know from Al Anon, I can't fix anything for her. I can just try to be a calm presence.
I need help, though, drawing boundaries. I can feel that I lose myself when she breaks down into crying. I can feel myself wanting to advise her to seek counseling over and over. I want to tell her I'm concerned about her patterns. I can't comfort her and just sitting there while she cries feels like death to me. It feels like watching a relative drink.
I can see clearly that our individual mental health are our individual responsibilities. However, at some point, I think this may become too much for me to handle. I worry our relationship can't move forward, and that my life can't either.
I moved to be with her and her family (when she was not depressed) however, we don't live together. The next step was potentially to move to be near my family and better job opportunities so I can take my next step in my career. I worry about bringing her when she is in this state and not seeking help. And I worry I'm being cold if I tell her I don't want to stay because of the limited career options where I am. It feels by saying this I am saying without saying and ultimatum of: get mental health support or I'm moving away without you. And in reality, that is something I want to say.
Is that a reasonable thing to say? Is that a reasonable boundary? That's what I am struggling with. I've never dated an alcoholic but I wonder if you are allowed to make that a requirement as well - that your partner attend meetings. It feels parental. I don't love it. On the other hand it seems like not drawing the boundary will be unfair to my needs. I don't mind that people struggle in life, I have problems too, but I think I want to be with someone who will take responsibility for them. Sometimes it feels like she wants me to be sad with her, and I really don't want to. I don't want to just sit there quietly while you cry for 4 hours. I can't see who that helps.
submitted by Level_Ostrich_8636 to AlAnon [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:54 jfqnd96 What do I do about my 104 year old grandmother who is running out of money but won’t sell her house and refuses to move?

My grandmother is a 104 years old. She has lived in her house since 1958. Her husband died 20 years ago so she has lived by herself all this time.
Two years ago she started needing a caretaker to help her around the house because my grandmother had to start using a walker. The caretaker is through an agency and is $32 an hour. At first she only needed someone for six hours a day. For the last six months she has needed 24 hour care. That’s $20,000 a month.
My grandmother is now down to about three months left before she runs out of money in her bank account. She is sitting on a piece of property that is probably around $250,000, however, she has said over and over that she refuses to sell her house and won’t move anywhere.
My fiancé and I have told her that she could move near us (we live in a neighboring state about an hour and a half away from her) and live at one of the nicest retirement communities in this state. She refuses. We have looked for places near her in her state, she refuses. She doesn’t have any other family that can help or is anywhere nearby, so it’s all on me and my fiancé.
My mother, her daughter, just passed away about a month ago. So the stress and anxiety levels are already through the roof. This is making it much worse, not just for her, but for our lives. Do I just force my grandmother to move? Because if she waits until all the money runs out, she will be in a really terrible place… Literally and figuratively. I am new to all of this, so I don’t have any experience to rely on. Any help would be really great. Thank you in advance. ❤️
submitted by jfqnd96 to Advice [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:54 School-of-Athens986 Any Bone Spear Necromancer out there?

Any Bone Spear Necromancer out there?
quick question, how much damage did you generate (max) with your bone spear build? feel free to share below, genuinely asking because I'm curious, whether my build on the right path, or I need some adjustment,
Im at 70 tier 4, I'm actually been in tier 4 since I'm 61, and literally just 1 hitting everything (including elite) bosses usually takes 2-3 cycle of essence recharge to put em down most of the time,
my output max is around 600k when I use corpse tendrils, and when just using normal bonespear it gave me around 250-300k damage on tier 4 normal mobs
wanna know how high can a bone spear damage goes? need to decide if this build good enough or I should go blood build? coz I'm nearing my end game,
or can blood build deal more damage? genuinely asking coz I got some pretty nice ancestral unique item for blood build, sadly 0 unique atm for my spear build,
but I can hardly tank elite bosses tho, gotta use dodge and potion most of the time, and really manage my essence for maximum damage
Let me know bois,
submitted by School-of-Athens986 to diablo4 [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:54 musickly Inquiry on safety tips to protect other members in the household when resin printing

I am completely new to the hobby of 3D printing and I wanted to know what are some safety tips to protecting other members of my household (wife and 4month old baby) when resin printing. From the basic research I did I have learned so far:
  1. proper ventilation
  2. protection: gloves, filter mask, eyewear safety
  3. glass or plastic cover on work station
  4. UV or sun cure ALL resin, including waste, tools, and cleaning supplies
  5. properly dispose of hazardous material
  1. My set up is going to be in a garage near a side door with a fan to blow out the fumes. Is this safe enough for others walking into the garage while a print/curing is running?
  2. My understanding is that once resin is fully cured, it is safe to touch and handle. Do I need to wash my hands after handling in cured state? Mostly wanted to know since I plan to print table top minis to be played with my son in the future, but kids are constantly touching their face or putting hands or things in their mouth. Obviously I'll wait until he is much older, but if this is something I should avoid in general, let me know.
Any other safety tips, comments, concerns are welcome.
submitted by musickly to 3Dprinting [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:53 Darkeweb What kind of permanent damage did I do?

Quick background, I started using benzos at around 20 years old, and went straight into daily hard use. I was using those pressed Xanax bars, acquired online, and taking ridiculous amounts, like the equivalent of around 30 to 40mg of alprazolam per day, mostly from Flualprazolam, Etizolam, and Clonazolam.
Used daily for about 2 years straight, and through a bit of a longer story ended up cold turkey quitting this habit (along with opiates and some other stuff). Yes I was hospitalized after the cops got called but I was not tapered or anything since I was so deep into detox that there were no benzos in my system anymore and I was in a psychotic break and unable to explain the situation (or really tell what was going on in reality at all).
Anyway cue plenty of seizures and me in a psychotic dream state for the next couple of weeks, IV liquids and all those great things, I did eventually come back to reality like 25ish days into detox as a whole. Then there was a whole long run of jail for 6 months, then rehab for another 6 months (grateful I didn't have to detox in jail tho).
Over a year clean now and I really do feel great overall, almost like it never happened, but idk there's times where I just don't quite feel all the way back yet. Things like trouble sleeping or just that inability to relax, not nearly as bad as it used to be but not gone either. Anyone know what kind of timeframe I might be looking at for a full recovery? Or is this it, and I gotta learn to live with things as they stand now?
I definitely felt some big milestones in my mind at around the 3 months and 9 months marks, and curious if there's any future points of more neurological recovery. If anyone has some insights into long term benzos recovery, I'd love to hear em. Thanks in advance guys.
submitted by Darkeweb to benzorecovery [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:52 Ambitious_Storm4933 20 F looking for summer housing

Hey guys! I’m looking for subleasing a 1 bedroom/ Studio in Boston from July 1 - August 15. I’m looking for something closer to downtown. I’m interning and want to be closer to my office!
I’m willing to pay under $3000.
Please let me know if anyone has any leads!
submitted by Ambitious_Storm4933 to bostonhousing [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:51 YousureWannaknow SM-A605FN - Samsung A6+ unrootable?

So.. Is there any way to root it or install custom firmware that I could prepare on PC? Preferably sth that works like that toolkit that allows to cut parts of software from Windows OS image (any AOSP seems to be covering only newest versions, and I actually want to prepare sth on older devices).
Due to fact I plan to use it as media player in car audio and 2nd one as dashcam (hey! it's recycling old stuff, don't be harsh on me), I need to get rid of most stuff, nearly everything form Google and Samsung and actually it's impossible to do that with ADB (doesn't allow me to remove google text to speech and Samsung Knox, but has nothing against removing crucial OS packages..) and none of root methods seems to be working with it.. So is there any hope for me?
submitted by YousureWannaknow to AndroidQuestions [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:50 TheEndOfRico Hey Student Accommodation Companies, FUCK YOU!

This will be my third time staying in accommodation, as I'm starting my postgrad and so have no friends to live with, and a normal flat/apartment is far too expensive to rent alone.
The experience is as bad as it's ever been.
Why is it so fucking hard to put the picture of the room I may be renting on the advert for that room? I don't want to see pictures of the £4,000 a week Premium Deluxe Executive Studio Apartment (City View) suite when I'm trying to get a bog standard £150 p/w studio.
No, I don't want to get a 52 week lease on a room I won't even be in for the last 4 months. Nor do I want to spend full whack when the same rooms are rented at a discount over the summer anyway.
A one bed flat in a shared house with 6 strangers is NOT a one bed flat.
Yes, I would like more than one photo angle of the room that I will be LIVING IN for the next YEAR.
Yes, I'd like at least one picture of the bathroom so that I know that the toilet is more than just a decrepit hole in the ground.
No, a microwave oven is NOT AN OVEN!
Oh the rooms are sold out? WELL THEY WEREN'T WHEN I EMAILED YOU 4 DAYS AGO!
How are the practices of these companies legal? Almost every single advert I visit features what could be considered false advertising - either incorrect pictures, listing amenities deceptively - or outright listing amenities that don't exist, minimal information, hidden fees, etc.
The only reason they can get away with these scummy practices is because there often is no alternative. I feel for many first years going through this for the first time, but it's my third time and I'm still losing my mind. What a fucking terrible system.
submitted by TheEndOfRico to UniUK [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:50 MEfacquininsane pg around hyatt pune, viman Nagar or kalyani nagar

Me and my friend are looking for A PG near viman Nagar Or anywhere near Dmart as our office is located near Dmart My friend has checked some PGs but they are very crowded just like concentration camps and we need some privacy Can anyone suggest any pg
submitted by MEfacquininsane to PuneClassifieds [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:50 Ambitious_Storm4933 Hey Guys,

I’m looking for subleasing a 1 bedroom/ studio apartment for July 1-August 15. I’m looking for something closer to downtown. I’m interning in Boston and would like to be closer to work. I’m willing to pay under $3000.
Please let me know if anyone has any leads.
submitted by Ambitious_Storm4933 to bostonhousing [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:50 eng2725 Does this quote seem reasonable to remove popcorn and do smooth ceiling?

House is 3/2 around 1400 sq ft. Popcorn throughout except for kitchen and bathrooms. Vaulted ceilings in kitchen and living room.
Quote for removal, sanding, and painting smooth ceiling came out to $2900 for everything including paint. This seems like a good deal, but wanted other opinions. One other guy was $1000 more and another didn’t even give me a number because he said he won’t come near the lower number.
I’ve been told popcorn removal will add value to the house, and we hate popcorn. Does this sound worth it?
submitted by eng2725 to HomeImprovement [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:49 JL-the-greatest What's your living situation and are you happy with it?

Ever since I moved out of my parents', I've noticed that my living situation is always my biggest trigger in life. There are many factors that drain me: a long commute, not getting along with roommates, too much noise, etc. I have really bad sensory issues and PTSD to the extent that I freeze if there's any loud noise, I couldn't do anything productive with noise around. I also never got along with any of my roommates because I tend to withdraw into my own world in my home so I don't communicate well with them.
Now I'm facing the decision of paying much less for a hectic student accommodation in a low socio-economic neighborhood where I lived in this year and was miserable, or paying a lot more (2.5 times more) for a studio in an affluent neighborhood. I'm graduating next year and hopefully will find a tech job that pays ok, so I think my priority next year should be my well-being and GPA. However, it is a lot of money, so I'm hesitating.
It seems like such a struggle finding an affordable and comfortable place, so I'd like to know how everyone is dealing with it :)
submitted by JL-the-greatest to AutismInWomen [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:49 searchingformytruth Employers at the café I work at are apparently expecting me to train and mentor their employees because I'm more intellectually-capable/less disabled. They've withheld raises because of this. Do I have a case to sue for disability discrimination?

TL;DR: I have cerebral palsy and work part-time at a coffeeshop that employs disabled individuals. As I'm much higher-functioning, they expect me to mentor their employees, like a manager, but refuse to promote me or even give me a raise because I won't.
I currently work part-time at a coffeeshop that exclusively employees people with disabilities. Having cerebral palsy myself, I applied and was accepted for two jobs, working one 4 1/2-hour day a week in the café as a cashier and also a WFH position writing the company blog for 10 hours a week. I've been there a little over two years now and am still just making eight dollars an hour in both positions, even the WFH one.
I finally figured out why during my first performance review, which took place just seven months ago. Yeah, it took them over a year and a half to give us reviews, and only because I asked for one again and again for nearly six months prior. They finally relented in December and did it over ten minutes during a shift.
"Well, first, let's start off by saying no one is getting raises this year," the owner told me.
Perplexed, I asked for more details. I'm one of their best employees; they've told me so several times, so that's not a boast. I was hired at the start of the business, two days before opening, and I've made a ton of material contributions that have demonstrably improved the café over the years. I designed large parts of our company website before switching purely to blog writing, which I excel at and is a passion of mine. I took the initiative to create the product display on the front counter, so people don't have to squint up at the (rarely-updated) menu board. I was the one who suggested we add a large selection of board games to the café for use by guests. Etc. You get the idea. None of the other employees have done anything near what I've done for the company; that may be harsh, but it's perfectly true.
After asking why no one (and specifically me) wasn't getting a raise after nearly two years of good service, the owner said flatly that she didn't feel I was "stepping up" to be a mentor to the other employees. So I wasn't getting one, as I hadn't earned it, in her eyes. Uhhhhh...what? I wasn't aware I'd been promoted to manager! (I nearly said that, too.)
I'm not a confrontational person by nature, so I kind of just sat there in shock as she continued to talk about what she wanted to see next year. "More initiative." "Mentoring the others, lead by example." "Be more humble." (That one really confused me...until I got the physical report of my review, then it infuriated me.) Finally, she wrapped up by saying it "wouldn't be fair" to the other employees if I got a raise and they didn't. I'm sorry, but that's not how raises work....
Anyway, the review went nowhere and I got nothing that I asked for (specifically: a raise; more hours for the WFH position; and working afternoons on my Saturday shift, rather than the morning shift at 8 AM). Nothing. Then they sent me back to work and it was done.
Then I got a copy of my review emailed to me. It was the usual numerically-based performance review, yadda yadda. I scored pretty well (and should have gotten a raise because of that alone). But under the category of "Attitude of Gratitude" I was marked "unacceptable". The note by it said I needed to work on my leadership and mentoring skills. Needless to say, I was angered, hurt, and quite humiliated.
Being the nonconfrontational person I am, as angry as I was, I politely brought the issue up again, asking for clarification. They reiterated the "it's not fair" justification, in addition to the "need to step up more to earn it" point. The conversations went nowhere.
I am your run-of-the-mill café hand, not a manager. I. Am. NOT. A. Manager! Why are you expecting me to "mentor" your employees and teach them? Of course, I know why. They're asking me to do it because I'm very high-functioning intellect-wise, and pretty mobile physically. Simply, it's because I can, and none of the others could do what I can. That's harsh, but it's a statement of fact. The majority of their employees couldn't mentor anyone, but I can.
And that's why they're refusing to give me a raise, it's the real reason. Because they effectively expect me to act as an under-paid manager since I'm less severely disabled than the others. Since I obviously refuse to do that, they feel justified in withholding a raise or even promotions from me, and then try to hide it under the bullshit "fairness to others" and "refusing to step up" justifications.
I think this is textbook disability discrimination, which is hilarious in a dark way, as the company bills itself as being disability-friendly and exclusively hires people like me. I think I have a case to sue, and I might just win. I also found my copy of my performance review, which proves I would have earned the raise by score alone. I was even marked "successful" at the bottom of the review, which is obviously a passing mark in my duties.
Should I contact an attorney who specializes in disability cases? They've deliberately been withholding raises from me because I'm not mentoring and training their employees (and noted that on the review itself), when I know they wouldn't ask the others to do the same due to their more severe disabilities.
I'm honestly shocked they're doing this, and it has really damaged my image of them. They seem like really decent people in person; given this is their first time running a store, they might not even realize what they're doing is illegal discrimination. I would feel terrible suing them, even if I'm right.
submitted by searchingformytruth to legaladvice [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:49 Bruh1455433 I’m trying to be sober but my partner puts me in settings that don’t help.

So I decided to stop drinking after blacking out one day with my partner and a fight occurring. It was a bad argument that ended in me breaking up with my partner for a few hours and then me coming out of a blackout and realizing I had done something so bad.
Well, after this, I decided to become completely sober. I don’t feel addicted to drinking but I do realize that I used drinking to help me in social settings as I’m a complete introvert. I’d waste away in my apartment alone for the rest of my life if I let myself. I just want to get to a point where I feel confident in going out and not needing a drink.
However, my partner is constantly putting me in situations where we’re near drinking all the time. I will say it’s hard not to be around it in the city we live in. It’s a party town/college town. But I did speak with her about me not being able to do things like we used to. She’s asked to go out to clubs just to dance and I’ve said no. I say no because it would be really hard to be in a club setting around drinking. She mentioned things like “well we don’t have to drink” and of course we don’t have to. Of course the intent is not to, but it’s hard not to when social anxieties come up.
My partner wants to now go to a party with a group of her friends I don’t really know. They drink but also do everything else under the sun. I worry that being there will be hard for me, because they won’t only just be drunk, they’ll be on some sort of substances. Idk why my partner chose this group of friends in all honesty, don’t see what the common interests really are. I think she’s just trying to make some more friends. But for me it’ll be hard. I only agreed to go because I wanted to get out of town with her and spend time with her, after being apart for about two weeks. Honestly, the distance after having some rough weeks prior didn’t help with retaining the feelings I had. I kinda felt like the distance made me detach somehow because we had just gone through our situation and tried to work on things and then she was gone for preschedules trips. It just worked out that way, but that’s it’s own separate issue that’s just a bit juvenile to me. Now I just want to feel close to her and enjoy some time, but the trip she wants to have is built around this party that’ll be hard for me. She’s asked me a few times if I’d like a drink or two, idk how that’s supposed to help with my goals. I know I’ve told her she can drink, which is fine for me, but I hope she doesn’t do all the extras there. It would make me a bit uncomfortable being fully sober, in an already uncomfortable situation.
How should I approach this for myself? I know I need to talk to her about these concerns, but what can I also do to help myself during this thing that I did agree to?
submitted by Bruh1455433 to stopdrinking [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:48 SetHot9598 Nugegoda to Rathnapura(Highlevel Road) by bus in sundays

I want to go to rathnapura next sunday morning about 7 am from Nugegoda . Can someone tell me how long it will take and how much costs and bus times near 7-8 am
submitted by SetHot9598 to srilanka [link] [comments]

2023.06.08 17:48 deansmy My car broke down at an abandoned gas station

I'll tell you right now, I don't believe in coincidences. So when my clunky old Mustang decided to give out on me in the midst of a godforsaken storm, at an eerily desolate gas station, I could only blame my awful luck. It was 3 a.m., I was miles away from the nearest town, and my damn car wouldn't start. All I wanted was a quick refuel and maybe some hot coffee to keep the tiredness at bay.
The station was a shabby, outdated structure, seemingly forgotten by time. It was lit by a single, flickering neon sign, and the walls were stained with patches of decay and neglect. But I was more concerned about getting home, so I shrugged off the uneasy feeling that was slowly creeping up my spine.
As I walked into the station, I noticed a disconcerting silence. There was no hum of electricity, no rustle of someone restocking shelves, nothing. It was as if time had stopped. I shouted out a “Hello?” but was only answered by my own echo.
Growing increasingly uneasy, I decided to take a look behind the counter. I nearly retched at the sight. There was the clerk, his lifeless eyes staring into oblivion, a streak of blood running down his white uniform.
Before I could even process the sight, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. I glanced up to the security mirror and saw shadows dancing outside the store. They were masked figures circling my car. Heart pounding, I instinctively crouched behind the counter, the cold touch of terror seeping into my veins.
In a sudden burst of clarity fueled by terror, I realized my immediate peril and darted towards the front of the station. The rain was beating against the windows with a force that spoke of the storm's fury, but inside, my own tempest was raging. My hands, slick with sweat and trembling, fumbled with the lock on the doors. I finally managed to turn it, barring the entrance just as a lightning flash illuminated the outside.
There they were, three masked figures, their white masks standing out eerily against the darkness, the relentless rain cascading off them. Their sinister silhouettes were a horrific tableau of my nightmare come to life. I backed away from the door, heart pounding, every instinct screaming at me to run, but there was nowhere to run.
I pulled out my phone, hoping against hope for a signal, but all I was met with was the disheartening 'No Service' symbol. The storm had taken care of that too. I was trapped, a pawn in a terrifying game that I didn't know how to play.
No longer trying to gain access, the figures simply stood there, in a terrifying picture amidst the howling storm. Their white masks caught in the intermittent flashes of lightning, the macabre sight imprinted on the back of my eyelids every time I blinked.
There was an eerie rhythm to their sway, an unspoken signal passed amongst them that made my skin crawl. They were silent, their haunting masks locked onto me, their unseen gaze tracking my every movement. It was like being caught in the crosshairs of predators, the feeling of being watched, and studied, a chilling reminder of my predicament.
In response to my primal fear, I searched for a weapon. My trembling hands found a forgotten, rusty wrench lying haphazardly behind the counter. Its weight, and its cold, weathered texture, provided a sliver of comfort in this nightmare.
I dared to tear my eyes away from them for just a moment, hoping to find something else, anything to use in my defense. When I looked back, my blood turned to ice. They had moved closer, their masks now almost pressed against the glass, their sway more pronounced. The distance between us, once a small comfort, had diminished considerably, and their intent, their anticipation, was almost visible
With the wrench clutched tightly in my grip and adrenaline coursing through my veins, I found myself stuck in a twisted standoff. It was as if I had unwittingly become a player in a perverse game of Red Light, Green Light with these ominous figures.
Every time my gaze was fixed on them, they were still, as lifeless as mannequins under a store display, the only motion being the rhythmic sway of their bodies. Their flashlights created a ghastly under glow, illuminating their white masks in the dark, stormy night. They seemed almost spectral, nightmarish apparitions caught in a looping sway.
An idea sparked in my terror-filled mind. If these figures didn't move when I watched them, then I had some control. The key was not to blink, not to let them out of my sight. Easier said than done, especially considering the burning sensation already beginning to nag at my straining eyes.
From my peripheral vision, I spotted a jingling set of keys resting on a cluttered pegboard behind the counter. One key, larger and more weathered than the others, stood out. A car key. My mind raced. The clerk's old, beat-up truck was parked casually just outside the station. A risky escape plan formed in my mind, but I was out of options.
Keeping my gaze fixed on the motionless figures, I reached for the keys, my hand shaking. I managed to unhook them, the jingling sound deafening in the otherwise silent station. My fingers closed around the cold metal just as the burning in my eyes became unbearable. I blinked.
In that split second, the world changed. The once-empty space in the store was now occupied by the haunting figures. Their masks, just feet away from me now, glowed eerily under the flickering fluorescent light. Their eerie silence filled the room, the reality of their sudden presence threatening to overwhelm me.
Yet, the terror, instead of paralyzing me, seemed to kick my survival instinct into overdrive. Clutching the keys, I bolted towards the back door, the wrench still clutched tightly in my other hand.
As I ran, I dared not look back, but I could feel them, their chilling presence right behind me. The back door swung open, its rusty hinges squealing under the force. Rain poured in, but I didn't stop. I sprinted through the rain-soaked lot towards the battered pickup, my heart pounding in my ears.
With a quick prayer, I jammed the key into the ignition, the engine sputtering to life on the second attempt. The relief that washed over me was short-lived as I glanced in the rear-view mirror. The figures stood in the doorway of the gas station, their ominous presence a haunting silhouette against the storm.
I eventually made it to the next town and alerted the police. They found the gas station abandoned, the clerk's body was gone, and there was no evidence of anyone ever being there, except my abandoned Mustang.
The police suspected it was a hallucination, a result of exhaustion and stress. They gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and sent me on my way. But I knew what I saw, what I lived through.
So now, I sit at home, typing this out for you. I hope that my ordeal can serve as a warning. Be wary of desolate gas stations in the middle of the night. And remember, coincidences don't just happen.
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2023.06.08 17:48 Big_Effective_8667 Comic Experts! I need help ID-ing a comic from the 90’s?

I want to say in the early 2000’s, definitely before 2004, My grandma got a comic grab-bag from the comic store which contained titles like Robin, Green Lantern, Superboy, all seemed like they could’ve been from the 90’s and possibly DC but not entirely sure?
There was also a very distinctive “horror” comic, that after reading once, my dad took it away because it was “too violent.” I maybe only thought of this comic a handful of times since. Just the other day it popped back into my memory out of nowhere, and of course a trip to my parent’s basement led me to the revelation that my dad “got rid of” all my comics.
Anyway, here’s basically all I can remember about that comic:
The cover featured a bald man (or mostly bald with just a pony tail in the back) with eerie eyes, holding two of fingers, with claw-like finger nails, up to his mouth. (Possibly licking or getting ready to lick blood off of them.) The background was lots of reds and dark blues if I remember correctly. I believe this character was some demon or dark priest. In the comic itself he spent it either in a business-like suit or completely butt-naked, with shadows providing modesty. I remember at some point in the comic near the middle or end he captured an older-man and used his claw like nail to carve a demonic symbol into his chest? That’s all I can remember.
I don’t think this was a one-off title, because I do remember seeing this character on a cover at a comic con maybe 10 years ago (I wasn’t collecting at that time so I didn’t exactly stop to check it out.)
Does this remotely ring a bell to anyone?
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2023.06.08 17:47 hodsct59 Belmont Friday June 9 Choices

These are the horses and races that I will use while seeking my next decent score at Belmont Park on Friday. if the races are not cancelled. As I have mentioned many times, horse racing is a hard game to master but usually because no strategy is developed regarding what tends to repeat itself often, just with different horses from time-to-time and a money management system that helps one save money until they find a race, they are able to take advantage of. My strategy concerning betting has always been "bet a little to win a lot" but refers to taking risks most will not even think of trying. Good Luck to all.
Race 2: Allowance --- Purse $95,000 --- 3 YOs & Up N/W 1x Or N/W 2 Lifetime --- 6 Furlong Turf:
1)Bold Journey (6-5) won 3rd start back against state bred & O/C foes, so eligibility to race here is still intact. Next out he was overmatched against G1 foes and last start, in this class and condition, he finished 2nd as he and the winner produced their best run together as they were last two away from gate. Now moves from outside post to an inside one and has two decent and useful works since that start.4x4 to Alydar, 5(C)x5(F)x5(F) to Raise A Native. He will as a coupled interest to 2) Sousa Summer and will be listed in program as 1 and 1A.
8)Fredo (8-1) broke his maiden 4 starts back while gate to wire at one mile on grass. Connections have been using the right running style but a mile on any surface is probably a little further than his best distance. 7 of his 12 lifetime starts have come at a mile or further on grass or the AWT and he has the race record to prove he struggles going that far. His sprint races have all been lightning fast early and he has been able to get a clear early lead but finds a spot that looks a little lite on early speed. Broodmare sire, Gone West, sired 2 unbeaten champion fillies in France that never raced past 7 furlongs and 2 U.S. champion colts (Came Home & Speightstown) in his career that had front running speed to burn. 5x3 to Storm Bird & Mr. Prospector.
6)Giant's Fire (15-1) broke her maiden 3 starts back while laying close but off the early pace and managed to get up late. Next two starts, jockeys tried to send him early and could not even get close to the early pace and faded to finish last in both. He cuts back to a sprint in here and jockey need to let him settle early and then pick it up as they go around the turn, which is exactly what his dam line and broodmare sire is suggesting he will be better doing. Broodmare sire, Street Cry, sired two of the world's top fillies in Zenyatta & Winx and both were master late runners. 4th dam, Aptostar, is a multiple graded stakes winning filly that blew by several top fields. 5(C)x5(C)x5(F) to Fappiano. Simply waiting to be ridden correctly and will blow up the exacta when jockey lets him run his race.
9)Carpe's Dream (15-1) is making his first start of the year. Trainer has put 8 works in him in the last two months, the first six were more or less canters around the track but last two works indicates those works was beneficial to him. Likely not ready to beat a few of these but looks like he will have a pace to run at late. 4x4 to Storm Bird.
My Risks $5 Ex Box 1-8, $1 Tri Box 1-8-9, $.30 Super Box 1-6-8-9, $.50 Super Key 8 with 1-6-9 with 1-6-9 with 1-6-9. Total Risk $26.20.
Race 3: Maiden Special Weight --- Purse $75,000 --- 3 YOs & Up New York Bred --- One Mile:
3) Woodside Warrior (30-1) has started twice and has yet to pick up his feet. However, this is a weak field on NY bred maidens, and he is likely wanting to get to the early lead and has the bloodlines to do so. Trainer is adding blinkers and he has three good works since his last start, most likely all three while wearing the hood (but does not have to be reported as equipment change until race day). He should be fast enough to get the early lead due to his grandsire, Speightstown, and his broodmare sire, Freud, an unraced full brother to Giant's Causeway, progeny also got much braver when they were able to obtain the early lead. 4(C)x5(C)x3(F) to Storm Cat, 4x5 to Mr. Prospector, 5x4 to Seattle Slew, 5x5 to Secretariat.
7) Battleoflexington (6-1) has started twice this year, the first start where he was trailing at the first call and then grind his way to a 4th place finish beaten less than 4 lengths for the win but had received his training in Florida, then shipped to Aqueduct and then asked to run within a 6-day period, a tough task for a seasoned runner much less a maiden. In his second start, he returned in 16 days after his first start with another work, the addition of lasix, and put back on grass, where he did not pick up his feet. Now gets a month to recuperate and adds three more works, two of them useful and is not getting the kitchen sink thrown at him for the first time this year. Will likely respond to the lesser confusion that he has been presented with. 5x4 to Mr. Prospector, 5x5 to Halo.
2) Refuah (3-1) broke his maiden two back but was disqualified and placed second for interference. He now has 11 placings in 14 lifetime starts and just does not seem like he was a will to win. He will likely eventually win but it is a waste of time and money trying to predict when. Therefore, I will use him underneath only. 5(C)x4(F)x4(F) to Mr. Prospector, 5x5 to Northern Dancer & Halo.
My Risks: $8 Ex Straight 3-7, $3 Tri Straight 3-7 with 3-7 with 2. Total Risk $14.00.
Race 5: Starter Allowance $50K --- Purse $65,000 --- 3 YOs & Up Which has started for $50K or less and N/W 1x --- One Mile:
5) Ice Road (6-1) has started once this year on the speed favoring dirt track, ran a even race and then change trainers after that start. New trainer gave him two more months off, then put 5 more works in him over a month period in Florida and shipped him to NY where he has not recorded a work in three weeks. Each trainer has his own method of how to get a horse ready and since he wins at 18%, I believe he might have this one better prepared than it appears. He has only two lifetime starts on dirt, a third in the mud in the 2nd leg of Canadian TC and his last start which is decent considering the track he ran on and the brief layoff. Outcross in his first 5 generations.
1)Arrebato (8-1) broke his maiden three starts back in the second start of his career by tracking the early pace, then sent for the lead nearing six furlongs and drawing away in the stretch. Tried the same tactics in his next start on a sloppy track but one that was using same tactics as him got a big jump on him when the front runner stopped and won for fun while this one could not make up any ground and lost second at the wire to the deep closer in the race. Next out, he was tried against 3 YOs stakes company but they proved to be much too tough for him at this point of his career as he finished last. Back to the company where he fits best so far with 4 stamina building works since his last start and a change to a better jockey should help. His sire, Goldencents, won 2 editions of the G1 BC Dirt Mile. Broodmare sire, Badge Of Silver, won his first three lifetime start but was knocked off the derby trail in 2003 when he came out of the La Derby with a leg injury in his first loss but returned to finish 2nd In the Cigar Mile twice & 3rd in the BC Turf Mile. 5x5 to Mr. Prospector.
3) Long Term (5-2) has started three times this year, breaking his maiden in his second start by taking the lead nearing the half mile, then open a clear led into the stretch, then managed to hold 2 late runners safe in the stretch. Next out, he attempted the same strategy, but another beat him to the punch, and he flattened out in the stretch run to finish a well beaten third. Three useful works since his last start and he should be sitting on his best race in his fourth start of the year after a 10-month break. 5x5 to Northern Dancer & Sir Ivor.
7) Thunderian (6-1) was purchased out of a sale in Feb. for $28K by current connections, was gelded and has five starts for him with one win and three thirds. His last start was his only non-placing this year, he drops a level and returns in 9 days. Likely trying to entice someone to claim the horse before he tails off his best form. 4x5 to Northern Dancer.
My Risks: $5 Ex Box 1-5, $1 Tri Box 1-3-5, $.30 Super Box 1-3-5-7, $.50 Super Key 1 with 3-5-7 with 3-5-7 with 3-5-7. Total Risk: $26.20.
Race 6: Allowance O/C $62.5K ---- Purse $100,000 --- 3 YOs & Up N/w $18K 2x or N/W 3 Lifetime or Claiming $62,500 --- 6 Furlongs:
11) High Connection (8-1) is making his first start of the year and his first start for new trainer Pletcher after being removed from Baffert's barn for the 2nd time late last year, likely because owners were expecting much more from a horse with his bloodlines and purchase price. Trainer has put a dozen works in him since he re-entered the work tab with one missed work while preparing others for derby week races and works (likely was missed on chart for due work date). However, trainer moved his next three works to 6-day intervals that should got him back on track. 4x3 to Deputy Minister.
4) High Oak (20-1) looked like he was going to develop into a nice runner but took a hard fall in last year's FOY stakes and is obviously having a hard time (or flashbacks) getting over his tragic fall. But he is showing signs of putting that behind him but needs some help from a jockey to let him run his race and not force him to get too close to the lead early, which was his style before the fall. Believes he gets that help with John V. He has three useful works since his last start and moves back to the surface where both sides of his family have the most success. 4(C)x5(C)x4(F) to Mr. Prospector, 5x5 to Secretariat. 4th dam, Leix, is 1/2 sister to Shenanigans and developed her own important line.
1)Cadazero(8-1) was purchased out of an April sale for $60K and makes his first start for new connections. Trainer is known for putting slow works into his trainees preferring to let them go much further than recorded work and follows his usual pattern with this one. However, he has 2 graded stakes wins and has to use the tag because of them but is the class of this field. 4x5 to Mr Prospector & Northern Dancer, 5x5 to Raise A Native.
2)Rotknee (3-1) has started three times this year including winning his last race in a good time, 6 days after registering a bullet work that suggested he was reaching his peak fitness. He has one work since that effort, an easy four furlongs that should set him up for another top effort and personally much prefer to see this type of work than another fast/bullet work which rarely help a horse to maintain his form and can do more harm than good. Only problem with him is he is facing a pretty salty field here and does not show facing a field this tough. 5(C)x4(F)x4(F) to Mr. Prospector.
My Risks: $5 Ex Box 4-11, $1 Tri Box 1-4-11, $.30 Super Box 1-2-4-11, $1 Super 11 with 1-2-4 with 1-2-4 with 1-2-4. Total Risk $29.20.
Race 7: Allowance --- Purse $80,000 --- 3 YOs & Up NY Bred N/W $18K 1x or N/W 2 Races Lifetime --- 7 Furlongs Turf:
8) Athenry (12-1) has one start this year which he sat mid-pack early but was out moved by eventual winner into the stretch and chased that one through the stretch while just holding onto second at the wire. He has two works since that effort, a useful work followed by a 3 furlongs blowout work 4 days before next start, likely to try to get him closer to the early pace. 4x5 to Raise A Native, 5x4 to Mr. Prospector. Also has a Secretariat crossing thru two daughters and plenty of Princequillo crossings thru his daughter, Somethingroyal, dam of Secretariat & his son Prince John (3 crosses in dam line alone).
4) Be Of Courage (8-1) has started twice this year which in first start, he did not pick up his feet to finish last and then in next start when stretched out to a mile, set the early pace until collared at the top of the stretch but continued to show good heart by battling back before being outrun to finish 3rd. Castellano, abroad for his only win to date, retakes the mount as he cuts back to 7 furlongs. One bullet 4 furlongs work since that last effort. 4x5 to Danzig, 4(C)x5(C)x5(F) to Northern Dancer, 5x5 to Mr. Prospector & Blushing Groom.
1)War Terminator (20-1) has one start this year, back in January, which he did not pick up his feet in an open bred O/C race he was probably overmatched in to begin with. Change of trainers since that effort and a move back up North to face NY bred should help. He finished 3rd in his last effort before leaving the area late last year in same class and conditions as this race and a repeat of that effort puts him in the thick of the outcome of this race. Has 5 works for this effort, the first two were leg stretching type works, followed by two good works and an easy work on grass and around the dogs should have him primed and ready. 4(C(x5(C)x5(F) to Northern Dancer, 5x4 to Fappiano.
7) Dr. Settle's Dream (12-1) will be making his first start of the year. he has eight works to prepare from this start, but last two are typical of works trainer usually gives trainees when he thinks they are ready and rarely tips his hand to indicate how fit they are. But he goes back to Alvarado, who has been his main jockey he uses for the last 5-6 years when he believes they are their fittest. He broke his maiden at first asking, then took on open bred stakes runner and finished last after setting the pace for a half mile at one mile on grass. Will likely appreciate the move back to stater bred and gets lasix for the first time. 4x5 to Mr. Prospector, 5(C)x5(C)x4(F) to Northern Dancer.
My Risks: $5 Ex Box 4-8, $1 Tri Box 1-4-8, $.30 Super Box 1-4-7-8, $1 Super Key 4 with 1-7-8 with 1-7-8 with 1-7-8. Total Risk $29.20.
Race 8: New York Stakes(G1) --- Purse $600,000 --- 4 YOs & Up F&M --- 1 1/4 Mile Turf:
5) Virginia Joy (15-1) has started twice this year, the first effort where she sat far off the pace but put in a good late kick to finish 4th. Next start, she was 3rd for most of the way in a four-horse field but managed to get up for second in an extremely slow-paced race. However, her best races have come when she gets up close to the early pace and makes her best move before others have a chance to and she gets a jockey who will give her that opportunity in here. 3x3 to Sadler's Wells, 4x4 to Kris, 5x5 to Nijinsky II & Mill Reef.
8) With The Moonlight (9-2) has started four times this year, winning her first two starts in grade 2 stakes in the U.A.E, then shipping to the U.S. and finishing 2nd in a G1 stakes and then onto England to run one of the dullest races of her career in a G2. Now back to the U.S. but with a work on grass around the dogs since arriving. Trainer is no stranger to big races and have to believe this one will fire her best effort. 5x5 to Mr. Prospector.
7) War Like Goddess (6-5) has started once this year and beat a G3 field fairly easy but these will be much tougher and cuts back to a distance she has never won at, except her maiden win against non-winners. Still, she is the one to beat but regardless, I will take that chance on beating her at her likely off odds because there are simply too many things that can go wrong, regardless of how good one is. Bet her and you will not make any money that is worth the risk. Bet against her and you will likely lose but there is a possibility to make good money by taking a small risk. 5x5 to Northern Dancer.
1)Flirting Bridge (20-1) has started once this year and won her second condition allowance race. She is bred to at least want a 1/4-mile distance, but this will be only her second start at the distance and in her first start narrowly missed becoming a G1 stakes winner. She has five more works since her first start and they should all be helpful in moving her forward. 4x3 to Danehill, 4x4 to Mr. Prospector, 4(C)x5(F)x5(F) to Northern Dancer.
My Risk: $5 Ex Box 5-8, $1 Tri Box 5-7-8, $.30 Super Box 1-5-7-8, $.50 Super Key 5 with 1-7-8 with 1-7-8 with 1-7-8. Total Risks $26.20.
Race 9: Acorn Stakes(G1) --- Purse $500,000 --- 3 YO Fillies ---- 1 1/16 Mile:
1)Dorth Vader (10-1) has started 4 times with 1 win in her 2nd start of the year as her only board finish. In her last, she was sent to pressure the early pace and it set the race up for several late runners to make a major impact. But in her third start back which was her only win, she proved her would rather rate behind the early speed and then make her move after they tire each other considerably. Believe she again gets that opportunity as there are at least two in here that looks like they want the early lead at all costs. She has changed trainers since the Ky. Oaks and he decided to give Velasquez a try to relax her as most jockey tried thus far has burnt her out. 5x5 to Storm Bird, 5(C)x5(C)x5(F)x5(F) to Mr. Prospector.
8)Accede (8-1) has started twice in her career, breaking her maiden at first asking then in her last start, raced near the rear early and tried to grind her way into contention but it proved futile was front running speed was holding well that day. Trainer has put three more good works in her since that last race and she looks as ready as any in here. Complete outcross in her first 5 generations but is loaded with Teddy & Commando bloodlines.
7)Goodgirl Badhabits (10-1) has started twice and ran away from the competition in both starts but now gets an acid test to see if she is for real. Personally, I think she will pass that test but lose this battle though not likely to fade too bad if she gets over her bad gate habits. She has three good works since her last start which is not really surprising since she has plenty of early speed. The question with her is how well she will handle the pressure she will receive in here. Both her sire, Mastery and broodmare sire, Vindication, were unbeaten in 4 lifetime starts each but both were injured and retired during their 2 YO careers (I let you figure out who trained both). However, this one's 4th dam, Imagining, is also dam of multiple year champion filly, Serena's Song, who also was an excellent producer of solid foals. 5x3 to Seattle Slew, 5x4 to Storm Bird & Weekend Surprise.
4) Occult (12-1) has started twice this year, winning a listed stake race in her first start at 9 furlongs while staying on the favorable part of track that was listed as good and then faltering in her next start on a fast track, also at 9 furlongs. A filly she faced in both these races came back and ran a fast closing second in the Ky Oaks, so you will need to take her speed figures and toss them. She is much faster than those figures suggest but now gets a chance to prove it. Actually, believe she would prefer sitting off the early pace and then making her move turning into the stretch. She has 7 works since her last start with most of them good moves which likely means she is still on the improve. 4x4 to Storm Cat, 5x5 to Halo.
My Risks: $5 Ex Box 1-8, $1 Tri Box 1-7-8, $.30 Super Box 1-4-7-8, $1 Super Key 1 with 4-7-8 with 4-7-8 with 4-7-8. Total Risk $29.20.
Race 10: Belmont Gold Cup S(G2) --- Purse $250,000 --- 4 YOs & Up --- 2 Miles Turf:
Race 11: Intercontinental Stakes(G3) --- Purse $200,000 --- 4 YOs & Up F&M --- 6 Furlongs Turf:
3) Clitheroe (15-1) has started once this year and won a first level condition allowance. She takes a big step up in class, but connections likely thought highly of her to drop north of $800K as a 2 YO purchase. She has two works since her U.S. debut win, a good work at 6 furlongs and a good work at 4 furlongs. She gets to race at the same track for 2 races in a row after switching tracks every start through her first 9 tries. 4(C)x5(C)x4(F) to Nureyev, 5(C)x4(F)x5(F) to Northern Dancer.
2) Sarah Harper (6-1) has started 3 times this year and has finished 3rd in two of those starts. However, her current form cycle started back in August of last year and she now has seven starts without a win but a second and 4 thirds. Her last start was her 2nd lifetime start on grass and she ran into a filly named Caravel both times. Caravel upset the boys in the BC Turf Sprint last year at 40-1 in gate to wire fashion. In Sarah Harper's first six starts of her career, she set quarter fractions of 21 4/5 seconds or faster, but those have been missing since she has returned. Why? It seems to me her trainer has been trying to get her to rate and it is not working as plan. Now it's time to go back to the catch me if you can type game. One good work since her last start. Can wire this field with a good break. 4x5 to Danzig.
7) Bubble Rock (5-2) has started twice this year which she finished 2nd in her first start in a first condition allowance, then return in a listed stakes race that is often the springboard race for sprint grass fillies to bigger and better races and won. Has 2 good works on grass around the dogs since that effort and a repeat performance would not be a surprise. 4x5 to Mr. Prospector, 4(C)x5(F)x5(F) to Northern Dancer.
1)Poppy Flower (9-2) has started twice this year with her first start being against O/C foes where she finished 3rd in a five-horse field that was nothing more than an out to help her get fitter, then a listed stakes where she finished second to the likely favorite in here. She has three works since her last start, the first work was a maintenance breeze followed by 2 good works that likely has her ready to give a top effort again. 5(C)x5(C)x 5(F) to Northern Dancer.
My Risks: $5 Ex Box 2-3, $1 Tri Box 2-3-7, $.30 Super Box 1-2-3-7, $1 Super Key 2 with 1-3-7 with 1-3-7 with 1-3-7. Total Risk $29.20.
7th Race Late P5: 1,4 with 5,8 with 1,8 with 2,11 with 1,2. Total Risk $16.00. Total Risk All Bets: $225.40.
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2023.06.08 17:47 run-with-scizzors Is there not a better design?

Lets face it. It is the absolute WORST when a hottub jet, piping, or fitting leaks. Loss of water. Its winter? A massive Icecyle on your deck.
Now you have to: Remove the decking/surrounding. Remove the panels. Remove the foam. Hopefully you have the right location of the leak. Call the hottub repair person and spend 1000$. Hot tube is out of commission for a couple months or until next spring.
Rate my idea and tell me it's stupid before I waste more time on it:
The hottub piping/jets/circulation pump is all inside the hottub. The hottub is a solid shell, with groves for the piping/jets. When anything leaks, IT DOESNT EVEN MATTER. It leaks into the hottub. Your insulation could be much better, saving on energy costs. Two slots, near the hottub stairs, run the required pipes up over the edge to the heaters/circulation pumps. the whole thing is two pieces. The shell and piping fitted into the grooves, and the heatepumps/stairs separate.
Let me know what you think.
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2023.06.08 17:47 ChrisDWrites STARLIGHT (The Z Team Book 2) Chapter 49: Diplomatic Incident

Read THE Z TEAM: Book 1 on Amazon in ebook/print/Unlimited here!
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The Commonwealth diplomatic procession looked wholly out of place seated in the spartan crew compartment of the Fleet dropship. The interior held none of the grace of the cruise liner, nor the subtle warmth of the diplomatic ship. Status lights shone red, the thickly-padded harnesses pressed tight to each body. Empty hard points beckoned to hold equipment or weapons in their grasp. Medkits and backup breathing masks dotted the bulkheads behind the seats. Conduit, bundles of wiring, and junction boxes lay exposed between the struts overhead, evidence of the realities of military procurement: there is no room for luxury.
No, the procession wasn’t dropping into a combat zone, but they were still entering enemy territory.
Four dropships made for the Ascension, replacing the shuttles of the Good Omen with the improved defenses of the military transports. The Fleet was taking no chance after the suicidal freighter incident, adding eight of the carrier’s drones as additional escorts.
The sphere of warships surrounding the diplomatic vessels had spread into a shallow cone, the open end facing the planet. Their sensors and crisscrossing fields of fire would neutralize any threat to the dropships.
Still, everyone in the dropship appeared on edge.
Celescia held tight to the armrests. Yanna and Ruki sat on either side. Directly across from them, the mask-wearing Mystery Man’s blank slate faced in her direction. The sight of the formally-dressed procession crammed into the padded seats would’ve been laughable had the stakes not been so dire.
With each breath, each klick closer to the Ascension, Celescia waited for some malady to afflict her body. Logic told her no harm would come, yet she couldn’t shake her fear that she was beholden to the will of the Provenance and their Project Fidelity.
A hand touched Celescia’s forearm. She peeked around the thick shoulder padding at Ruki. She smiled back, mouth wide beneath the mask obstructing her upper face. Yanna grasped Celescia’s hand on the other side, returning her version of a smile.
Across the way, Dash’s head tilted. “We’ll be by your side the entire time. We’ll keep you safe. I promise,” he said over the troupe’s comm.
“I know,” Celescia answered.
Still, she was afraid.
The dropship docked on the executive level, settling into the berth like a pollinating insect landing on a blooming flower. The airlock opened and a pair of marines in dress uniform departed first. Councilor Traveska went next, other diplomats trailing. Regent Anncellis and the top leadership of Acculturation followed.
Then came the time for Sisters Celescia.
She cleared the hatch and formed a single line with Yanna and Ruki on one side, and the Mystery Man on the other. The airlock was wide, sleek but utilitarian, and most noticeably, pristine. Not a single scuff lined the deck, the integrated lockers, or the thresholds of the hatches.
Three station personnel in sharp dress uniforms greeted the procession as they stepped into the corridor. Their expressions were neutral, even bordering on pleasant, but there was an unmistakable contempt in their eyes.
Celescia recognized the one in the center as the station administrator, a member of a rival house of the Royalty lineage. The appointment had been used to garner favor for the Imperatrix’s agenda, a common tactic of the noble class.
Celescia didn’t necessarily hate the administrator for taking the position but loathed the side he had chosen. She imagined all the Provenance leadership passing through the same corridor, escorted by their staff and servants. The secrets that had been discussed, and schemes concocted to secure their power at the expense of the people. She shuddered at the thought and pressed on despite the repulsion she felt for boarding the station as if her very presence there ran a risk of catching a disease of elitism.
Dash must’ve picked up on her aversion, for he pulled his elbow close to his side, talking her hand with it. “It’s not the place, it’s the people.”
He was right, of course.
Ministry of Security officials lead the procession deeper into the station. She was filled with contempt at the sight of them, her spirit forever burdened with the painful memory of her murdered team.
The corridor connected to a gathering hall. Sculpted glass lighting hung from the ceiling, while wall displays cycled through scenic vids of Preemona. Exhibits ringed the space, holding cages with live creatures, interactive exhibits, and collections of ancient artifacts. A small but enthusiastic flock of reporters waited at the outlet. Security officers and bots formed a line in front of the group, preventing them from approaching the diplomats. That didn’t stop the reporters from lobbing questions at the delegation as they passed, receiving only polite waves or platitudes in response.
Celescia was at first shocked the Provenance let reporters aboard the station. But she reasoned it was a calculated move, the Provenance trying to paint themselves as gracious hosts of the oppressive regime who’d come to assert their dominance.
Halfway across the hall waited the Preservationist-aligned members of the Provenance, their attention now focused on the newcomers. Most wore neutral expressions, though a few glared death at the Acculturation party.
Celescia scanned their ranks. She recognized most of them; ministers, regents, business leaders, protopriests, and other members of the noble class. She met some of their stares, registering the disapproval and even outright disgust oozing out of them at the sight of the Mystery Man by her side. She spotted Minister Tryssnym, the longtime power player of the Provenance, holding a peculiar glint in his eyes. He seemed eager to observe an imminent spectacle.
“They don’t look happy to see you,” Dash said.
“Of course not. We called them spineless devotees of a corrupt despot,” Yanna said.
“Yeah, that will do it.”
Celescia stood tall, flooded with a cascade of revolving emotions. Pity at their ignorance, repugnance at their bigotry, anger at their ungratefulness to the Commonwealth.
The escorts for the visitors stopped short of the Preservationist coalition. Golden spikes appeared above the heads of the crowd, shifting back and forth. The center of the body parted, revealing the ornate splendor of the Provenance Royal guards. Clad in gold-covered armor, and holding spears of the same, eight of their ilk marched with robotic precision. They stopped, forming two rows. A horned instrument blew a melody of the Royalty lineage.
The guards rotated to face each other and took a measured step back, forming a channel between them.
In it appeared none other than the Imperatrix himself.
The embodiment of regality and beauty, he held himself as if he’d been Imperatrix for millennia. The traditional Imperatrix circlet rested on his head, its ancient jewels twinkling with each minute turn of his head. His expression remained effortlessly dignified as he scanned the opposing delegation with a bemused grin.
Rragustus halted opposite Traveska. The pair faced off, drawing the attention of the entire hall. Neither leader flinched or offset any hint of uncertainty. With natural smoothness, the councilor bowed per the traditional greeting for the Imperatrix.
“Imperatrix Rrghustus, I know you know who I am, but formalities dictate a proper introduction. I am Councilor Traveska, elected leader of the Commonwealth. It is an honor to finally meet you in person. I thank you for receiving our Commonwealth delegation.”
Rrgaghtus returned the greeting and offered a warm smile. “Councilor Traveska, it is I, Imperatrix Rrgaghtus of the Pree Provenance, who am honored to be in your presence. On behalf of the Pree people, we extend our appreciation for your journey to our corner of the galaxy when you have so many other important matters requiring your attention.”
“I assure you, Imperatrix, that the Pree charter summit is of great importance to the Commonwealth,” Traveska replied. It was an understatement that Traveska managed to deliver without any hint of undertone.
The two leaders went on to make other important introductions. None of the other Pree leadership held the same amount of subdued charm that Rrgaghtus had, but there were no outright hostilities exchanged.
With the formal introduction complete, the station admin addressed the crowd. The opening procedures would begin soon. Until then, the delegation was free to view the exhibits in the hall and enjoy any refreshments. He stepped aside and a door along one of the side walls opened. Servant bots and staff exited bearing trays and dispenser carts.
The Councilor and his top delegation members stepped to the far side of the hall with the Imperatrix and his ministers. Celescia caught a fleeting view of Traveska’s face. His hard-set expression revealed the intense discussion that was about to be had.
Spotting the Preservationists descending upon the newcomers, she saw that the rest of the delegation was in for a rough time of their own.
One of the neutral regents made for the troupe. Celescia’s pulsed ticked up a notch. She’d met him many times before she’d joined Yanna and Ruki. He was reasonable from what she remembered. “Regent, it is good to see you again,” she said as he came before her.
He went to speak but confusion masked his face. “We’ve met before?”
Celescia scolded herself for the slip. Of course, the regent wouldn’t remember. “I thought we had, but I might be mistaken.”
“I would remember meeting a traitor like you,” he said, glaring at her with disdain. The open hostility took her aback. She hadn’t expected it from someone like him. “Your talents are undeniable, but you squander your gifts. It’s a shame given your popularity.” He gestured to the Mystery Man but refused to make eye contact. “Your stance on the charter is disappointing, your propaganda disingenuous, but your perverted showcases with this Human are outright disgusting.”
“And you’re a rude narcissist,” Yanna snapped.
“Shut your mouth, lowborn! I’m not done speaking.”
Yanna said nothing else, but Celescia could feel the anger in the tension of her partner’s arm. On the other side of Celescia, Dash shifted closer to her.
The regent wasn’t discouraged. He went on, emboldened by his vicious attack. “There are many who believe that you deserve punishment for speaking so negatively about the nobility. I happen to share their opinion.” He gestured at Celescia with two manicured fingers, stabbing the air with gusto. His head grew uncomfortably close to where she caught the scent of alterants upon his hot breaths. She fought the urge to lean back, to lash out in response, struggled to retain her composure—
A hand went to the regent’s chest, pushing him back. The Mystery Man now bladed himself between Celescia and the regent. He waved a finger at the belligerent bully.
Even if the regent didn’t understand the gesture, his PD would’ve translated it for him. “How dare you touch me, filth!” he said to Dash, finally making eye contact. He shot a fiery gaze at Celescia. “I demand your deviant man to apologize!”
Celescia had enough. “Your behavior is unbecoming of your stature, regent. I will not be spoken to in this manner.”
“I will not be lectured about manners and decorum by some treasonist harlot—”
The slap came out of nowhere. In one instant, the regent spewed his vile insults at her. The next, his head was spun 90 degrees to the side, mouth open, eyes wide in utter shock. The Mystery Man’s white-clad arm hovered in front of his chest, bent at the elbow in preparation for another strike.
The crowd around them took immediate notice, hushed whispers and gasps of disbelief. The regent found himself, focusing a hate-filled glare at the Mystery Man. His flat palm shifted higher as if to dare the regent to fling insults once again.
“Don’t do it,” Celescia said to Dash as security officers slipped through the surrounding crowd, appearing out of thin air. They formed a circle around the troupe, staring at the Mystery Man in bloodlust. One of them held a stunner, pointed down, but deployed and ready to use.
“Why did you strike the regent?” the supervisor demanded.
Celescia said, “The regent was verbally abusing us. The Mystery Man—”
“Quiet. I wasn’t talking to you.” The supervisor glared at the Mystery Man. “Answer my question.”
“That’s no way to talk to a lady,” came a deep voice. Hearty footsteps sounded against the floor as a big marine shouldered through the crowd. Gunnery Sergeant Alvarez approached the troupe only to be cut off by the stunner-wielding Pree.
“This is an internal security matter,” the supervisor said from inside the circle of his subordinates.
“Not when it involves any member of the Commonwealth delegation,” Alvarez replied. The officer blocking him didn’t move. “You’d better put that fucking thing away before I shove it up your ass,” he whispered before peering down at the Pree.
His threat needed no translation. The security officer holstered the stunner. Alvarez stepped around him and stood beside the Mystery Man.
“Everything okay over her, ma’am?” Alvarez asked Celescia.
“Yes. The regent here was being rude, and the Mystery Man corrected him on his behavior.”
Alvarez gave the regent an unimpressed once-over. “Hopefully he’s learned his lesson.”
The regent barred his teeth before slinking away beneath Alvarez’s intense stare. The security officers loitered a moment, then blended back into the crowd.
Alvarez peered around as the onlookers went back to their conversations. He directed the troupe to follow him toward the edge of the hall. When they emerged from the crowd, he leaned in close. “Please refrain from starting a diplomatic incident.”
“We will,” Celescia promised and thanked the man.
“Anytime,” he said. He sized up the Mystery Man and gave an approving nod before he left.
A few in the crowd began to shift toward the troupe, building courage after the incident. Celescia took the reprieve to whisper at Dash. “You must control yourself!”
“What you did was very inappropriate,” Yanna said.
“I am under control. That guy was being an asshole,” he answered.
“We don’t condone what he did,” Ruki said.
“But there are cultural differences you must consider,” Celescia added.
“Listen, I’m not standing here and listening to that vile crap. Especially when it’s directed at a lady.”
Within moments, a trio of regents had mustered the courage to approach. “Remind me to praise you for your chivalry should we get out of this alive,” Celescia said, and resumed her public facade, greeting them and entering an opposed but civilized conversation.
The tension from the confrontation had slipped from her mind when the message came through. She read it again and needed several minutes to excuse the troupe from the conversation.
“What is it?” Ruki asked as they stepped aside, keeping ahead of a trail of admirers.
Celescia breathed deeply, preparing herself. “There’s someone we need to meet with. I need you to come with me right now.”
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