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Lost in the Sauce: Trump, Cruz, and Gohmert team up to incite election-related violence

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.
Housekeeping:

Election shenanigans

I put the latest info on Trump's phone call to Raffensperger in this comment.
According to experts, Trump’s conduct has potential criminal exposure:
A federal statute makes it a crime when one “knowingly and willfully … attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by … the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held.”
A Georgia statute similarly provides that a “person commits the offense of criminal solicitation to commit election fraud in the first degree when, with intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a felony under this article, he or she solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage in such conduct.”
…The hard part for prosecutors would be proving Trump’s state of mind, because the statutes require proof of knowledge and intent. Prosecutors would have to show that Trump knew that Biden fairly won the election, and Trump was asking for Georgia officials to commit election fraud. And it’s not clear prosecutors could make that case.
At least 12 Republican senators plan to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Jan. 6, when Congress is set to officially count the votes. The effort is being led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and includes Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), as well as new Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). Separately, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) is pursuing a similar plan.
"Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed," the senators said in a joint statement. “Accordingly, we intend to vote on Jan. 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed."
Their plan is not going to succeed in preventing Biden from taking office, as majorities in both the House and the Senate would need to support a challenge against a state’s electoral votes. For an objection to be made, at least one member of both the House and Senate would need to submit it in writing. Then, the House and Senate separately convene to consider the issue. Debate is limited to two hours for each objection. After debate concludes, the House and Senate vote to uphold the objection and throw out the state’s votes. If the majority of the House AND the majority of the Senate does not uphold the objection, the state’s electoral votes are counted as cast.
  • Vice President Mike Pence’s role is simply to preside over the joint session, opening and presenting the certifications from each state. In his absence, the Senate pro-tempore Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will lead the session. At the end of the process, the presiding officer announces who has won the majority of votes for president and vice president.
The most immediate danger from Trump and Cruz’s doomed election gambit is rightwing terrorism and general violence: Trump, in particular, is inciting his supporters to swarm D.C. on Jan. 6. “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” Trump tweeted last week. Four rightwing rallies are scheduled, including one headlined by George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone.
The Proud Boys and other extremists are planning to attend the rallies and may set up an “armed encampment” on the National Mall, according to the Washington Post. On social media platform Parler, the leader of the Proud Boys said that members will be there “incognito” and may “dress in all black” to impersonate leftwing protestors.
Enrique Tarrio: "The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist...We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams."
Rep. Louie Gohmert has more explicitly tried to incite violence, saying the failure of his legal challenge to the election means “you gotta go the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM.” (clip)
  • At the same time, pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood suggested that Pence could “face execution by firing squad” for “treason” if he doesn’t go along with the attempt to subvert the election.

Obstructing the transition

Biden’s transition director has accused the Office of Management and Budget of stonewalling the incoming administration’s team. OMB Director Russ Vought is not allowing key staff to meet with the transition team to help prepare the president-elect’s first annual spending plan, a move that could delay major proposals. Vought pushed back on the charges, saying that his agency needs to focus on finalizing the Trump administration’s regulations before the president leaves office.
“OMB leadership’s refusal to fully cooperate impairs our ability to identify opportunities to maximize the relief going out to Americans during the pandemic, and it leaves us in the dark as it relates to Covid-related expenditures and critical gaps,” [Biden transition Exec. Dir. Yohannes] Abraham said.
Earlier last week, Biden himself said Trump officials are not cooperating with his team, singling out the Defense Department for obstructing information on crucial national security issues. “Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas. It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility,” Biden said. The Defense Dept. finally scheduled meetings with the incoming team this week, after not briefing the transition for weeks.
  • The timing of the resumption in meetings is notable because it comes after the one year anniversary of the U.S. assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. NATO officials are reportedly worried about the lack of coordination from the Trump administration: "We need the incoming Biden administration to be fully briefed and ready to deal with these very dangerous issues facing NATO's security."

Sabotaging the Biden Administration

U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack is taking steps to keep control of Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia during the Biden administration. As chairman of the boards of Radio Free Europe and Asia, Pack and his fellow members have added binding contractual agreements that will make it impossible to remove him or other pro-Trump allies from the board in the next two years.
In other words, although President-elect Joe Biden has already signaled he intends to replace Pack as CEO of the parent agency soon after taking office in January, Pack would maintain a significant degree of control over the networks.
The State Department is likely to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism “as an 11th hour effort to create hurdles for the incoming Biden administration.” The label, which requires the approval of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, would undo a major accomplishment of the Obama administration. To take Cuba back off the list, the Biden team would need to conduct a formal review, a process that might take several months.
Such a designation would impose restrictions on US foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, certain controls over exports and various financial restrictions. It would also result in penalization against any persons and countries engaging in certain trade activities with Cuba.
The Trump administration has been rushing to finalize a myriad of rules before Biden’s inauguration. Since Election Day, the Trump administration has issued about three to four times as many new regulations as it did during other periods of Trump’s presidency. Rules that haven’t been finalized or taken effect can be suspended by an incoming president, which Biden has said he intends to do. By contrast, rules that are finalized can take months, or even years, to undo.
“As a general rule, it takes at least as much process to undo or modify a rule as it does to put the rule in place,” said Jonathan H. Adler, a professor and an administrative law expert at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. “The Trump administration is magnifying that challenge for the Biden administration.”
Trump loyalists are urging the president to stymie Biden’s efforts to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham are working to get the agreements submitted to the Senate for ratification, requiring a two-thirds vote, with the goal of failure. While such an outcome wouldn’t prevent Biden from rejoining the accords, Cruz and Graham hope it would make their resurrection more problematic.
A vote against them would signal GOP opposition to the world and, they hope, undermine any unilateral action by Biden to rejoin the agreements. One senior congressional aide told RCP that sending them to die in the Senate “would be the final nail in the coffin.”
Further reading: “Biden To Be Saddled With Trump’s Payroll Tax Deferral Mess,” Forbes.
Further reading: Biden will inherit a backlog of tens of thousands of visa requests from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and a bureaucratic tangle that refugee advocates say President Trump ignored or made worse.

Trump money and properties

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is employing forensic accounting specialists to examine Trump’s finances and business operations. Vance is looking “for anomalies among a variety of property deals” and trying to determine “whether the president’s company manipulated the value of certain assets to obtain favorable interest rates and tax breaks”.
The analysts hired by Vance probably have already reviewed various bank and mortgage records obtained from Trump’s company as part of the ongoing grand jury investigation, and they could be called on to testify about their findings should the district attorney eventually bring criminal charges
In yet another shady business deal connected to Trump, the United States sold the ambassador’s residence in Israel for more than $67 million. The person who bought the residence is none other than Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The property only became available due to Trump's controversial decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Furthermore, State Dept. representatives reportedly lied to Congress about the sale, perhaps to hide that Adelson purposefully overbid.
For now, there is no alternative residence for the ambassador, David Friedman, Trump’s former lawyer, who currently uses a suite at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel or rooms at the former Jerusalem Consulate General when he spends nights in Jerusalem… As a result, the United States appears likely to end up leasing the residence it has owned since 1964 from the GOP-affiliated casino mogul.
“It is very strange that we are now paying Sheldon Adelson,” a congressional aide told The Daily Beast. “It is not above board. We have a number of questions. Did they get two independent appraisals? Was it a sweetheart deal? Was Adelson the highest donor? Was there a reason to sell it now?”
Trump’s businesses have taken in $10.5 million of donor money over the course of his presidency. $8.5 million came from the Trump campaign and related entities that Trump controls directly; $2 million came from other Republican candidates and committees. The biggest beneficiary was Trump’s NYC hotel, taking in $3,039,979 over the four years of his presidency, with $891,003 of that in just the final four months of the campaign.
Trump’s DC hotel is ramping up room prices and requiring a two-night minimum stay for two key events this month, as the president tries to squeeze more profit out of his office. On Jan. 6, when Congress is set to formally count the votes cast by the Electoral College, room rates are listed at over eight times the price of surrounding dates. Trump is encouraging his supporters to attend a protest of Biden’s win on the 6th. A room during the inauguration costs five times the normal rate, at $2,225 per night.
Trump’s Turnberry Resort in Scotland posted a £2.3 million ($3.1 million) loss in 2019, marking the sixth year in a row it has failed to turn a profit under his ownership. Since Trump took over the historic property in 2014, its losses now total nearly £45 million ($61.5 million).
The fact Turnberry remains in the red comes in spite of significant tranches of payments it has received from the US government during Mr Trump’s single term in office… the US Secret Service spent nearly £25,000 to accommodate its agents at the resort during business trips by Mr Trump’s son, Eric, an executive vice-president of the family firm. Since Mr Trump’s election, the property has received close to £300,000 from the Secret Service, US State Department, and US Defence Department
A Florida state lawmaker is calling for Mar-a-Lago to be penalized - and possibly shut down - for flouting coronavirus restrictions during a New Years Eve party. While Trump and the first lady did not attend, son Don Jr., attorney Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Fox News personality Jeanine Piro were captured on video among the maskless crowd. Guests paid as much as $1,000 for access to the ballroom to be entertained by Vanilla Ice.
State Rep. Omari Hardy: “My constituents are not snowbirds like @DonaldJTrumpJr & @kimguilfoyle. My constituents live here. This is their home, and they're going to have to deal w/ the consequences of a potential super-spreader party at Mar-a-Lago long after Junior & wife leave here on their private jet.”
Are you ready for a Donald J. Trump Airport? According to the Daily Beast, Trump has been asking aides about the process of naming airports after former U.S. presidents.
Further reading: “Jared Kushner’s family real estate business wants to raise at least $100 million in capital through Israel’s bond market… Kushner has helped spearhead a series of moves that have been applauded by the conservative pro-Israel community, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognizing Israeli sovereignty in disputed areas such as the Golan Heights. Kushner also has close ties to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Miscellaneous

The Census Bureau missed it’s end-of-year deadline to produce numbers that determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College for the next decade. The agency is working toward Jan. 9 as an internal target date for completing the current stage of processing records. "If we miss Jan. 9, it's hard to envision that we would get apportionment done before inauguration," a Census employee told NPR.
The final timing of the 2020 census results' release could undermine President Trump's efforts to make an unprecedented change to who is counted in key census numbers before leaving office… If the first census results are not ready until after Trump's term ends on Jan. 20, it would be President-elect Joe Biden, not Trump, who would get control of the numbers, which are ultimately handed off to Congress for certification.
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So why the fuck are we opening up bars and restaurants at 50% capacity after "self-certification"? Why the fuck are concert venues, arcades, casinos, and private clubs open at 50% capacity? Why the fuck is retail at 75% capacity? Why are we OPENING UP while our case rate is increasing by an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE?
People are fucking dying! At least 341 people died in Philadelphia in December! Just open us right up, Tom!
Watch this video (graphic). Now imagine this happened in Philadelphia three and a half times in December alone. These people mostly suffocated to death, just like our COVID patients. This is what you're doing to people when you don't wear your mask. When you go to the club. Stay the fuck inside and wait until you can get vaccinated.
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Stokes's Bristol Nightclub incident in detail (From: The Comeback Summer by Geoff Lemon)

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a place where misadventure could begin, you can’t go past Mbargo. The nightclub’s streetfront is painted a purple so bright you’ll see it in your dreams. Strings of giant sequins shimmer in the breeze. Its phonically inventive name is spelt in silver letters that climb its three-storey terrace facade. Inside are strips of burning neon, a few booths, floorboards so marinated in drink that they have an ingredients list. Bristol is a student city on England’s south coast crowded with music and nightlife and street art. This is Banksy’s home town, and the tourism board suggests in rather strong terms that ‘you would be a fool not to see his amazing work firsthand’. The same organisation describes Mbargo as ‘intimate’, which is fair for a place where you can catch an STI standing up. Students cram into its modest dimensions while people with names like DJ Klaud battle for billing with £1.50 drink deals over seven sloppy nights a week. To get a sense of the story about to come, consider that it’s the kind of place open until two o’clock on a Monday morning, and that at two o’clock on a Monday morning, Ben Stokes still thought it had closed too early.
The Ashes of 2017–18 had disciplinary bookends. It was after that series that Australia’s two leaders went off the rails in South Africa. It was a few weeks before that Ashes tour that England’s biggest star windmilled his way into his own disaster.
In the early hours of 25 September 2017, Stokes and teammate Alex Hales were barred from re-entering Mbargo after a night out on the piss. A Sunday thrashing of an abject West Indies in an ignored series at the fag-end of the season apparently required ample celebration. After arguing with the bouncer and hanging about at the door for a while, they wandered off to find a casino in the hope of more drinking. They’d barely made it around the corner before getting in the middle of a conflict between four locals. As is said on the internet, it escalated quickly.
The 26 September reporting was bloodless. Withholding names, police stated that a man ‘was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm’ while another went to hospital with facial injuries. England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss separately confirmed that Stokes was the arrestee, adding that he had been released without charge and that Hales had gamely offered to ‘help police with their enquiries’. Administrators had a good chance of hiding behind that investigation, and the next day Stokes was named in the upcoming Ashes squad as expected. But that night the video emerged.
Bristol student Max Wilson had shot it on his phone, then offered it to The Sun. What he thought was playing hardball was actually lowball: his opening price of £3000 was snapped up by a tabloid that would have paid ten times that. The Sun went on to make a mint by syndicating the rights worldwide. From a window above the fray, the vision showed six men on the street below performing the muddled choreography of a melee. One was right at the centre of it. One was waving a bottle, one dipped in and out, one tried to calm it. Two others floated around the edges. The central figure was unmistakable: red hair burning even in the streetlight as he launched into a series of blows against two of the men, falling to grapple with them on the ground, then following both across the street, swinging punches the whole way. Hales trailed behind, repeatedly and impotently shouting ‘Stokes! Stop! Stokes! Enough!’ The ECB could fudge issues that existed only in thickets of legalese, but not those captured in moving colour. Stokes was stood down from the next West Indies match, then suspended indefinitely. It emerged that he had broken his hand during the fight, something he’d done twice before while punching objects in dressing rooms.
The response in Australia was fierce: Stokes was a thug, a lowlife, a selection that would disgrace England. It was not entirely coincidental that a ban for England’s best player would be handy for the Aussie team, but there was also a cultural split. In England, plenty of people still minimise pub fights as lads letting off steam. In Australia, heavy media coverage as a succession of young men were killed had inverted that tolerance. The discourse now saw any punch as potentially deadly and accordingly reckless. This was more poignant in a cricket context given that David Hookes, the dashing Test batsman and state coach, was killed in 2004 by a pub bouncer’s fist.
The PR situation was bad for Stokes as details emerged of the injuries to the men he’d hit, and that one was a young war veteran and father. Stokes wasn’t officially removed from the Ashes squad through October but stayed behind when his teammates left, hoping for police to dismiss the matter in time for a late dash to Australia. His annual contract was renewed on the due date in case that came to pass. Then 29 October brought a twist in the tale.
‘Ben Stokes praised by gay couple after defending them from homophobic thugs,’ ran the headline. Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell had emerged. Not entirely out of nowhere: while Stokes had made no public comment, this story in his defence had initially been leaked to TV host Piers Morgan after the fight, as soon as the video appeared. Police body-camera footage played in court would later show that Stokes had given the same story to the arresting officer on the night. But no-one knew the identities of the fifth and sixth men in the video, and police appeals had turned up nothing.
It was The Sun again with the breakthrough. Kai and Billy were perfect for a readership not keen on nuance. ‘We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys,’ said Kai, who was memorably described as a ‘former House of Fraser sales assistant’. The paper had the pair do a full photo shoot: layering the fake tan, showing off chest waxes, mixing Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton into a range of outfits. Their best shot had them standing back to back, heads turned to the camera, in a mirror-image Zoolander moment.
Suddenly The Sun was the England team’s best friend. ‘Their claims could lead to the all-rounder being cleared over the punch-up and freed to play in the First Test in Australia next month,’ it gushed, then gave a tasting platter of quotes: ‘We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero.’ ‘If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.’ ‘We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.’ Would it be known forever as Kai and Billy’s Ashes? No. While the Bristol boys provided spin for Stokes’ reputation they didn’t influence the police. With charges still pending there was little choice – not given Strauss had previously sacked Kevin Pietersen for being annoying. Stokes remained suspended through the Ashes and a one-day series in Australia, and lost the vice-captaincy. It was January 2018 before the Crown Prosecution Service laid a charge.
That charge surprisingly came in as affray, a crime that can carry prison time but is classified as ‘a breach of the peace as a result of disorderly conduct’. The men he had punched, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, faced the same count, charged as equal participants in a fight rather than Stokes being charged with assaulting them. Alex Hales was not charged, despite being seen in the video to aim several kicks when Ryan Ali was lying on the ground. Given the underwhelming standing of the offence, Stokes was cleared by the ECB to tour New Zealand, and kept playing until his trial in August 2018, which he missed a Test to attend. None of the three defendants would be convicted.
The reasoning behind the charges was never released and was attributed vaguely to ‘CPS lawyers’. The service gave the case to Alison Morgan, a prosecutor of a class known as Treasury Counsel who usually handle serious criminal matters. Morgan had a scheduling clash and never ended up court for the case, but in 2018 and 2019 she would go on to win damages and admissions of libel from The Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph variously for incorrectly reporting that she had been responsible for the inadequate and inconsistent charging decisions.
Morgan’s successor on the case was Nicholas Corsellis QC, who on the first day of trial was permitted by the CPS to request two assault charges be added against Stokes. ‘Upon further review,’ claimed a CPS statement, ‘we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate.’ This was patent nonsense from the service that eight months earlier had chosen the lesser charge. Any lawyer knows that no judge will allow new charges once a trial has begun, because the defence hasn’t had time to prepare. But such a request could deflect criticism of the prosecution service by technically making the judge the one who disallows the charge.
Working through the story from the trial and the tape is complicated. You had a Ryan and a Ryan, a Hale and a Hales, a Billy and a Barry and a Ben. You had several versions of events as to who knew whom, who was drinking with whom, who had insulted whom and who had merely engaged in ‘banter’, a word that in modern Britain has to do an unconscionable amount of lifting. The reporting had constantly mixed up the Ryans as to who had which injury, who was in hospital, who had played which part in the fight, and whose mum had which stern words to say about it.
Let’s agree that from now Ryan Ali is Ryan One, the firefighter who ended up with a fractured eye socket and a cracked tooth. Ryan Two can be Ryan Hale, the soldier who scored concussion and facial lacerations. Mr Barry and Mr O’Connell are best known per The Sun as Kai and Billy. In scorecard parlance we’ll leave the cricketers as Stokes and Hales.
Amid the confusion, Stokes and his lawyers built his case in a straightforward way. The UK legal definition of affray is ‘if a person threatens or uses unlawful violence or force towards another person, which causes another person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their safety’. That means it doesn’t account for violence that harms a target, but violence that might frighten a theoretical bystander. The wiggle room for Stokes was with ‘unlawful’, because the charge excuses violence in defending oneself or others.
This interpretation hinged on the beginning of the video, where Ryan One waves a beer bottle about and takes a swing at Kai. The version from Stokes was that he was minding his own business walking down the street when he heard homophobic abuse. He intervened verbally and was threatened verbally by Ryan One – something that Ryan One denied but that couldn’t be proved or disproved. In fear for his safety Stokes had to nullify that threat by bashing Ryan One before it went the other way. He registered Ryan Two in his peripheral vision as another possible threat, and again had only one recourse.
Stokes also had to convince the jury to disregard testimony from Mbargo’s bouncer that he had been looking for a fight. A solid lump of a man, Andrew Cunningham had not enjoyed his patron’s attempts to get back into the club after the bouncer declined an offer of a bribe. ‘He got a bit verbally abusive towards myself. He mentioned my gold teeth and he said I looked like a cunt and I replied, “Thank you very much.” He just looked at me and told me my tattoos were shit and to look at my job.’ Cunningham described these words as coming in ‘a spiteful tone, quite an angry tone’, and said that Stokes still seemed angry as he walked away.
These were details the doorman had nothing to gain by inventing, but each of them Stokes denied. By his own accounting he had drunk a beer at the game and three pints at his hotel, then ‘potentially had some Jägerbombs’ along with half a dozen vodkas at the club. He insisted that after all of this he was not drunk.
If I may take a moment here to call upon the wisdom of experience – a person who cannot definitively say whether they have had any Jägerbombs has definitely had some Jägerbombs. A Jägerbomb is an experience that does not pass one by. Further to that, a person who says they have ‘potentially’ done something has definitely done that thing and doesn’t want to admit it. A person who has had between 15 and 24 standard drinks in one evening is shitfaced. A person who tries to bribe a bouncer £300 – three hundred quid! – to get into Mbargo – Mbargo! – is beyond shitfaced.
If Stokes admitted that he was drunk then the prosecution could say he was out of control. He claimed clear recall of assessing a threat, feeling fear and deciding to protect himself with force. He confidently denied details from the bouncer’s testimony, like using the word ‘cunt’ or mentioning gold teeth. Yet on other details he claimed a ‘significant memory blackout’. He didn’t remember the punch that saw Ryan One taken away by ambulance. He didn’t remember what the Ryans had said to Kai and Billy, only that those words were homophobic. With no head injury, as one of the few people who hadn’t been hit, he had supposedly suffered this memory loss despite being sober.
The version from Kai and Billy was compatible but vague: they had been walking along, they ‘heard … shouts’ of abuse from an unspecified source, then Stokes ‘stepped in’ and thus they avoided possible harm. They claimed to have been bought a drink by Stokes at Mbargo, although CCTV showed them meeting outside. The overall implication from both accounts was that the cricketers had been pals with Kai and Billy, while the Ryans as per The Sun’s headline were a roving band of thugs.
The reality though is that the Ryans were the ones hanging out with Kai and Billy at Mbargo. Police discussed CCTV from inside the club in questioning and at trial. On that footage the four Bristolians bought drinks for one another, danced together, and Kai was noted to have variously touched Ryan Two’s crotch and Ryan One’s buttock. Ryan One told police that all of this was taken lightheartedly and wasn’t a problem. Indeed, when the Ryans called it a night the other two left with them.
This much is clear from footage out the front of Mbargo, which shows Kai and Billy exit the club and start talking with a subdued Hales and a demonstrative Stokes, who are stuck outside. The vision was played in court to determine whether Stokes was antagonistic towards Kai and Billy, as he appears to impersonate them and to throw a lit cigarette their way. More interesting is that after a few minutes the Ryans emerge, and all six actors in the fight video briefly form a prequel in the one frame.
Ryan Two pats Billy on the chest in friendly fashion with his right hand before clapping him on the back with his left. He moves past and does the same to Kai before leaving the shot. Ryan One stops to speak to Kai. They lean in for a moment, talking, then Kai turns and they walk out of frame together. Billy hangs around for a few seconds at the door and then looks after them and races to catch up. Stokes and Hales remain outside the club to remonstrate further with the bouncers. Whatever discord develops around the corner is between four men who left amicably together minutes earlier.
There’s no way to know what caused that friction. If Ryan One did use homophobic slurs, he might have been drunkenly obnoxious for no reason. He might have had an insecure macho response to some extra flirtation. He might have thought unkindness was funny – ‘banter’ once again. Or he might have said something that was misunderstood, as both Ryans insisted in court that they had not used nor had the impulse to use any abusive language.
What clearly didn’t happen was an attack by bigots on random passers-by. This kind of crime is regular enough that an audience understands the horror of it, and this is what was evoked by the public accounts of Stokes, Billy and Kai. All we know is that there was some verbal dispute among the Bristol locals, and that Stokes came along behind them and put himself in the middle of it. Ryan One responded to the interference aggressively and away they went. There are plenty of reasons to look sideways at the idea that Stokes was a saviour. Foremost, neither Kai nor Billy was called upon as witnesses in court. You’d think it would be ideal to have Stokes’ story backed up by those who benefited from his selflessness. But his defence team had developed the impression that the pair had shown a changeable recall of events amid a hard-partying lifestyle, and would be dismantled by the prosecution on the stand.
That raises the question of whether The Sun coached their quotes for the 2017 interview. Despite missing court, Kai and Billy clearly enjoyed the attention. In 2018 after the trial they did a follow-up spread in the same paper about how poor Ben had been mistreated. They got a television spot on Good Morning Britain and glowed about his heroism. In 2019 The Sun wheeled them out once more to say that Stokes should get a knighthood. In 2017 they had ‘never watched cricket’ but by 2019 were supposedly volunteering sentences like, ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes.’ Whether they were paid for these appearances is not known, but the chance to be famous for a day can be lure enough.
If you find this cynical, consider that on the night in question, the Bristol boys were so deeply moved and thankful for Ben’s intervention that they left him to be arrested and never attempted to find out who he was. Seconds after the video ended, an off-duty policeman reached the scene. You might think that someone grateful to a saviour would speak on his behalf. Instead, said Kai, ‘it all got a bit scary so we walked off. It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.’ They didn’t give their hero a thought for over a month while police issued multiple appeals for witnesses.
As for Stokes, he told his arresting officer that ‘his friends’ had been attacked. After three minutes of chat outside a nightclub, these friends were so dear to him that he has never contacted them again: not after the newspaper piece, not after the verdict. He didn’t want to see how they were or thank them for their support. He didn’t mention them by name in his solicitor’s statement after the trial.
The Stokes defence rested on Ryan One’s bottle, which he had carried out of Mbargo to finish a beer, not to use in a Sharks versus Jets amateur production. But once he turned it over to hold it by the neck it became a weapon. Intent and interpretation can change the material nature of things. Part of Stokes’ justification in court was that the bottle implied that the two Ryans might have ‘other weapons’ hidden away. You can understand how a jury could decide that created doubt.
Not being convicted, though, doesn’t give the contents of the video a big green tick. It does not, as his lawyer claimed, vindicate Stokes. Looking in detail, Ryan One is belligerent but his movements telegraph a bluff. Hales is the person he’s gesturing at, but they’re several metres apart when Ryan One cocks his arm ostentatiously, showing off the bottle rather than bracing to swing. He skips forward but Hales skips back and Ryan One doesn’t follow. Kai stretches out an arm to impede Ryan One, who has a drunken stumble, nearly eats pavement, then staggers towards Kai and hits him in the back. That hand is still holding the bottle, but his strike is a side-arm cuff on a soft part of the body. It’s all pretty tame.
This is where Stokes gets involved. Having moved across to protect Hales, he now takes three large steps to run around Kai and booms his first punch at Ryan One. They fall to the ground and the bottle clinks away. Stokes gets to his feet to punch down at the fallen man, while Hales arrives to kick him ineffectively then runs off across the street for some unknown reason. Ice-cream van? Stokes is soon back in the grapple having his shirt pulled up to show off his Durham tan. Ryan Two steps in for the first time to pull Stokes away, prompting a couple more random punches at this new target, then Stokes trips backwards over Ryan One and sprawls in the street. Hales chooses this moment to return and aim some solid kicks at the head of the man on the ground. Nothing so far is a triumph of moral philosophy or the pugilistic arts. But if it all stopped here, perhaps you could say it was somewhere approaching fair. Ryan One has behaved like a turnip and it’s not an entirely unjust world that would give him a whack across the chops. The antagonists have disentangled, Stokes has some distance, it’s time to dust off and go home. Ryan Two steps forward for this purpose with his palm raised in conciliatory style and says, ‘Settle down, stop.’
So Stokes punches him.
It’s roughly his fifth punch overall, and he really winds up into this one. He misses so hard that he stumbles away into the shadows of the shop awnings along the road.
Hales starts shouting for him to stop. Ryan Two backs into the street, still holding his palm up. Stokes closes on him from about five metres away, six large steps, to where Ryan Two is standing on his own. Stokes pushes him a couple of times, as Ryan Two keeps trying to placate him and saying ‘Stop.’ Stokes throws his sixth punch, largely missing as his target ducks.
Ryan Two keeps pulling away and reversing, into the middle of the street now. Stokes follows him, grabbing his sleeve to drag him back. By this point Ryan One has found his feet and walked around behind his friend. Both of them are in the same line of sight for Stokes, and both are backing away. Stokes aims his seventh and his eighth punches, which Ryan Two tries to deflect, as Hales walks up behind Stokes to grab him.
Stokes yanks away from his friend and switches to Ryan One instead, taking seven paces to grab him before throwing his ninth punch of the night. He grabs again; Ryan One blocks that arm and pushes himself back away from Stokes. Ryan Two again intercedes, putting himself between the two with his palms up and his arm extended.
Stokes throws his tenth punch, a right-hander at the face of Ryan Two, then shoves him backwards. Ryan Two backs away once more, four paces. Stokes follows, steadies, lines up, then launches his strongest punch yet, his eleventh, a proper right hook from a solid base, one that cracks across the man’s head and gives him concussion. Ryan Two ends up flat on his back in the middle of the street, his hands still outstretched for a moment in useless protest until they twitch and drop to the blacktop.
Stokes isn’t done. He once more shoves away the restraining Hales and follows Ryan One, who keeps backing away saying, ‘Alright, alright, alright.’ Five more paces from Stokes before another blow at the man’s head. Kai and Billy are now standing over the poleaxed Ryan Two. The video ends, but seconds later Stokes will punch Ryan One hard enough to knock him out too, before off-duty cop Andrew Spure arrives on the scene to bring down the curtain. When the body-camera footage kicks in some minutes later, Stokes is in handcuffs but Ryan One is still laid out in the street. Ryan Two has regained consciousness, folded his shirt under his friend’s head and is asking police for an ambulance.
‘At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others.’ This was how Stokes described that sequence to the court. An elite athlete with years of gym work and training to snap a bat through the line of a ball with astounding power and precision, swinging fists as hard as he can at men with none of those advantages. Punching so hard that he breaks his hand, and repeatedly shoving away a friend so he can punch some more. Frightened and threatened by two targets shouting ‘Get back!’ and ‘Stop!’
The off-duty officer testified that Stokes ‘seemed to be the main aggressor or was progressing forward trying to get to’ Ryan One, who was ‘trying to back away or get away from the situation’. The student who filmed the video can be heard on the tape at one stage exclaiming ‘Fuck!’ and testified that it was because ‘I felt a little bit sorry about the lad that had been punched and it looked like he had his hands up’. That tallied with the prosecutor’s depiction of ‘a sustained episode of significant violence that left onlookers shocked at what was taking place’.
The defendant stuck to his strategy. ‘No, my sole focus was to protect myself.’ All up, in the 33 seconds of footage after he falls over, Stokes takes 35 steps forward to keep hitting two men who keep trying to get away. Not once is he hit back.
After the verdict, Stokes’ solicitor positioned him as the victim. It had been ‘an eleven-month ordeal for Ben … The jury’s decision fairly reflects the truth of what happened that night … He was minding his own business … It was only when others came under threat that Ben became physically engaged. The steps that he took were solely aimed at ensuring the safety of himself and the others present …’ The statement was impossibly self-righteous and self-absorbed.
If there was anyone to feel sorry for it was Ryan Hale, the second of our two Ryans. He’s the one who emerged from the club with a friendly arm around the shoulder for Kai and Billy. He’s the one who interposed himself to end the fight, then kept putting himself back in the firing line, trying to calm an intimidating stranger while dodging blows. For his show of restraint he got laid out regardless, concussed in the street, then was issued a criminal charge equal to that of the man who hit him, and described in national media as a violent bigot in an untested story to support that man’s defence.
Lawyers for Ryan Two made a more convincing post-trial statement, noting that Kai and Billy, ‘neither of whom were relied upon by the prosecution or the defence team for Mr Stokes, have taken the opportunity to speak with various media outlets about the alleged homophobic abuse that they received in the early hours of September 25. Mr Hale has passionately denied this allegation throughout the course of this case,’ it continued.
‘It is upsetting to Mr Hale that although he was acquitted, the accusation that he was the author of such abuse remains. Both Mr Hale and Mr Ali were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes, and although Mr Stokes has been acquitted of an affray, Mr Hale struggles with the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service did not treat him as a victim of an unlawful assault.’Good question. Avon and Somerset police were the investigating force, and they were frustrated by the decision. Ryan Two was filmed clearly not hurting anyone, but police were instructed by the CPS to proceed with a charge. Hales (the cricketer) was filmed fighting but ‘a decision was made at a senior level of the CPS’ not to proceed. Police expected Stokes to be charged with assault but the CPS declined. It doesn’t take a wild cynic to think that placing the same lukewarm charge on three men for vastly divergent behaviour might ensure that none would be convicted, even as the trial would maintain the pretence that a defendant of influential standing had not been given a free pass.
A couple of years down the line, the original interview with Kai and Billy has disappeared. All traces have been scrubbed from The Sun website, its social media history, and even from the Wayback Machine internet archive. Given its headline of ‘homophobic thugs’ and text that names Ryan Two but not Ryan One, the libel liability isn’t hard to spot. Later interviews with Kai and Billy take the passive voice – they ‘suffered homophobic slurs outside a Bristol nightclub’.
The article that was once claimed to exonerate brave Ben Stokes now links only to a missing content page, with a picture of a dropped ice-cream cone and the phrase ‘legal removal’ inserted into the web URL. In terms of consequences, Stokes missed one tour. When he resumed his career in January 2018, the Australians hadn’t yet ruined theirs. Their year-long bans looked much more stringent. But the Stokes case dragged on in other ways. With no criminal liability, the Australians confessed promptly enough for the sporting world to give them the full length of the lash. Their situation was ugly but there was closure. Stokes got stuck in legal stasis, unable to be fully backed or condemned. Instead his issue was always present, a browser full of open tabs that the ECB swore they would read any day now.
Through 2018 Stokes was back but he wasn’t back, in the sunglasses and finger-guns sense. In his return one-day series he nearly cost England a match with 39 from 73 balls in Wellington. His first Test hit was a duck as England got rolled in Auckland for 58. At Trent Bridge while Stokes was injured, England posted a world record 481 against Australia. With Stokes three weeks later at the same ground they made 268. He crawled to 50 from 103, the second-slowest any Englishman had reached that milestone in 20 years. That span covered Alastair Cook’s whole career. It was apologetic batting, acting out responsibility via the scorecard. Stokes was creeping back into the team like he’d been kicked out in a blazing row and was hoping to tip-toe to the sofa.
It was December 2018 before the ECB disciplinary committee ruled on him and Hales. In a ‘remarkable coincidence’, wrote Simon Heffer in The Telegraph, ‘the punishment both players faced in terms of bans from playing at international level was covered by the amount of games they had already missed when dropped by England’s selectors, in the furore that followed the incident’. The verdict compounded the omissions around the case by not addressing the violence at its heart. Nor did Stokes, apologising only ‘to my team-mates, coaches and support staff’, and then ‘to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game into disrepute’.
The implicit next step was to rebuild that reputation. It might have been easier had his court defence not meant that he wasn’t game to admit any fault at all. It might have been easier if he or his advisers had been willing to change tack once the trial was done. Imagine a world where Stokes had stood outside court and apologised for overreacting, for the injuries he’d caused, and for the time and energy he had sucked out of other people’s lives. That would have been a show of responsibility beyond a scorecard. When the time came around to assess forgiveness, it might have meant forgiveness was deserved.
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Album Of The Year #15: Joji - Nectar

Artist: Joji
Album: Nectar
Label: 88Rising
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Listen:
Spotify
Apple Music
YouTube Music
Deezer
Soundcloud
Background
Not many artists have had a come-up as interesting and eccentric as George Kusunoki Miller, a former YouTube comedian/edgelord turned moody R&B singer. George first got his taste of internet fame as FilthyFrank, a character he described as everything a person should not be, he played the notorious persona on YouTube for over 6 years and eventually had to retire it due to him losing passion for it and suffering from stress induced seizures, which playing the character often caused.
Throughout his time as FilthyFrank however he began experimenting with music, mostly of the satirical kind at the start, his first tracks were under the FilthyFrank persona, the first one being Who's The Sucker, a dumb track where he somehow manages to rhyme "nicer" with "vagina", go figure.
A few years later, alongside the satirical rap, Joji began to make what he would consider as serious music, and this is where the timeline gets a bit messy, as he put out multiple tracks under multiple different aliases and the lines got blurred pretty fast, so I won't focus on aliases too much, but rather on the music he put out, around this era he released the therapeutical Medicine, the slow and melancholy We Fall Again, and Dumplings, which was Joji's best attempt at a trap banger.
In 2015, he birthed the Joji alias, released two singles on Soundcloud under that name, and announced a project called Chloe Burbank Vol. 1, the project was later scrapped and is probably sitting on Joji's hard drive, unfinished, however, the two singles he put out, thom and you suck charlie, were the tracks that put him in the spotlight, not to mention that to this day, there are some of his fans that believe these 2 tracks are his best and will not be topped, but that's a discussion for another day.
Following the overwhelmingly positive reception, Joji began to put out more tracks and singles, both under the aforementioned alias and Pink Guy, which was a character that blossomed into a satirical rap project, but I won't be covering that too much, and will focus on what he did as Joji instead, most tracks Joji put out were met with positive reception, some of the tracks, such as worldstar money, ended up on his debut EP as well.
Sometime around early 2016, Joji ended up signing with 88rising, a label focused on building the bridge between east and west, he explained in an interview that he was initially a consultant for the duo behind the record label, however, once the duo noticed his music and how well it was received, they asked him to jump on board and he instantly took the chance, getting signed alongside the likes of Rich Brian and Higher Brothers.
The label immediately undertook Joji and began distributing his catalog on their YouTube channel and helped him release more music, which was a couple of singles in the earlier half of 2017, and his debut EP in the latter half, the EP, known as "In Tongues", was met with mixed reception from fans and critics alike, with some describing it as his most concise body of work so far that is oozing potential, and others describing it as a bleak project that fails to set Joji apart from the sea of artists on the same wavelength as himself.
Following the release of the EP, Joji began working on his debut album, known as BALLADS 1, the album's first single, YEAH RIGHT, was released on the 8th of May, the track was first believed to be a standalone loosie as it was released 5 months before the album itself, however it ended up being on the album and was confirmed as the one of the singles alongside SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK, CAN'T GET OVER YOU, which features a production credit from non other than Clams Casino, and TEST DRIVE.
The album was well received, and was praised for containing a wider variety of sounds than its predecessor, it felt like a natural progression for Joji's sound and was a step forward towards a more mainstream approach whilst not sacrificing any of the rawness that Joji's older stuff had, which seemed to be what most fans were expecting from him.
Moving forward Joji stayed mostly silent throughout 2019, appearing on the second 88Rising collaboration album, which was negatively received due to it's lack of creativity and sub-par performances from most label signees, he also appeared on Rich Brian's sophomore album, The Sailor, and released which is now known to be as the first single from Nectar, Sanctuary, a synth based poppy track that previewed a vocally improved and more confident version of Joji.
What was assumed to be a loosie turned out to be the beginning of an album rollout, as half a year later Joji released Run, setting a new standard for himself both instrumentally and vocally, and a couple of months later he released Gimme Love, a double sided track with a fun, catchy beginning and a melancholy ballad driven ending, the last single, Daylight, was released on the 8th of August, the instrumental was produced by Diplo and the track itself sounded like Joji's attempt to break into the mainstream.
Without warning, he also released two tracks that he classified as "NOT SONG", the first being Pretty Boy, which actually ended up on the album with a Lil Yachty feature, and the second being FTC, which sadly did not end up on the album, both tracks had videos and it seemed to me at first that the purpose of both tracks was to serve the lore that Joji has built around the album, which I will be touching up on in this write-up.
A day before the album's release, he put out Gimme Cum, an enigmatic track with a mysterious message.
Nectar itself was pushed back from it's original July release date due to the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, the album however was released on the 25th of September.
Album Lore
If there's one thing George is no stranger to, it would definitely be worldbuilding, as he has proven time and time again that he has a knack for it, especially with his FilthyFrank YouTube channel, where he managed to create characters, locations, and an entire universe out of a few satirical characters, his lore was adored by many and even though visually he never wrapped up the story he did release a book that served as closure for the FilthyFrank lore.
This album's lore is not as straight forward however, and there are multiple theories doing the rounds on the internet, personally I will go by what sounded most convincing to me in terms of timeline and storyline, however do feel free to expand on what I've said or correct me, George has left multiple things left open to interpretation therefore I would not be surprised if there were multiple different meanings to the same thing.
Our story begins in the music video for Gimme Love, where we see a young Joji who appears to be a small time engineer that is eager to climb through the ranks of the company he is working for, as he rises however he appears to become more stressed out and agitated at all times, lashing out at his coworkers and breaking down consistently, throughout the music video we can see that the more he progresses, the more roadblocks he runs into, which causes his behavior to become more psychotic and manic, as the shots move forward we see him accept awards, lead his very own research team, run failed experiments on his coworkers that causes them to bleed, and eventually receive military covert status, which did not come without sacrifices, as we see him smile less and less throughout the video.
In the second half of the video, we see Joji steal the rocket he helped build by locking out his crew members, and launch himself into space, disappointing everyone he worked with and stabbing them in the back he appears to be quite happy however, eventually his mood flips as he is faced with two choices, engage or eject, the following shot does not allow us to see which one he picked as we are facing his back, all we see is Joji making the choice and gearing up for what's to come.
The lines get blurred around this spot and many people have different theories as to which video is the right one chronologically, personally I believe Daylight comes next, and my theory is Joji is having some sort of fever dream featuring his previous coworkers, most notably the older people who went through layers of plastic surgery, who appear in the music video for FTC, where they are seen wearing badges that features the same organization Joji worked for, throughout the video they are seen rummaging through the wreckage caused by Joji, clearly looking for something specific, which ends up being the award Joji won.
Back to Daylight, Joji appears to be some sort of intern working for the director and the actors, towards the end of the music video we can see Joji waking up from the aforementioned fever dream, clearly in a daze, as the shot widens we see that he is alone, in a barren wasteland, with nothing around him except for a tent and what appears to be a device used for communication, he plants a few seeds in the soil and sits by the device, hoping for a sign of life.
Next comes Run, where we are once again met with Joji having a nightmare, the entire video symbolizes being trapped in a place you don't want to be in, as Joji appears to be in a never ending limousine with people he has no interest in whatsoever, towards the end of the nightmare we actually see Joji running across a massive wasteland, the same wasteland we saw him in at the end of the Daylight music video, throughout the video, we see Joji become consumed by the soil itself, which I would assume is a representation of his fears back then, seeing as he was alone and had little to no hope of being saved whatsoever.
Joji wakes up from this nightmare and appears to be in some kind of spaceship, if the videos were released chronologically, we would be completely lost at this point, lucky for us, we already know what the spaceship is, as we see a picture of the Sanctuary crew in the final shots of the Run music video, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that the crew is the ones that saved him from death and picked him up from the mess that he placed himself in, hence the name Sanctuary, which means refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger
The crew itself is seen in action in the music video for Sanctuary, where Joji appears to be fighting and defeating some sort of one-eyed alien supervillain at the start, however, once he is defeated, both Joji and the crew themselves become aimless, as they are living monotonously without a goal, thankfully(???), one of the crew members sees this and decides to take matters into his own hands, by surgically removing his own eye, which portrays his transformation into the new supervillain, and following this up by killing a crewmember and escaping on his own, once again giving the spaceship it's own purpose.
Unfortunately the music videos that were put out after the release of the album appear to be too subtle for me to think they are connected in any way, shape or form, there are many theories of course but I can't help but feel like that most of them are a reach.
The most plausible explanation for this lore that I can think of is that the whole escaping from earth on his own, landing in a barren wasteland, trying to plant seeds in it, and eventually being picked up by a group(88Rising, wink wink) is a metaphor for his transition from FilthyFrank to Joji, the barren wasteland stands for how hopeless he felt at the time and the seeds symbolize the loosies he was slowly dropping before ditching his channel to become an R&B superstar, which if true, solidifies the idea that George was done with FilthyFrank long before he actually left the channel itself.
Regardless, I thought the lore was very enjoyable and it was nice to see Joji back in one of his elements at least, most fans would have been disappointed in me if I had not touched up on it a bit seeing as it was a huge part of the albums release and they are intertwined in some sort of way.
Review
When it's lovely I believe in anything What does love mean When the end is rolling in
  • Ew
It is important for me to preface this review with the fact that this Joji album is not like anything we've ever heard from him before, this is not the one man army, garageband using, sample meshing Joji that we knew in the past, this is Joji with an entire team behind his artistic vision, a whole group of people working with him to help him push his sound to the next level, and unfortunately, while the quality of the music has clearly went up, when so many people have their own input on something eventually the lines get blurred and the album loses its artistic direction and cohesion, which is one of my only complaints with this album, and I'm glad I got it out of the way first.
Artistic direction and cohesion aside, this album contains some of Joji's highest highs to date, especially the singles, that's not to say that there aren't some deep cuts on here that shine as well, but once you listen to the album in it's entirety you quickly understand why the singles were chosen as singles, especially when you consider how sonically different they are from the non-singles.
Sanctuary, the album's first single, is a sweet, poppy and synthy track that features a high pitched and melodic Joji, some of the track's lyrics are somewhat abstract but they are quite visually descriptive and that's always a plus in my book, the instrumental itself is quite spacey and has a nice retro vibe to it, already a huge step forward from what we've already heard from George, the track's climax reaches towards the end and gives us a beautiful bridge,with Joji crooning about wanting to be held by a significant other.
I fell for your magic, I tasted your skin And though this is tragic, at least I found the end I witnessed your madness, you shed light on my sins And if we share in this sadness, then where have you been?
  • Run
Run is one of the more cinematic cuts on this album, the track is truly a double edged sword because although it's one of Joji's best, it has set an extremely high standard for both Joji and the album, leaving fans such as myself worried about whether or not he will ever reach a similar high, the production is clean, Joji's vocal lines are as dynamic as ever, the guitar melody is infectious, the lyrics are better than anything Joji has ever written and he is putting his heart and soul into every word, the electric guitar solo at the end is also something worth mentioning, which sits perfectly right in front of Joji's distant and wide vocals, ending the track on a strong note.
Look into your heart and let me know Do things turn black and gray as they go? When I'm far too gone, can you show me love? Give me love
  • Gimme Love
The lyrics above come from the album's third single, a 2 sided track that starts as a bouncy, percussive, fast paced, and catchy song, with Joji chanting and pleading to be given love, softly singing about being surrounded by apathetic people, after the second chorus the entire song comes to a halt in order to make room for a mellow guitar and Joji's harmonies, which are absolutely stunning if I may add, the track, much like many other tracks on here, ends on a cinematic strong note with a string section and a grandiose piano.
The final single, Daylight, is no doubt unexplored territory for Joji, the instrumental, which was produced by Diplo, starts off slow and minimalistic, with a simple yet groovy bassline, and reaches its apex on the chorus, when it suddenly becomes extremely lush, heavy, and thick, the track is most definitely a solid attempt at modern day and mainstream pop music, clearly made with the intention of receiving radio play.
All of the singles show up in the first leg of the album, which is absolutely phenomenal, the opener track, Ew, starts off light and easy, with a somber and distant arpeggiated piano backed with Joji's soft vocals, who's singing about heartbreak and the loss of many relationships, sounding as bitter as ever lyrically, the chorus includes a grand string section and a chord progression that is fully panned to the right and sitting all the way behind the mix, and surprise surprise, the track itself ends on a cinematic strong note, much like many of the other tracks on here.
I've got no aim, a million rounds, is nothing real? A hundred pounds of heavy steel, it feels so loud Tied to my chest, it feels so loud I'll take a peek to across the peaks This grass is neat and I'm quite unique But I'd like to be, but I'd like to be
  • MODUS
Up next comes MODUS, a moody track that has an intro similar to the opener track but later on has Joji melodic rapping to a murky trap instrumental, with Joji of course sounding better than ever, lyrically speaking, many of the themes on this album are similar, Joji is mostly singing about relationships, heartbreak, and the need for a significant other, the lyrics themselves give the album a nocturnal, bitter, hopeless vibe, which is what we've come to expect from Joji's music nowadays.
The third track, Tick Tock, is a plucky banger of an instrumental that has Joji rapping over it with pitched up vocals on the chorus which is something that's a little bit reminiscent of his older, more amateur work, the vocal layering on the verse is also something worth mentioning, really showcases Joji's dynamic range and how much he improved as a whole, the track is nothing groundbreaking in terms of what we've heard so far and remains lowkey for the most part but is without a doubt one of my favorites on this project.
On Nectar, one of the yet-to-be-announced tracks was produced when the artist was only sixteen years old. “I’m excited to see if it sticks out or not to the listeners.” he reveals.
  • Joji Interview with Schön! Magazine.
While not officially announced by Joji himself, it is safe to say that Upgrade is the aforementioned track, a small interlude that seats itself in the earlier part of the album, the track starts with a grandiose piano, which is quite unnecessary if you ask me, because once we have it out of the way all we get is a very obviously barebones instrumental made from a different time, the telltale sign being non other than the ukulele that we have seen in George's earlier work.
It upsets me that Joji has not made this fact much more known because this track has been consistently the subject of criticism by critics and fans alike, but at the same time I understand, because at the end of the day George left that track in there for the die hard fans, not the critics.
Up until this point there is no doubt that Joji has played it safe, sure the album is much more grand and cinematic than its predecessor, but there's no denying that the signature sound is still there, we still get the hazy and moody slow bangers, if Nectar was only the first half then Joji might have had a strong album in his catalog, maybe even a classic, but I understand him wanting to expand and experiment with other sounds in order to grow as an artist.
The midsection gets a little bit tricky, as Joji begins to get out of his comfort zone and the album features start appearing, to me it sounds like Joji did not know how he could keep the listener interested in the second half of this album and decided to opt in for a bunch of features as a quick fix, some work out fine, some better than others.
Handsome young man, never pull up on time Lookin' in the mirror, lookin' good should be a crime, crime All this pain I'll never let show (No) My real thoughts, you'll never know (No)
  • Lil Yachty on Pretty Boy
I never really listened to Lil Yachty that much aside from the obvious hits he had over the course of his career, but he clearly shined on this track as the feature, for starters, the track is very light-hearted, definitely one of the more lofi tracks on this album, the highlight for me without a doubt is the bridge, which sounds like something straight out of Pink Season, George was clearly having genuine fun with it, some even speculate that most of the bridge was made using samples from his earlier work as Pink Guy.
High Hopes, which features Omar Apollo, is one of the more lowkey cuts in here as well, the percussion on the instrumental and the detuned guitar on here remind me of some of Joji's stuff from BALLADS 1, unfortunately however the track doesn't stand out much, at least not as much as Afterthought with BENEE, another track where Joji's melodies and vocals shine through once again, and BENEE's feature definitely adds some character to the track, at least enough to the point where the feature made some sense
On Normal People, Joji recruits childhood friend rei brown, in an attempt to capture lightning again after their first collaboration, Once In A While. Unfortunately lightning didn't strike twice here for me and the track felt quite lackluster and uninteresting, especially for such an anticipated track and when compared to their first song, many of the tracks and collaborations on the second part of the album really felt like Joji just trying to recapture the magic of his earlier work, and while some of those attempts did work at the end of the day it does feel like a cheap cop out.
Oh, understand, girl, I'm out of sight To the other side, I don't want no stripes Got my insides loud like motorcycles Girl, don't notice it, I don't notice it
  • NITROUS
Another example of Joji attempting to recapture magic is NITROUS, which marks Joji's second time collaborating with Clams Casino, the track is very reminiscent of their first track together, both Joji and Clams Casino however killed it, the track's instrumental is very murky and nocturnal, much alike most of the album, but that doesn't stop Joji's delivery, which is very fun-loving and upbeat.
By the way you move, I know you want me to Tell you all the rules, I know I'm searching too Give me all your clues and things to guide me through The end of the world, the end of the world
  • Mr. Hollywood
Produced by the one and only Kenneth Instrumentals, Mr. Hollywood is one of the more heartfelt and personal tracks on this album, Joji is singing about his evergrowing popularity and how it will never affect what is important for him, which in this case is the girl he's singing about, like many other tracks on this album, you will often hear something that will remind you of Joji's older work, in this case it is the ad-libs on the chorus, which are very reminiscent of his ad-libs on BESIDJU, regardless the song has at least a bit of substance which makes it one of the more commendable tracks.
The final run of this album is where Joji flips the script here, there are a few tracks that have questionable artistic decisions, such as Reanimator, with non other than Yves Tumor, the track serves as an instrumental interlude before the final two tracks, however with a feature such as Yves Tumor I honestly expected much more than what we got, and what we got is basically a 3 minute track, with the first minute and a half being nothing than a drone-y, synthy instrumental, and the second half being quite a lackluster performance by Joji and his guest, much like some of the other tracks on the album, it seems like it received a similar treatment, where the track was initially unfinished and still half-baked, and rather than attempting to finish the track they opted for an easy way out, which in this case was making more than half of the track an instrumental and then calling it an interlude just to be safe.
"that weeknd synthpop track sure is doing huge numbers, maybe i should also make a synthpop track as well"
  • Joji, probably.
I would be down to argue that if Blinding Lights by The Weeknd had not existed, 777 wouldn't have existed either, Joji's constant attempts at breaking into the mainstream and commercializing his sound have always left a bad taste in my mouth as it felt like it came from a place where authenticity is lacking, nevertheless I find it bizarre to make a track that is very similar to one of the most successful tracks of the year and not attempt to push it at all, that's not to say that 777 on it's own is not a good track, however there's no denying that the sound selection on the instrumental, some of the flows, and the chorus itself hold blaring similarities to The Weeknd's track, I understand why he would make such a track however and find it admirable at the very least.
Thankfully, the album ends on a strong note, the final two tracks are both beautiful even though they're worlds apart, Like You Do, is a quintessential love ballad from Joji, a stripped down instrumental with beautiful piano chords and a laid back vibe, Joji is singing about his current partner and how what they have might not work out, even though he feels like they're perfect for one another, the closing track, Your Man is a massive change in tempo, with an upbeat, electronic, deep house-esque instrumental, we hear a Joji that is optimistic, which is a nice change of pace, especially considering how bitter most of his albums and projects have been up to date.
Since I met you All the gloomy days just seem to shine a little more brightly Consider what we've got 'Cause I can never take you for granted
  • Like You Do
Conclusion
There's no denying that some tracks on here sound like a bastardized version of Joji's signature sound. Joji is trying his best to commercialize his sound without sacrificing the rawer elements of it, which unfortunately results in a jumble of sounds. This album is not free of criticisms as there are many issues in here that need to be worked on, it's much less cohesive than its predecessor and at times sounds like a bunch of rough ideas put together in order to create the world's most average musical equivalent of a photo collage, but if we were to just set all of that aside and just look at this album for what it is, then there's definitely something in here for everyone. George might have not made a classic, and he certainly hasn't found his sound yet, but this album is an indicator that he's on to something, and once again I am already anxious to hear what he has in store next.
Talking Points
  • What did you think of this album? Is it a good follow-up to BALLADS 1?
  • Do you think Joji works better alone or when he has a team behind him?
  • Do you think Joji will yet again set another high standard for himself next project?
  • What are your predictions for Joji's sound in the future?
  • Now that he's more keen on having features, who do you think would compliment Joji's sound the most?
  • Favorite tracks?
submitted by Blocked99 to hiphopheads [link] [comments]

[TOMT] It was a free music video you could've downloaded on the XBOX 360 and it took place in a Casino or in Las Vegas.

It was a rock-ish song. It had to have been around the earlier years of the XBOX 360. When they first started adding music to it. It was like pop punk or emo I'm not too good with genres but it def wasn't classic.
submitted by G13G13 to tipofmytongue [link] [comments]

Before you spend money on this game, consider this.

I've been seeing a lot of posts where people are upset or complaining that they didn't get anything after spending "x" amount of money.
I just want to put my two cents in there since this is how I look at the game. Before spending any money on primogems, consider these things:

"If I get this character with $x, is it even worth $x?"

You're essentially paying to play with a character. Except in this case, paying for a chance to play with that character. What about the people who have spent thousands on this game? After getting Diluc or Mona for $3,000, was it worth it?
Think of all the things you could buy with that money. A Nintendo Switch costs $300. A game costs up to $60, and you know what you're getting. Rent money is $1,000-$3,000. The list goes on.

You're never guaranteed anything.

The ONLY exception to this is pity rolls. The maximum you'd need to spend is 28,800 primogems (around $400+) to guarantee getting the featured character on the banner. This is assuming that you didn't get any 5-stars before hitting the pity the first time, your first pity wasn't the featured character, and you hit the pity a second time to guarantee them.
Is any single character worth $400?
Other than the featured character, it can be REALLY difficult to pull any other character. You want Diluc? If you roll on the featured banner, its 50% chance you'll get the featured character. That means 50% chance you'll get a different 5-star. Since there are five 5-stars at this moment (not counting the featured), you have a 1/10 chance of pulling Diluc when you get a 5-star from this banner. On top of that, it's a 0.6% chance that you'll even pull a 5-star to begin with. As for the standard banner? The chance is even smaller with all the weapons thrown in.
To those complaining that they spent $100, $500, $1000 and didn't get what they wanted, you were never guaranteed it to begin with. It's all RNG, you aren't owed anything because you spent money on the game.

There will always be a new character that you'll want.

So you spent $400 on getting Venti. You needed him, he's your favorite character right? Of course you had to spend for him, he's the best character you've ever seen and you couldn't enjoy this game without him.
A few months later, a new character is released and you're in awe. Their skills...their looks....their element...you NEED them.
Well, that's another $400 you'd have to shill out to guarantee them. What's that? You only want to use them if you have their first constellation? Well better get that credit card out again, looks like you'll need to pull some dupes.
This is a never-ending cycle. I've run into this feeling countless times in video games. The new shiny thing will always be tempting you.
Not to mention power creep. New characters are often made to be better than older ones. As the game progresses, people who don't have newer characters are often at a disadvantage (mainly with DPS). In a gacha game like Genshin, it would be very expensive to keep up with this if power creep occurs within this game in the future. It's best to make the most of what you have.

Gacha = Gambling

When you go to a casino, do you walk in expecting to win millions? The odds are never in your favor when gambling. Rates are low for a reason. If everyone could spend $50 and get the exact characters they wanted every time, Miyoho wouldn't be making as much money as they are.
Gacha games have always been about gambling for characters. As stated previously, you're neverarely guaranteed anything, and by the time you've gotten what you wanted (unless extremely lucky), the company has already gotten what they wanted.

Don't be blinded by sunk-cost.

Sunk-cost is the idea that you've already put so much into something, and it'll go to waste unless you continue putting resources into it to get it. Do not be blinded by this when doing gachas.
Say you spent $100 and didn't get Qiqi. You've already put so much into the game, and not getting her would mean your money went to waste right? What if it would take another $1,000 to get her. Would that be worth it? It's best to cut your losses and walk away. Thinking about the sunk cost of something is what gives many people difficulty walking away, and causes them to over-spend.

Your party has limited space.

Yes, I know abyss is the exception. But overall the majority of the game only allows 4 characters at a time. You can't play with them all. It feels real bad to put a character you spent a lot of money on aside because they don't fit your current comp anymore.
-------
This comes from someone who is largely free-to-play in games like this. The only gacha game I've ever spent money on was Love Live a few years ago. I spent $125 and never got a single ultra-rare with my pulls. From that I realized what I was doing. Even if I could afford putting $30 per 10-pull, was the card I was going to get really worth that? No.
I learned from that experience and see gacha games for what they are.

Glorified gambling.

PS: If you are aware of all this and still want to spend $$/disposable income on primogems, by all means go ahead. But for many people it's easy to lose sight of what they're really paying for. I hope this is helpful in some way.
Feel free to disagree with any of this, but this is my perspective on the game and I get really sad seeing so many posts on the subreddit about how depressed people are after spending and not getting anything, and feeling entitled to it.
TL;DR: It's easy to sink lots of money into this game if you don't recognize you're gambling and never guaranteed anything. This is a warning post, not a criticism of anyone.

EDIT: As reddit user u/zapzya summarized: "...not everyone actually has the financial stability to invest in such a product, yet will do so anyway because they are not particularly knowledgeable in gambling mechanics or because shady tactics like the currency change ($$ genesis crystals primogems fates) actually work."
submitted by appleminte to Genshin_Impact [link] [comments]

What would you guys like to see translated/subtitled next?

I’m that one subtitle guy, and I couldn’t decide which one to do next. I have to focus on work and projects this month, and with my uni resuming soon, I won’t be able to do another one for a while after this.
  1. Jjonak and Anamo duo for New Years
  2. Jjonak, Carpe, Fury, and Profit play “random knowledge battle” with Twitch chat
  3. Jjonak gets paid if Profit gets POTG
Also someone asked me why I kept doing Jjonak videos a while ago. This is because he’s one of the most “fun” personalities that plays with other pros often, instead of only trying to grind rank like basically every other popular Korean pro. And since you can already see their talent in OWL, I want to focus on their more personal side which gets overshadowed often due to language barrier.
Since this isn’t the only community I post in, it’s a bit hard to see the past subtitled videos via my profile, so I made a subreddit CasinoAnte to archive them. Feel free to join (you won’t be able to post tho)
Lastly, I want to thank everyone for the kind and supportive comments on the subtitle videos, it was an amazing experience, and I’m happy that a lot of you got to know more about my favourite players :)
(Sorry if this kind of post isn’t allowed, but since this is going to be the last for a bit, I wanted to make it what people wanted to see the most. Feel free to remove it if it goes against rules.)
submitted by RBC_Ante to Competitiveoverwatch [link] [comments]

Looking back on a year of Nano development - Presented by NanoLinks

I think this list speaks for itself. Thank you for this year Nano community and see you in 2021 for even more fun! We are only getting started 🚀


u/iB0mmel
submitted by Joohansson to nanocurrency [link] [comments]

The Sages! Just a place to hang out and make friends with a slight RPG twist. We have SlotBot, Casino Bot, Pokecord, Tatsubot, Miki, Rhythm, and a hell of a lot more! Feel free to listen to music, vent, play video games, roleplay, or simply chat. Up to you.

submitted by xNintenx to discordservers [link] [comments]

Free slots & Video poker & Casino table games

How i can be visible in google ?
submitted by xgarmon2011 to u/xgarmon2011 [link] [comments]

Free Slots & Video Poker & Casino Table Games

Free Slots & Video Poker & Casino Table Games submitted by xgarmon2011 to u/xgarmon2011 [link] [comments]

Unleashed pt. 47

This chapter was a labour of love, heists are hard. Big thanks to u/eruwenn for helping tidy up this bag of snakes.
First / Prev / Next
 
 
“Ranjaz K’Lua, you thieving scumbag!” the Kah’Ree in the purple suit exclaimed loudly as he spotted them across the busy room. “As I live and skral, I never thought you would have the Jolos show your face here again!”
Two J’Rami in suits detached themselves from the lobby wall, walking towards the Kittran and his friends. “Alfor, my old friend!” Ranjaz smiled broadly. “No need for the welcoming party, I’ve got your credits” —he gestured to Cygna— “and a sweetener, for all the trouble I caused last time.”
Alfor paused, lecherous eyes assessing the Fae’Dan. “You know I have a thing for purple.” He chuckled at his own joke and waved the guards back to their posts. “How about we have a drink, and discuss your forgiveness.” He pointed to Thor and Eruwenn. “Brought your own security, or are these Gal. Fed. goons? Everyone knows about your probation.”
The Kittran gave a broad grin. “I got a Tulseria-damned pardon, a new ship and a very lucrative opportunity.”
The Kah’Ree smiled. “How’d a thieving cat like you get a pardon?” He gave Ranjaz an appraising look up and down. “Oh? Now, let me guess, you need something from me and my brother?”
Ranjaz fired his finger guns. “You were always the smart one Alfor, that’s why you run the casino floor.” The Kittran stepped in close. “The item, do you still have it?”
Alfor tilted his head back and away from Ranjaz. “Your little guarantee?” He looked back down at Ranjaz. “We have it somewhere safe. Had some unusual people come by after you got caught. Asked a lot of questions. Made a lot of threats.” His face contorted in anger. “We got audited thanks to you.”
The Kittran smiled. “If only they knew you better, they could have simply paid you for the information.”
“We give nothing for free.” The Kah’Ree gave a sinister smile. “House rule.”
Ranjaz walked forward to put his his arm on Alfor’s back. “Let’s go see your brother. Have a few drinks, maybe gamble a little, and discuss our future riches.”
 
 
Ripley stood in the shadows of the staff shuttle bay, watching as the numerous employees of assorted races came and went. Loud laughter caught her attention, and a very strangely dressed Niham broke away from a small group and walked towards her. Ripley tried to maintain her low profile as the scantily clad female strutted towards her in long black boots with pointed heels that clacked loudly with every step.
Deliberately avoiding eye contact the Awakened tried to will herself into the wall but it was too late and a voice called out to her. “Hey Darling! You must be the one I’m looking for.”
Ripley shook her head. The Kittran had said the contact was an Ashi pirate captain, a master gambler and expert in procuring the unusual. “I don’t-”
“Listen cutie,” she interrupted, “you’re the one lurking in dark corners drawing attention to yourself. I’ve got your security card. You tell that fluffy little stud he owes me. And more than a bottle of Fae’Dan wine and a good time, if you know what I mean.” She held up the card between her fingers, just a little out of Ripley’s reach.
The Awakened considered the phrase ‘fluffy little stud’ and decided that, despite her hopes, this was probably her contact. “You’re Captain Whiplash?”
The Ashi laughed genuinely, the jiggling of tightly squeezed breasts bursting at shiny black restraints making Ripley nervous. “Oh, Darling! Only my little pets call me that! You may call me Sho’Na.”
Ripley was momentarily confused. “So, you aren’t a pirate captain?”
“I’m anything they pay me to be.” She smiled at the silver-haired woman's naivety. “You really are new to this.”
Ripley, caught off guard, simply nodded, then replied, “I’m a quick learner.”
“Good for you, Darling.” Sho’Na handed over the card. “Just make sure you get paid up front, and don’t use your real name with clients. Ruins the mystique.”
Ripley was unsure of what was being said. Turning the card over in her hands she saw that the holo-image on the front was of a male Arkellian. “This isn’t me?”
“Honey, I was given half a cycle to get you a level three security card. Just be glad it’s a biped.” Sho’Na looked Ripley up and down. “Our mutual acquaintance told me you were some sort of master of disguise who could even trick Selva Blaster.”
Ripley paused, then smiled. Her appearance had become such an integral part of her identity she had forgotten that it was entirely optional. “It won’t be a problem.” She looked at the card again. “Unless the owner comes looking for it.”
Sho’Na gave another bosom-trembling laugh that threatened to spill out at any moment. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s tied up at the moment.”
The Awakened considered the risk. “Hmmm, but for how long?”
The few strips of shiny black material that comprised Sho’Na’s revealing outfit strained under her amusement. “Don’t you worry, Darling. He paid for the whole night.”
 
 
Eruwenn had reassessed her opinion of Ranjaz many times since meeting him. The criminal. The loyal friend. The lazy trouble-maker. All were true, but now she was seeing something new. He sat opposite Toran, the brother of Alfor, in a game of dalcho she wished she could have taken part in, but was equally glad she did not.
At first she had thought the Kittran was outmatched, a few reckless mistakes costing him dearly as the Kah’Ree deftly selected his tiles. Toran was clearly a seasoned gambler, using a blend of the Remee Le’Bow Gambit and the Kowals’Kee Analysis she hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be dismantling Ranjaz’s tiles before he could even prepare his cards. A few fortunate dice rolls and he had taken a strong lead from the outset. The Kittran appeared desperate, playing any tile available to try and slow the defeat.
It had all been a ruse, she saw it; Ranjaz had saved his best tiles and carefully thrown hands to manipulate the cards. In just a few rounds he would be able to dominate the board and raise the stakes, recouping his losses and changing the course of the game entirely. She had encountered few players who could manipulate the game so deftly, using memory and layers of strategy to corner their opponent. It was magnificent.
Eruwenn couldn’t tear her eyes from the board as she stood beside Thor. The Awakened had shown no interest in the game, studiously watching the opposite door as Toran’s staff came in and out. When a waiter entered and began preparing drinks at the small private bar in the executive gambling room, Thor coughed. It was a strange thing for an Awakened to do, and Eruwenn finally looked up from the table. “Are you ok?”
Thor nodded. By the time he had looked towards her, she had returned her attention completely to the game. “You don’t seem concerned about your friend?” he asked.
The Anatidae watched as Ranjaz used a blind double feint, and the sheer audacity of such a move made her swallow hard. She didn’t look back to Thor, but mumbled a response. “I’m very confident in her abilities.”
The waiter was methodically placing drinks by each of the players, but when they stood behind Ranjaz the Kittran surged to his feet, shouting, “Hey! No cheating Toran! Getting your waiter to look over my shoulder? That’s a dirty move I’d expect from your brother!”
Thor had reacted faster than Eruwenn, pinning the arms of the Arkellian waiter in a vice-like bear hug. Toran slowly stood. He was big, heavily muscled, and the veins on his neck bulged as his anger rose. “Don’t accuse me in my own place.” He cracked his knuckles and glowered down at Ranjaz. “I run a straight game.”
Fearlessly the Kittran walked right up to the Kah’Ree and stared up into his face from waist height. “Don’t try and intimidate me, you son of a Vogel.” Ranjaz puffed out his chest and began pushing the burly casino owner. “Nobody cheats me!”
The blow caught Ranjaz across the cheek and sent him sprawling across the room. Eruwenn winced at the impact, but maintained her composure. Toran laughed. “Watch your tongue or I’ll add it to my collection.” He walked round the table and kicked Ranjaz in the stomach, glaring at Thor and Eruwenn, daring them to act. “Know your place trash. You’re at this table because you put credits up front. You are a dishonest thief, begging for scraps, and cosying up to me any my brother to get your little trinket back.” He returned to his seat. “Why would I need to cheat against the likes of you?”
Ranjaz stood, brushing himself off. “Fine, fine.” He waved a hand and Thor dropped the Arkellian. Ranjaz tapped him on the chest. “My mistake.” He sat down and picked up his cards once more. “You’re right Toran, you run a clean game. I’m just a sore loser.” He shuffled the order of the tiles that were still face down on the table. “To show my sincerity, how about we double the buy for the rest of the game?”
Toran snorted. “Double?” He looked at the Kittran, scrutinising his opponent. The game was already over; he had control of the board and his tiles occupied the three prime positions. Was the thief trying to buy his favour, he wondered? How much was the trinket he wanted truly worth? He decided it was worth testing. “Triple, and I’ll forget you dared touch me.”
The Kittran swallowed hard, his ears flat to his head. Toran momentarily worried he’d pushed for too much but a decision seemed to be reached. “Fine. Triple.” The look of defeat was delicious to the Kah’Ree.
 
 
Cygna had done her part and lured Alfor to a private room away from his security. She had danced, skipped and side-stepped his groping hands so far, maintaining a playfulness that ensured he complied. This sort of thing was not new to her; she had spent time undercover in the past. Fortunately, there had been little call for it since she had joined forces with Eruwenn.
Alfor’s eyes scanned her body once more. “The Kittran has very good taste.” He licked his lips, a small amount of drool escaping and running down his chin. He wiped it on his sleeve. “Now, I brought you somewhere quiet. How about you show me how sweet you can be?”
The Fae’Dan smiled coyly and continued her dancing just out of reach, glancing to the doorway where Alfor’s two guards stood watching her. “With an audience?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
With a sly grin he waved the guards out of the room. “Now come here and let me satisfy you like only a Kah’Ree can.” His eyes wandered over her body once more.
Cygna smiled, her own eyes moving from the Kah’Ree’s hands to his shoulders, then up towards his neck. An interesting fact about the Kah’Ree was the thick blood vessels on the side of their neck. They often bulged when a Kah’Ree was angry or excited, like Alfor’s were as he leered at her. She danced closer. Another interesting fact was that their brains were not as efficient as those of other species, hence the requirement for additional blood flow; more oxygen per limited thought.
He leaned forward, his eyes locked to her swaying hips. Cygna turned slowly, and his head tilted to appreciate her assets. The third, lesser known, fact about the Kah’Ree was that an interruption to the blood flow while they were in this excited state caused them to lose consciousness rapidly as their brain burned through the available oxygen. “My eyes are up here.” She smiled as he looked up at her with his head still tilted.
He sneered. “Who ca-”
The Fae’Dan struck the side of his neck with the edge of her hand, targeting the throbbing blood vessel with a powerful blow. The interruption to his brain's oxygen supply worked perfectly and he fell face forward onto the ground at her feet. She let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his unconscious body. “Thank you, that was particularly satisfying.”
She walked over to the door and peeked out, finding the guards standing either side. “He said to order us some drinks.” One of the guards nodded and immediately put his hand to his lapel communicator.
Back inside the room, Cygna used her foot to roll Alfor to his back and began searching his pockets. She came up empty. Her eyes caught a glimmer from his collar and she found a heavy gold chain, at the end of which was his security key. She removed it just as a knock came at the door. A deep voice from the other side called out. “Your drinks, boss.”
The Fae’Dan quickly messed up her hair. Using the back of her hand she smeared her lipstick sideways, and then pulled the strap of her dress down off her shoulder. She opened the door and, to her surprise, was faced with an Arkellian waiter. The bodyguards noted her dishevelled appearance and shared a smirk, and she said, “Oh, I wasn’t expec-”
The waiter pushed the trolley into the room. “Don’t keep the boss waiting, lady.” Before Cygna could reply they were inside and the door closed. “Relax, it’s me.”
Ripley’s voice sounded bizarre coming from the male Arkellian form, and Cygna’s eyes went wide in shock. Her sharp mind quickly adjusted to this new information. Of course the Awakened could change their physical appearance; she had just never seen it. They all seemed quite attached to their chosen human forms. “Neat trick.” She held out Alfor’s key. “Did you get the other one?”
Ripley nodded. “The Kittran played his part well. I didn’t see him take it, and didn’t feel it when he placed it in my pocket. Now that was a neat trick.”
The Fae’Dan smiled. “I think I’ll pass on that dalcho game.”
The Arkellian Ripley smiled. “Probably wise.” Turning, she slipped the key into her pocket and headed back out of the door.
 
 
Ripley entered the elevator to the owner's private offices on the top floor. Thanks to the distractions downstairs, the two large desks in the centre of the room were empty. She walked straight past them to the large leokas painting on the wall and swung it forward. Behind it was a Fae’Dan safe; she took out the two keys and a small homemade device the Kittran had given her.
Attaching the device to the bio-lock and standing before the safe, she elongated her arms to reach both key positions at once. There was more than one reason she was the one chosen for this task. The device beeped twice and small lights above each lock lit up. She simultaneously turned both keys, and there was a satisfying clunk.
She raised an eyebrow. The device had worked. The heavy safe door swung open and she began her search. Ranjaz had been very specific: while there was one item she had to get, she was to grab as much as possible to obscure their true target.
Quickly grabbing as much as she could she retrieved the keys and ran back across the room towards the elevator.
 
 
Cygna hauled Alfor back onto the seat, putting him in a more natural position and messing up his hair. She looked away as she began unbuttoning his clothes, pulling his trousers around his ankles and opening his shirt up to bare his chest. From a secret pocket inside her dress she pulled out a lace thong, setting it on his head like a bandana. She also had a small box which she opened, inside of which was a replica mouth with lipstick that matched her own.
Cygna carefully applied kiss marks all over his exposed skin before popping the fake lips back into the secret pocket. She took the Fae’Dan wine and partially filled two glasses, making sure to take a long drink from one and leave more lipstick marks. The rest of the wine was poured into the ice bucket.
She heard the sound of voices outside the door. The guards were arguing with someone, refusing them entry, but when the name Toran was mentioned it was Ripley who entered, still in uniform but now looking much like her usual self. She smirked at the Kah’Ree in his derobed state. “I can see you had fun.”
The Fae’Dan chuckled. “That’s the idea.” She looked at the Awakened in her true form. “You look… better.”
Ripley cocked her head. “It would be strange if the waiter came back to deliver a message.” She tossed the necklace key to Cygna, who replaced it on Alfor’s neck.
Reclining on the sofa and picking up her glass, Cygna took another long drink. “Get the other one back to Ranjaz quickly. This one won’t be napping much longer.”
The Awakened gave an almost Ranjaz-like grin. “You could always hit him again.” Before the Fae’Dan could reply she had ducked back out of the door. She caught the eye of one of the bodyguards and gave a head tilt back towards the room. “The boss is really enjoying himself!”
As the suited pair chuckled, the larger of the two got a message in his ear piece. “Hey, silver hair.” He grunted. “Boss has an important guest. Meet them in the foyer and bring them to the dalcho room.”
Ripley was relieved – she needed a reason to get into that room. “On my way.”
 
 
Toran was seething as he watched as the Kittran flipped his final tile. Why would he have waited so long to play the Wings of Tulseria tile? His stomach sank, and he couldn’t hold back his anger any longer. “Damn you!”
Ranjaz gave a full-fanged grin. “Looks like my luck turned at just the right moment.”
“Luck!” Toran’s tile snapped between his fingers. Why had he let the damned cat goad him into constantly increasing their bet? The cycle had started with him owing the brothers a million credits plus interest, and now the infuritating Kittran had won nearly forty times that. “Nobody is that lucky.”
“Woah!” Ranjaz held up his hands. “I would never cheat, well... certainly not a second time. After you caught me, I’d be a fool to try.”
“Hmm.” Toran looked at the two behind the Kittran. The big one would be a problem, but the Anatidae looked to be nothing special. “How about I give you back your little trinket and we call it even?”
“My trinket?” Ranjaz shook his head. “I had to convince you it was worth the million I owed. Why would you think I’d trade it for thirty eight million credits? I’ll pay what I owe, take my trinket and my winnings and leave.”
Toran folded his arms and looked across the dalcho board at Ranjaz. “And why would I let you do that?” The atmosphere in the room changed as the two security guards changed their stance. “Transfer the credits back to the house.”
Ranjaz dropped the grin, replacing it with a defiant glare. “What happened to you running a straight game?”
“The game was straight. You won, didn’t you?” He leaned forward, his eyes cold and hard. “You’re just in no position to collect.”
The Kittran was about to argue when the door behind Toran opened. He looked up as Ripley entered, and his eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t alone. “Toran, you bastard! You sold me out!”
“For ten million credits.” Toran stared hard at Ranjaz. “Care to make a better offer?”
Eruwenn’s eyes blazed with anger as the grey-suited Niham pulled up a seat and sat down beside Toran. “Now, now, you lied to me about having the item before. Don’t double cross me.” Sentinel Krast placed his hands together on the table, interlacing his fingers. “I’m not somebody who forgives easily.” He looked directly at Eruwenn. “Isn’t that right, former Councillor? A little far from your new Ambassador position, aren’t you?”
Ripley stood back against the wall. She had no idea who the newcomer was, but this most definitely was not the plan. The golden green Anatidae walked forward to stand behind Ranjaz. “Oh, I had a little vacation time saved up, and decided to spend it with my good friend here.” She placed a hand on the Kittrans shoulder. “And what brings a Sentinel here?”
Krast’s lips curled in what might approximate a smile. “I’m also acquainted with Mr K’Lua. In fact, we go back a very long way.” He turned to look directly at Ranjaz. “Now, return what is mine.”
Toran looked from Ranjaz to Krast. “Yours? You don’t look like the tiara wearing type.”
The Sentinel didn’t turn his head. “Ah, so you hid the data chip inside some shiny bauble. As inventive as ever, Mr K’Lua.” The Niham finally acknowledged Toran by looking at him. “Bring. It. Here.”
The Kah’Ree sucked air through his teeth. “Well, seems like we have something mighty important, and two very interested parties.” He stood and walked to his two security officers, who drew their weapons in unison. “Now then, I believe you” —he nodded to Krast— “offered ten million. How about it Ranjaz, old friend? What’s your counter offer?”
The Kittran had been sitting, silently seething at his double cross being double crossed. He looked at Krast. “Were you the one?”
Toran was surprised at being ignored, but before he could reply Krast answered, “The one?”
Ranjaz’s eyes narrowed, his ears alert, his tail swishing aggressively. “The one who took my friend!” he snarled as he felt Eruwenn’s hand holding him back gently.
Krast’s eyes glittered as he saw the impotent rage in his opponent’s eyes. “Ah, the poor deceased human?” He smiled his mannequin-esque smile. “And if I was?”
Toran snatched a pistol from one of his men and fired a blast at the ceiling. “Your quarrel can wait. Let’s settle our business first and you can kill each other after I’m paid.” He paused, then added, “but, not in my casino. Body disposal costs extra.”
Eruwenn’s hand gripped Ranjaz’s shoulder harder, and he braced himself. In one smooth move she both threw him backwards and to the right, and kicked the dalcho table up and forward into Krast's face. The Sentinel fell backwards as a blast from Toran struck the table, but Eruwenn was already on the move, sidestepping left and ducking forward into a cartwheel. Toran's gun had been following Ranjaz, but as her leg swept down it knocked the weapon from his grip.
Once she stabilized, her fist, already primed with momentum from the cartwheel, struck Toran below the ribs and knocked the wind from him. The guard, whose gun the Kah'Ree had been holding, lunged forward to grab Eruwenn but she simply deflected his hand, pairing his forward momentum with her rising elbow to swiftly render him unconscious.
The second guard had just begun to raise his weapon when a huge fist struck him in his chest, sending him careening backwards into the wall. Thor loomed over him, shaking his head as he retrieved the energy pistol. “Too slow.”
Ripley helped Ranjaz to his feet as Krast pushed the table off his chest. Toran was coughing and struggling to breathe as Ranjaz pressed the retrieved energy pistol to his forehead. “Double cross me?” He dragged the Kah’Ree forward. “I want to see the item, then I’ll pay what I owe.” The two of them awkwardly made their way back towards Krast, so Ranjaz could point the gun in his face. “Then we can talk about your body disposal fee.”
Krast stood, and his phony smile was gone. “You can’t kill me. The Sentinels will tear this place apart, hunt you down and kill you. You think I came alone? My ship is in orbit and waiting for my orders!”
Ranjaz grabbed him by the jacket, pulling him down to his level, and struck him in the face with the butt of the pistol. Thor cooly kept his stolen pistol pointed at Toran and the one conscious guard. By the third blow Krast’s face was bloody, his nose broken and he began to struggle against Ranjaz’s assault.
A muted boom caused everyone present to stop in their tracks. Alarms began to sound and Toran swore loudly. He pulled out his communicator, ignoring Thor’s pistol. “What the hell was that!” He held the device close as he listened. “My office?” He patted his pocket. Finding his key in place, he looked to Ranjaz and then Krast. “Seal the casino! And where is my brother?”
Ripley suddenly understood why the Kittran had told her to leave his device on the safe door. After a brief further moment of shock, which she kept from showing on her face, she realized that she had been carrying an explosive without being told. If they survived, Ranjaz was going to need to explain himself. Thoroughly.
Eruwenn, Thor and Ranjaz had backed away to the opposite side of the room, standing by the door. Krast stood alone, holding his profusely bleeding nose. The opposite door soon opened to reveal scrambling casino security, with Toran and his guard standing nearby.
The unconscious guard was carried out without comment, and the Kah’Ree turned to Ripley. “Why are you still here?” She nodded and slipped out of the door, leaving one less concern for the remaining three. “Alright, which one of your skrolg-licking bastards broke into my private safe?”
Krast spat blood onto the floor, pointing at Ranjaz. “He’s the thief. You and I had a deal.”
The Kittran smirked. “I’m a better thief than blowing up a Tulseria-damned safe. If I wanted to steal it, I would have done just that. I would not have announced my arrival and sat down to a game of dalcho.”
Toran looked between the two of them. “He’s got a point.” One of his men handed him a pistol, and he continued to talk a little distractedly into his communicator. “Well, check everywhere!”
Ranjaz stirred the pot. “He’s the bastard who double crossed me, why would he honour your deal?”
Eruwenn nodded. “A government agent can’t be seen working with criminals.”
Krast's face contorted in rage. “Don’t be a damned fool, Toran!” He pointed at Ranjaz. “This is clearly some convoluted distraction.”
Toran shook his head. “They had the upper hand. You were the one getting your face ruined.”
 
 
Cygna watched nervously as Alfor began to stir. Things were taking a lot longer than expected. Finally, her signal came; it was not as subtle as she had been led to believe. As soon as the explosion went off the two bodyguards quickly came into the room, glancing from Alfor’s sleeping body to her. She staggered forward, wine bottle in hand. “We need more drinkshh!”
The guard ignored her as he saw the condition of his boss. “Not again,” he groaned. “Toran will kill us for letting him get like this.”
The second guard stepped out into the corridor. “I’m not dressing him! Last time he tried to kiss me!”
Cygna paused, not having expected it to go this way. The first bodyguard walked out as well. “He pissed on my new shoes the time before that. I’m not moving him.”
Their communicators went off and their faces became more serious. Bodyguard two spoke first. “Damn it. Toran wants him.”
The first turned to look at the increasingly bewildered Cygna. “You!” He smiled. “You got him undressed. You can dress him.”
Cygna spotted Ripley running down the corridor towards them, causing her confusion to grow further. The Awakened shouted one word. “Sentinels!”
The Fae’Dan’s mind raced. The plan was clearly blown, and they had to get out. Fast. As the guards were now facing Ripley, she took the opportunity to kick one in the back of the knee. He fell forward, and as the second turned he was met with the upward swing of a wine bottle. The first guard discovered first-hand the shocking truth of how hard the knee of an Awakened could be, and both were unconscious by the time they hit the ground.
Cygna smiled at Ripley. "Thanks."
The Awakened gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. “A Sentinel turned up, so Ranjaz set off the diversion he promised. The other brother is busy trying to figure out whether it’s us or the Sentinels robbing him.”
Cygna took on board the new information quickly, knowing she needed to help the others. “I have an idea. Lie over there and look dead.” She ran back into the room, where Alfor was groaning and starting to move. She slipped the chain from his neck and dropped it into the ice bucket, where it sank out of sight below the dark Fae’Dan wine. She began to slowly shake him.
“Huh,” he grumbled, and slowly opened his eyes. “Wha.. what happened?”
Cygna clung to him tightly. “Oh thank goodness! I thought they killed you!”
“Killed?” Alfor’s head was pounding, his memory blurry. “Who-” He caught sight of his downed guards in the open doorway. “What the hell happened?” He began pulling at his clothes, and swiftly checked that his trousers were dry.
“While we were.. You know…” He nodded; he was buttoning up his clothes. He didn’t remember, but he knew. “Some scary men burst into the room and shot you! I was so scared.” She hugged him tight, pressing herself against him.
He put his arm around her. “What men? Be brave, and tell me what happened.”
She looked up at him, trying to make her eyes as big as possible, adding a lip tremble to really sell it. “I don’t know! They wore grey suits. And one of them took your necklace!”
“My necklace.” He clutched at his chest where it should have been. “Damn Sentinels! I told Toran we couldn't trust them!”
He stepped into the corridor, where Ripley lay on the ground with a terrible energy weapon burn on the side of her face. He pulled out his communicator. “Toran.” He instantly got hold of his brother. “I didn’t answer because I was knocked out. Damn Sentinels took my key, killed some of our guys.” He looked around. “Nobody important, just some waiter.” He finally pulled the underwear from his head. “I’ll go to the security room and look at the video.”
He ended the call and turned back to Cygna. “You stay here.”
She smiled. “Sorry, we can’t let you check the security footage.”
“Wha-”
Ripley struck him from behind and he crumpled to the ground, her fake burn melting from her face. The Awakened looked around, rechecking that all was clear. “I think that’s all we can do; we should get out of here. Come with me, my shuttle is in the staff bay.”
 
 
Toran closed his communicator and motioned to a guard. “Search him.”
Eruwenn wished she had some way to capture the look on Krast’s face when the remote detonator was pulled from his pocket. She'd have to hug the light-fingered Kittran later.
The Sentinel grit his teeth. “That’s not mine.”
“Sure, sure,” Toran agreed, while simultaneously shaking his head at the Sentinel. “Looks like you really didn’t come alone.”
Krast was furious, yelling, “I’m telling you-” He broke off when Ranjaz shot him in the leg, falling to the floor.
The Kah’Ree pointed his pistol at the Kittran. “Can’t let you kill a Sentinel in my casino, even if they did just rob me.”
Ranjaz was surprised the Kah’Ree had believed them so easily. “What about us?”
Toran sighed, lowering his weapon. “Take your winnings and get out. If you stole the thing once, I’m sure you can steal it again.”
Eruwenn and Thor both made to leave. Ranjaz paused, knowing he might not get another chance. “And him?”
The Kah’Ree looked at the Sentinel holding his wounded leg. “We’ll send him back to his ship. As much as I hate it, the Sentinels are untouchable.”
Ranjaz raised his pistol. “He took my friend.”
“And we’ll get him back,” Eruwenn said softly. “Then we’ll all deal with him, and the rest of the Sentinels.”
Krast sneered and spat blood once more. “Your human is dead.”
Ranjaz fired.
Krast screamed and grabbed his other leg. “You bastard!”
Toran and his men raised their weapons as the Kah’Ree yelled, “Get the hell out of here!”
Ranjaz turned and followed the others out of the door, but just as it was about to close he poked his head back in. “Oh, one last thing.”
Toran could be seen looking up just as the Kittran fired again, but he ducked out of sight before the true outcome of his shot could be seen. The shrieks of agony, however, followed the trio down the corridor as they broke into a run. Eruwenn spared a glance down at Ranjaz during their retreat. “What did you do?”
The full-fanged grin had never been larger. “Made sure we’ll see him again.”
On the floor of the dalcho room Krast was screaming in agony. He turned over to stare at the closed door. “I’ll kill you! I will hunt you down and kill every last one of you!”
Toran spoke into his communicator. “Tell the Sentinel ship to come get their man. And, bring a doctor. A really good doctor.” He nudged one of his guards and finally let out a chuckle. After all, the Sentinels had just robbed him. “You double-crossing scum always get what you deserve.”
The J’Rami guard raised an eyebrow. “Not sure anyone deserves getting shot in the balls.”
 
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