The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
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Hello, I am Imbure and I will comment on most of the things in Gwent Homecoming giving my thoughts on it. To start off a little bit about myself, I like Gwent. Yeah, that’s about it. Special thanks to SirPumpkn for helping me with ideas, where some weren't fitting or just not well polished enough so I could rereview them with his assistance, thanks a lot! Since it takes a lot of time to go over it all and if some people are interested just to find the most interesting parts, I have it on google document with highlights to say which parts are more interesting / important. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1kG3gWspUD_VoV5l-pJbFwBJfJ2k0uQ95n_Aqs5a8QCw/edit?usp=sharing Before the whole thing, I do realize that this was PTR and will try mention as little of balance issues, bugs, wrong tooltips or poorly worded abilities, but rather problematic or lacking concepts when it comes to gameplay and I will mention some of which concepts are amazing. One more disclaimer, I do understand that some of these changes might require a big amount of time, that does not mean you need to instantly release them with Homecoming if think them worthy, at least those that require time, others could be looked at and patched in close future. Marketing I am not qualified in this field, so my opinion should not matter much, however, I think marketing is important, I do understand that you are not going to market the game as it has way different feeling to it compared to Beta, so if people join in now they’d be playing a different game and redownloading it in a few days, but when it does come out, marketing is crucial to have a big player base. UI and Visuals Now as the new patch hits a lot of things have changed and different mechanics have appeared in the game and players misplay a lot with them. Ability locked cards Cards that only acquire an X ability should have an indicator for two reasons. Even if players get better at the game, they will still make misplays here and there, it does not feel good and the victories against them often don’t feel deserved. Indicators Visuals like Lock, Adrenaline etc. had nice looking icons. I assume these ones are used as the card sizes changed and artists still have a lot of to do, but on an off chance it is not the case, please bring back those amazing looking effects! Before playing it, With the new abilities highlighting the rows that have abilities and give them different highlights. Deck / Graveyard Size Indicators Small graveyard card amount indicators for how many type of cards do you have in your deck, Artifacts, Traps, Spells and etc. so you wouldn’t need to do unnecessary counting, a quality of life change. Side of the Row Points Make an option that you could see your numbers on your left side and make the right side clean, so streamers could place their faces somewhere. Since it’s only optional, players would still be able to see it in the best way. Just a nice quality of life addition to the game. Weight of the Cards The cards have lost points and I think for the old players even 20 power plays won’t feel impactful, on top of that, placing a card doesn’t feel like doing something amazing. It would be immersive if cards felt like they had weight attached, as if the enemy should stutter upon seeing my THICC GERALT IGNI, instead of it falling like a piece of paper, even though it’s a card game, it doesn’t have to feel as one. Drag and Drop Drag and drop just feels better, as you actually play the card from your hand, CURSORS ARE EXTENSIONS OF OUR ARMS. Colors of the Board / Shadows Now the feeling of darkness is taken too literally. Even the torches don’t feel as if it was lighting up the area. Nilfgaard that has the sun as their symbol can barely have any light on them. Corners of some places are just too hard to see as they blend in within the darkness remaining invisible. The board itself is relatively lit, so that is visible, which is nice. The things can be dark, just make that we see something there instead of it being pitch black. Lacking ability to see something makes the game dark literally, that creates this weird Batman vs Superman movie problem, where they made the scenes hard to see without actually creating the darkness. Time Consumed on Animations Speed up the animations. Eithne takes a decent amount of time to go off, if you also add some artifacts which they often use to the mix, you start feeling bad for roping them when it’s out of your control. Deckbuilder When searching for cards, make it so looking for Da’o you would find it by writing Dao. That has been implemented in League of Legends champion select search and is a nice quality of life change. Excluding some bugs, where you switch some filters up and it still saves some of the previous filters, it’s still good. Twitch Tool Hovering over a card on Twitch so you could see what it does for Homecoming would be great for new players and old players to get a better feeling on the game. Gameplay - The Juicy Part Unrewarding Round 1 It always was that you would fight for the first round fiercely so you could bleed round two and go into round three, there was some strategy to it. Even though it was somewhat flawed to an extent that some cards would be just 20 power plays each and you have 2 of them, here it’s not exactly the case. Now you just barely commit in R1 and R2 because they feel unrewarding and committing for a round feels risk with close to no reward. This vacuum of space was left after we lost the spy mechanic, which was unhealthy, but it was one proper way to actually bleed R2. Suggestion for Unrewarding Round 1 - the player to win the first round gets an extra mulligan to their bank. It’s a subtle reward that pushes the players to utilize such a thing, however, it is not too big of a thing to make decks around it. You do not need to do it the same for second round, because if you play go to 3 cards in hand only then you start committing your 3rd round, before that you are still not committing second round if you are ahead, while second round going below 7 is considered committing and bleeding is also a thing, so it already creates initial tension on round 2. Provisions Maybe people play too much on golds now, but I think that’s just a balance thing and I have nothing, you have honestly outdone yourself, this system is amazing! Too Many Overlapping Abilities Some archetypes are crying for cards while others have 20 to choose from. I think a heavy overhaul on some bronzes with lack of oversight or being undertuned is not the worst that can happen. Archetypes Many of the archetypes are small packages that work with one other and that’s a whole new different thing to Gwent, where you have way more win conditions, instead of having 2. I like it as it adds more variance to the game, hopefully not too much RNG. Northern Realms Orders Without Charges - Seems underwhelming in power and lacking tools, even considered the fact that it would fit fine in a starter deck, something that has a leader and many cards based on it shouldn’t be just a starter deck, but also have some sort of playability. Northern Realms Charges It has a huge arsenal of tools, I would say probably more than any other deck and that is not necessarily bad. Some cards however are overlapping - Ballista and Reinforced Ballista is just the same card, but one is worse than the other. I know that this is meant for machine tag, but I would use some Humans then to make more Orders decks that fill the vacuum that armor left archetypes left off. Spies Where Are Thou? Reveal I am so funny. In its current form Reveal can be played two ways. You play a very few unit deck, where you are almost sure your reveal card will show greater strength card or you will add a lot of units and hope that you get to reveal Daerlan Soldiers. First example is a very niche deck with a small amount of variation. The second one has a wider range of choices, but is widely based on RNG. I know that the old archetype was unhealthy in many ways and you are looking to replace it, but it should not be then switched into RNG playstyle or based on small niche deck. Instead of this, Reveal could switch between bronze units in your deck. Every unit that reveals could always show the top bronze card, take the top bronze card in your deck and switch it with the last one pushing every bronze card like an array switching places towards top. It might take some time to come up with an easy text, but as you have detailed explanations at the bottom, healthier gameplay will always beat complex text reading, especially because beginners won’t care about it and experienced players will know how the system works. Armor In live Gwent Armor is a whole archetype of cards, however, it does not have to be, removing the thing entirely is bad as you could do some less greedy plays with defensive opportunities. Potion that worked like Thunderbolt where you could give an allied unit some points and add armor to an unit, perhaps a charge too, so then Order + Charge decks would be viable or just in general some strategies. I assume it will be added with Redania, but now as a mechanic it doesn’t have to be deleted outright. Weather Decks We had decks like Dagon Fog and Eredin Frost, problem was that they were lacking balance in weather department and only some archetypes were viable as some didn’t have enough tools to them. You could make more cards that play weather, for example spying cards that apply X weather, cards that buff from weather and etc, it wouldn’t break the game but would still make the archetype a thing. Other thing is to make weather decks work with each other, it wouldn’t be just play a frost unit or play a fog unit or rain unit, a card would work when there is a hazard in general. Perhaps limit those to bronzes, so it doesn’t feel to oppressive to play against gold weathers. Considering its current form, it wouldn’t be a bad design choice as you’ve already made weather into a really balanced thing. New Witchers Archetype It’s a new addition that players have been waiting for a long time, it has a nice touch on the lore, nerfing Silver Witchers is most likely necessary, as I don’t know how it will be in the future, don’t nerf them in a vacuum, buff other Witchers. New and Old Mill Live Gwent Mill is really frustrating to play against and in most cases you either win or lose based on your opponent’s draws and your deck choice, whether it thins or not. New mill usually doesn’t mill to 0, unless you are Discard Skellige, but rather hinders your deck. Maybe the RNG on Viper Witchers is not good, but in the current form you can even give GGs to them! No More Proper Handbuff In its current form Handbuff if applied the same way to Homecoming would be game breaking, but instead you could just make them lower power units that have a different thing, not deal that much damage. Then carryover wouldn’t be as much of a problem, it was an interesting deck in ST that feels missing. No More Spellatell Deck used to be really unique and you could still make it work as you play less tutors in the game or even add a cap to how much the card could go up to. New Trap Deck It’s a great deck with proper synergies built in that require a good amount of skill to pilot and to play against, it’s all that Gwent is about, the archetype has a fine deal of cards and the new way you made Traps, that they are no longer unit is also great, as a lot of old trap design was: “If he played X, I have to play Y and win, however, if he played Z I have to play C to win, if I mess this up, I will lose, if I don’t, I win.” It used to be some sort of coinflip to an extent, you fixed it, good job. New Artifact Deck It requires skill to play around and even if it does feel oppressive sometimes, you can totally outplay it and artifact removal is cheap. Specters Cursed was transformed into an archetype that was based on a one card, but you had opportunity to have flexibility with your silvers and golds, now all of that is gone and Specters archetype rewards going all with Specters, due to its golds and bronzes abilities. Problem is you can’t build a deck anymore with it, excluding the Henselt combo, but it’s not exactly a specter deck. It feeds into a problem that I will mention that all decks have. Strengthening Archetype Considering that most cards are playing on low points the playstyle against and with that kind of deck might be quite boring, unhealthy and / or unbalanced, I do understand that it was either taken away forever or just placed onto a queue for future balancing. Kambi Rest in peace the mightiest rooster FeelsBadMan Lack of Card Archetype Supporting Cards This is probably one of more troublesome things. When a lot of cards were shown people instantly have noticed that many archetypes have been butchered. More experienced players instantly mentioned that CDPR, you guys, can add new cards to the game. First time we saw Alchemy cards we had to wait a long time until it saw playability, it was something around midwinter. There were more decks, but this is just an example. A lot of decks that we had to wait for to become working and we gave you a lot of time are now gone again. We already waited for so long, they became a thing, an actual archetype. We started having Moonlight and waited for new patches to make it into an actual archetype instead of small package. All of that was taken away and we are left with waiting again, that’s why overhauling some cards might be necessary, if not within the release of Homecoming, at least could be done with close upcoming patches. Flexible Tags Currently there is a trend on cards removing specific clan tags and etc. In its current form we have lost clan tags and gained Soldiers, Warriors and etc. These have positives and negatives, abilities like Muzzle and unlock that synergy with Soldiers would give a possibility to outplay, it also makes the arena better as the synergies are no longer only in one faction, however, the game becomes harder to balance as you don’t balance things in the vacuum. Considering that we have provision, cards shouldn’t be too hard to balance. Card to Add Card Shuffler: Bronze Card X Power, Y Provision. “Order. Add a mulligan to your leader.” You could add a shuffling animation to it as if it were a Cursed Knight, so it felt as if it was shuffling cards upon activating the order. Some leaders can’t have more mulligans like Francesca due to the fact that she’d be overpowered, but if she could work by adding some high provision cards for getting mulligans, you would not make that leader broken, but rather playable and I hope the game is all for that. Leaders I will mostly focus on the more problematic ones or the underwhelming ones when it comes to their ability rather power as most leaders can be fixed with adjusting their power or mulligan amount. I haven’t seen that many leaders in play, so can’t comment on all of them. Emhyr Van Emhrys Not only that the ability is somewhat underwhelming in power, it is also a boring effect that has no value. You started a lock archetype, it could work as: “Reset an unit, if it’s an enemy unit, lock it as well.” It might be slightly oppressive, but there are more oppressive things in the game than that, some of it won’t hurt too much. Usurper It is problematic that this leader could just build a deck that is not reliant on leaders and is more likely to win than any deck in that case. It is just not healthy for the game as well. I think the old leader ability might be a better choice, where you could create one. Of course it adds its own baggage as not being that much useful in the current form how leaders work. If you take the last mulligan away it would be a tech deck or work only in tournaments, but not sure even that is good. Eithne I have been playing Eithne myself and she is overtuned. I think changing the amount of mulligans shouldn’t be much touched on, since her ability is powerful due to how well you can align cards like Regis or Geralt: Igni. Considering that ST would need to a buff on every card or leaders to push for good synergies, as now ST is good as always at abusing neutrals. Changing Eithne could go as far as removing 1 power per turn or making a variety that you get X, Y and Z amount of pings through all 3 rounds, that it wouldn’t be too overwhelming playing her. In current form to make ST not broken and still work without overhauling all cards, it’s enough to just bump her down to 3 pings a turn. In the future it could be reworked, but it needs ST cards to be buffed as well. Adda She needs a rework to bonus a certain archetype or have an unique ability. Raw damage should not be a thing, that’s why Radovid was a bad choice from a design perspective as well, he didn’t fit into any archetype. Filavandrel Aen Fidhail Boost all non boosted units in your hand by 1. At the start of the round the effect resets. Then tutors like Witchers would not be affected and it would be a balanced leader, not an autoloss if players know how to play around that leader ability. Francesca Now she seems weak because she does not have enough mulligans. If you gave her an extra mulligan, she would be too strong most likely. So instead give her a chance to earn those mulligans with cards like Card Shuffler or winning round 1 and having an extra mulligan for round 3. Brouver Hoog It’s a bad card, movement with even a lot of damage would be awful. I think you could make it so it creates a few base copies of the same bronze card so it would synergize with Dwarves and Elves spam. It would be a great card for beginners that are usually looking for only one wincondition and could function as a learning leader. Handsize For now I think at start people don’t value the power of bleeding as many don’t know their decks, not even talking about opponent decks and since there are no spies, people should start thinking of winning 2:0 as everyone keeps mulligans or try to throw out non-efficient cards in R1 and R2 to instantly go to R3. That opens more 2:0s which are actually good to the context that enemies have to drop too many bad cards for the opponent to pick it up that the plays are inefficient. Blacklisting In the current state of Gwent, if blacklisting existed you could add a lot of golds, a few 4 provision golds and then you would be playing all golds. Bronze cards already feel like a hindrance to the deck, so if you give incentive to play low provision cards, people will pay even less attention to the bronzes than they do now. Don’t add blacklisting back. Card advantage Card advantage doesn’t matter as much anymore and you need to work for your cards. As now more removal exists, like Ciri, Ciri Dash, even for that you have to work, it used to be just dump a spy and you have Card Advantage. We are moving away from 1 card reward, which makes the game a tad bit more complex in a good way. Mechanics Order and Charge These give more control to the player, so the game feels more active, which is good, opens a new design space with artifacts, on top of that finishers can be played around and played around back as the order doesn’t activate instantly, but you could wait extra turns for it. Immune This is extremely hard to manage. We used to have gold immunity and we didn’t play too many cards that fight enemy cards, now as we do, immunity is just a more important gold immunity. It is a good mechanic to an extent if you look very carefully at it. If these cards became top of the meta, we are looking at distasteful playstyle of closed beta NR Gwent. Just be conscious of adding these type of cards within the future as mechanics should still exist for some decks to even work. Thrive Not sure if it’s that interesting of a mechanic, it will make for a powerful deck, but it might just feel like Tetris in the end where you barely interact with the opponent cards, as in Tetris, there is no opponent. In the future consider more interesting archetype cards that make you play around something. Conditions for Cards Artifact removal in some cards is genuinely very interesting - you have to have X amount of Bloodthirst in SK to remove an artifact. It is an interesting mechanic that ties into the archetype, a certain condition. It would be nice to see proper conditions, unlike ST: “Have an elf in your hand.” condition to trigger some. This idea with conditions with more bizarre requirements and rewards would also be interesting for the game and design field that could be explored even more. Lock No Longer Unlocking If you are playing a lock, you always lose close to no value. Both players usually have some sort of engines and if you’d be able to lock or unlock, locks would become close to an auto-include, now you are playing around enemy deck with those, instead of having ultimate card, an answer to everything. Wonky Combos There are combinations that are hard to pull, but if you do, you win the game. That I think is a genuinely good thing. Gwent for a long time has been a game of average card plays, especially when you look at Veteran decks. Combos that require a lot of work and have a big payoff are insanely great for the game as it opens different win conditions. No Short Rounds / No Topdeck Wars If you manage to get down to 1 card, have more mulligans than your opponent and your 1 card has more provisions, you are still more likely to win, so instead of having short rounds, you still play for the same strategy to bleed and go to round 2, but instead still draw a small package of your synergies. That’s great, topdecks is genuinely a bad idea to the game. Drypass Strategy It no longer exists within the game and as of late I am playing Spies (used to play a lot of ST and will still do so after Homecoming), my wincon is to pull Cantarella and use Menno onto it or just drypass and get a card advantage. This strategy was not healthy and made a lot of win conditions quite binary, that is not good to the game. If a strategy is available, if it’s unhealthy, doesn’t make the game better. Arena Live Gwent’s arena is dreadful, it was made like Hearthstone’s arena, where instead it should have been made in an unique sense, where you draw some cards, then you draw a package of a few cards that have synergy, can be wonky combos too, then some more cards in between, more packages and that would make an interesting arena deck. Of course the package amount had to be large, but having a big community to offer those packages wouldn’t have taken too much time. Moving on to new Gwent as we have lost a big pack of tags and replaced it with tags that work all across the game, we can build decks with synergy. However, building Arena decks might have another problem coming, Hearthstone Arena is balanced around the fact that it has mana curve, so even if you get these 10 cards that are insane finishers for 10 mana, you still need to play out your first 9 rounds. Gwent’s lack of mana curve should not make the player draw all randoms so players that want to have a huge amount of wins in a row, or just percentage wins should not just rely on good draws. If there was a number of provisions decided before the arena is drawn, the player does not know of the number that he gets, but it would be for the example a number between 165 and 200. Then every card you draw is randomized to an extent where you draw 25 cards by provisions without getting a broken deck or a deck that will never be able to win not because of your choices, but rather of how unlucky you were. This randomization is healthy to an extent as you still go into arena to find funny combinations and some game mods could break the stigma of arena, however the classic Arena should have a variance to it and shouldn’t feel like a boring experience. Achievements Requiring players to have a lot of : “Have 4 Phoenix Eggs on your side of the board.” “Use Scorch to acquire 100 point swing.” “Complete Arena run without a lose.” “Win 5 Arena runs in a row without breaking the contract.” and things like that. Extreme challenges are great for players that are trying to excel at a certain deck or funny combo that they try to pull and have this amazing aftertaste as if they just defeated a Dark Souls boss. It’d be just like Dark Souls. Starter achievements could be Scraps, Ore, Kegs and then Powder in the respective order, somewhere there arena tickets too, but most likely it’s best for newer player category as well so they would check on it and perhaps get hooked onto it, old players don’t need it as they have all the kegs in the world. Like that players that are deep within the game would actually get something that is relevant to them, as Powder and new players don’t yet need Powder, but need to fill the collection. Tutorial Make tutorials that actually teach all of the interesting mechanics and show more complex cards from the enemies or create an AI that has specific challenge to beat X deck with a Y deck, that is already prebuilt, where you have a narrow win condition, which is just disturbing enemy combination or something with a specific card. When new players will lose a couple times to interesting cards they will understand that there are interesting cards and you can disturb them. This clears up new players from playing raw number cards in the game as a lot of decks start off with point slam cards without knowing about the interesting stuff. Leaders could also be used for strong combinations. I really love designing cards and in general CCG development, so I gave my view on Homecoming, maybe one day I shall sit in CDPR’s studio thinking of new cards for you and how to balance them, so if you feel like my ideas are not good, don’t be afraid to critique them so I could defend the idea or change the idea if the idea doesn’t stand on its own. Thank you for reading Sincerely, Vilhelmas “Imbure” Stankevičius
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