We're on the last post of this series ("A Gentle Introduction to NOPE"), where we get to use all the Big Boy Concepts (TM) we've discussed in the prior posts and put them all together. Some words before we begin:
- This post will be massively theoretical, in the sense that my own speculation and inferences will be largely peppered throughout the post. Are those speculations right? I think so, or I wouldn't be posting it, but they could also be incorrect.
- I will briefly touch on using the NOPE this slide, but I will make a secondary post with much more interesting data and trends I've observed. This is primarily for explaining what NOPE is and why it potentially works, and what it potentially measures.
My advice before reading this is to glance at my prior posts, and either read those fully or at least make sure you understand the tl;drs: https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/collection/27dc72ad-4e78-44cd-a788-811cd666e32a
Depending on popular demand, I will also make a last-last post called FAQ, where I'll tabulate interesting questions you guys ask me in the comments!
So a brief recap before we begin. Market Maker ("Mr. MM"):
An individual or firm who makes money off the exchange fees and bid-ask spread for an asset, while usually trying to stay neutral about the direction the asset moves. Delta-gamma hedging
: The process Mr. MM uses to stay neutral when selling you shitty OTM options, by buying/selling shares (usually) of the underlying as the price moves. Law of Surprise [Lily-ism]
: Effectively, the expected profit of an options trade is zero for both
the seller and the buyer. Random Walk:
A special case of a deeper probability probability called a martingale
, which basically models stocks or similar phenomena randomly moving every step they take (for stocks, roughly every millisecond). This is one of the most popular views of how stock prices move, especially on short timescales. Future Expected Payoff Function [Lily-ism]:
This is some hidden function that every market participant has about an asset, which more or less models all the possible future probabilities/values of the assets to arrive at a "fair market price". This is a more generalized case of a pricing model like Black-Scholes, or DCF. Counter-party:
The opposite side of your trade (if you sell an option, they buy it; if you buy an option, they sell it). Price decoherence ]Lily-ism]
: A more generalized notion of IV Crush
, price decoherence happens when instead of the FEPF changing gradually over time (price formation), the FEPF rapidly changes, due usually to new information being added to the system (e.g. Vermin Supreme winning the 2020 election).
One of the most popular gambling events for option traders to play is earnings announcements, and I do owe the concept of NOPE to hypothesizing specifically about the behavior of stock prices at earnings. Much like a black hole in quantum mechanics, most conventional theories about how price should work rapidly break down briefly before, during, and after ER, and generally experienced traders tend to shy away from playing earnings, given their similar unpredictability.
Before we start: what is NOPE? NOPE
is a funny backronym from Net Options Pricing Effect
, which in its most basic sense, measures the impact option delta has on the underlying price, as compared to share price. When I first started investigating NOPE, I called it OPE (options pricing effect), but NOPE sounds funnier.
The formula for it is dead simple, but I also have no idea how to do LaTeX on reddit, so this is the best I have:
Since I've already encountered this, put delta in this case is the absolute value (50 delta) to represent a put. If you represent put delta as a negative (the conventional way), do not subtract it; add it.
To keep this simple for the non-mathematically minded: the NOPE today is equal to the weighted sum (weighted by volume) of the delta of every call minus the delta of every put for all options chains extending from today to infinity
. Finally, we then divide that number by the # of shares traded today in the market session (ignoring pre-market and post-market, since options cannot trade during those times).
Effectively, NOPE is a rough and dirty way to approximate the impact of delta-gamma hedging
as a function of share volume, with us hand-waving the following factors:
- To keep calculations simple, we assume that all counter-parties are hedged. This is obviously not true, especially for idiots who believe theta ganging is safe, but holds largely true especially for highly liquid tickers, or tickers will designated market makers (e.g. any ticker in the NASDAQ, for instance).
- We assume that all hedging takes place via shares. For SPY and other products tracking the S&P, for instance, market makers can actually hedge via futures or other options. This has the benefit for large positions of not moving the underlying price, but still makes up a fairly small amount of hedges compared to shares.
Winding and Unwinding
I briefly touched on this in a past post, but two properties of NOPE seem to apply well to EER-like behavior (aka any binary catalyst event):
- NOPE measures sentiment - In general, the options market is seen as better informed than share traders (e.g. insiders trade via options, because of leverage + easier to mask positions). Therefore, a heavy call/put skew is usually seen as a bullish sign, while the reverse is also true.
- NOPE measures system stability
I'm not going to one-sentence explain #2, because why say in one sentence what I can write 1000 words on. In short, NOPE intends to measure sensitivity of the system (the ticker) to disruption.
This makes sense, when you view it in the context of delta-gamma hedging. When we assume all counter-parties are hedged, this means an absolutely massive amount of shares get sold/purchased when the underlying price moves. This is because of the following:
a) Assume I, Mr. MM sell 1000 call options for NKLA 25C 10/23 and 300 put options for NKLA 15p 10/23. I'm just going to make up deltas because it's too much effort to calculate them - 30 delta call, 20 delta put.
This implies Mr. MM needs the following to delta hedge: (1000 call options * 30 shares to buy for each) [to balance out writing calls) - (300 put options * 20 shares to sell for each) = 24,000 net shares Mr. MM needs to acquire to balance out his deltas/be fully neutral.
b) This works well when NKLA is at $20. But what about when it hits $19 (because it only can go down, just like their trucks). Thanks to gamma, now we have to recompute the deltas, because they've changed for both the calls (they went down) and for the puts (they went up).
Let's say to keep it simple that now my calls are 20 delta, and my puts are 30 delta. From the 24,000 net shares, Mr. MM has to now have:
(1000 call options * 20 shares to have for each) - (300 put options * 30 shares to sell for each) = 11,000 shares.
Therefore, with a $1 shift in price, now to hedge and be indifferent to direction, Mr. MM has to go from 24,000 shares to 11,000 shares, meaning he has to sell 13,000 shares ASAP, or take on increased risk
. Now, you might be saying, "13,000 shares seems small. How would this disrupt the system?"
(This process, by the way, is called hedge unwinding)
It won't, in this example. But across thousands of MMs and millions of contracts, this can - especially in highly optioned tickers - make up a substantial fraction of the net flow of shares per day. And as we know from our desk example, the buying or selling of shares directly changes the price of the stock itself. This, by the way, is why the NOPE formula takes the shape it does. Some astute readers might notice it looks similar to GEX, which is not a coincidence. GEX however replaces daily volume with open interest, and measures gamma over delta, which I did not find good statistical evidence to support, especially for earnings.
So, with our example above, why does NOPE measure system stability? We can assume for argument's sake that if someone buys a share of NKLA, they're fine with moderate price swings (+- $20 since it's NKLA, obviously), and in it for the long/medium haul. And in most cases this is fine - we can own stock and not worry about minor swings in price. But market makers can't* (they can, but it exposes them to risk), because of how delta works. In fact, for most institutional market makers, they have clearly defined delta limits by end of day, and even small price changes require
them to rebalance their hedges.
This over the whole market adds up to a lot shares moving, just to balance out your stupid Robinhood YOLOs. While there are some tricks (dark pools, block trades) to not impact the price of the underlying, the reality is that the more options contracts there are on a ticker, the more outsized influence it will have on the ticker's price. This can technically be exactly balanced, if option put delta is equal to option call delta, but never actually ends up being the case. And unlike shares traded, the shares representing the options are more unstable
, meaning they will be sold/bought in response to small price shifts. And will end up magnifying those price shifts, accordingly.
NOPE and Earnings
So we have a new shiny indicator, NOPE. What does it actually mean and do?
There's much literature going back to the 1980s that options markets do have some level of predictiveness towards earnings, which makes sense intuitively. Unlike shares markets, where you can continue to hold your share even if it dips 5%, in options you get access to expanded opportunity to make riches... and losses. An options trader betting on earnings is making a risky and therefore informed bet that he or she knows the outcome, versus a share trader who might be comfortable bagholding in the worst case scenario.
As I've mentioned largely in comments on my prior posts, earnings is a special case because, unlike popular misconceptions, stocks do not go up and down solely due to analyst expectations being meet, beat, or missed. In fact, stock prices move according to the consensus market expectation, which is a function of all the participants' FEPF on that ticker. This is why the price moves so dramatically - even if a stock beats, it might not beat enough to justify the high price tag (FSLY); even if a stock misses, it might have spectacular guidance or maybe the market just was assuming it would go bankrupt instead.
To look at the impact of NOPE and why it may play a role in post-earnings-announcement immediate price moves, let's review the following cases:
- Stock Meets/Exceeds Market Expectations (aka price goes up) - In the general case, we would anticipate post-ER market participants value the stock at a higher price, pushing it up rapidly. If there's a high absolute value of NOPE on said ticker, this should end up magnifying the positive move since:
a) If NOPE is high negative
- This means a ton of put buying, which means a lot of those puts are now worthless (due to price decoherence). This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to close out their sold/shorted shares, buying them, and pushing the stock price up.
b) If NOPE is high positive
- This means a ton of call buying, which means a lot of puts are now worthless (see a) but also a lot of calls are now worth more. This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to close out their sold/shorted shares AND also buy more shares to cover their calls, pushing the stock price up.
2) Stock Meets/Misses Market Expectations (aka price goes down) -
Inversely to what I mentioned above, this should push to the stock price down, fairly immediately. If there's a high absolute value of NOPE on said ticker, this should end up magnifying the negative move
a) If NOPE is high negative
- This means a ton of put buying, which means a lot of those puts are now worth more, and a lot of calls are now worth less/worth less (due to price decoherence). This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to sell/short more shares, pushing the stock price down.
b) If NOPE is high positive
- This means a ton of call buying, which means a lot of calls are now worthless (see a) but also a lot of puts are now worth more. This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to sell even more shares to keep their calls and puts neutral, pushing the stock price down.
Based on the above two cases, it should be a bit more clear why NOPE is a measure of sensitivity to system perturbation. While we previously discussed it in the context of magnifying
directional move, the truth is it also provides a directional bias
to our "random" walk. This is because given a price move in the direction predicted by NOPE, we expect it to be magnified, especially in situations of price decoherence. If a stock price goes up right after an ER report drops, even based on one participant deciding to value the stock higher, this provides a runaway reaction which boosts the stock price (due to hedging factors as well as other participants' behavior) and inures it to drops.
NOPE and NOPE_MAD
I'm going to gloss over this section because this is more statistical methods than anything interesting. In general, if you have enough data, I recommend using NOPE_MAD over NOPE.
While NOPE in theory represents a "real" quantity (net option delta over net share delta), NOPE_MAD (the median absolute deviation of NOPE) does not. NOPE_MAD simply answecompare the following:
- How exceptional is today's NOPE versus historic baseline (30 days prior)?
- How do I compare two tickers' NOPEs effectively (since some tickers, like TSLA, have a baseline positive NOPE, because Elon memes)? In the initial stages, we used just a straight numerical threshold (let's say NOPE >= 20), but that quickly broke down. NOPE_MAD aims to detect anomalies, because anomalies in general give you tendies.
I might add the formula later in Mathenese, but simply put, to find NOPE_MAD you do the following:
- Calculate today's NOPE score (this can be done end of day or intraday, with the true value being EOD of course)
- Calculate the end of day NOPE scores on the ticker for the previous 30 trading days
- Compute the median of the previous 30 trading days' NOPEs
- From the median, find the 30 days' median absolute deviation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_absolute_deviation)
- Find today's deviation as compared to the MAD calculated by: [(today's NOPE) - (median NOPE of last 30 days)] / (median absolute deviation of last 30 days)
This is usually reported as sigma (σ),
and has a few interesting properties:
- The mean of NOPE_MAD for any ticker is almost exactly 0.
- [Lily's Speculation's Speculation] NOPE_MAD acts like a spring, and has a tendency to reverse direction as a function of its magnitude. No proof on this yet, but exploring it!
Using the NOPE to predict ER
So the last section was a lot of words and theory, and a lot of what I'm mentioning here is empirically derived
(aka I've tested it out, versus just blabbered).
In general, the following holds true:
- 3 sigma NOPE_MAD tends to be "the threshold": For very low NOPE_MAD magnitudes (+- 1 sigma), it's effectively just noise, and directionality prediction is low, if not non-existent. It's not exactly like 3 sigma is a play and 2.9 sigma is not a play; NOPE_MAD accuracy increases as NOPE_MAD magnitude (either positive or negative) increases.
- NOPE_MAD is only useful on highly optioned tickers: In general, I introduce another parameter for sifting through "candidate" ERs to play: option volume * 100/share volume. When this ends up over let's say 0.4, NOPE_MAD provides a fairly good window into predicting earnings behavior.
- NOPE_MAD only predicts during the after-market/pre-market session: I also have no idea if this is true, but my hunch is that next day behavior is mostly random and driven by market movement versus earnings behavior. NOPE_MAD for now only predicts direction of price movements right between the release of the ER report (AH or PM) and the ending of that market session. This is why in general I recommend playing shares, not options for ER (since you can sell during the AH/PM).
- NOPE_MAD only predicts direction of price movement: This isn't exactly true, but it's all I feel comfortable stating given the data I have. On observation of ~2700 data points of ER-ticker events since Mar 2019 (SPY 500), I only so far feel comfortable predicting whether stock price goes up (>0 percent difference) or down (<0 price difference). This is +1 for why I usually play with shares.
#0) As a baseline/null hypothesis, after ER on the SPY500 since Mar 2019, 50-51% price movements in the AH/PM are positive (>0) and ~46-47% are negative (<0).
#1) For NOPE_MAD >= +3 sigma, roughly 68% of price movements are positive after earnings.
#2) For NOPE_MAD <= -3 sigma, roughly 29% of price movements are positive after earnings.
#3) When using a logistic model of only data including NOPE_MAD >= +3 sigma or NOPE_MAD <= -3 sigma, and option/share vol >= 0.4 (around 25% of all ERs observed), I was able to achieve 78% predictive accuracy on direction.
Like all models, NOPE is wrong, but perhaps useful. It's also fairly new (I started working on it around early August 2020), and in fact, my initial hypothesis was exactly
incorrect (I thought the opposite would happen, actually). Similarly, as commenters have pointed out, the timeline of data I'm using is fairly compressed (since Mar 2019), and trends and models do change.
In fact, I've noticed significantly lower accuracy since the coronavirus recession (when I measured it in early September), but I attribute this mostly to a smaller date range, more market volatility, and honestly, dumber option traders (~65% accuracy versus nearly 80%).
My advice so far if you do play ER with the NOPE method is to use it as following:
- Buy/short shares approximately right when the market closes before ER. Ideally even buying it right before the earnings report drops in the AH session is not a bad idea if you can.
- Sell/buy to close said shares at the first sign of major weakness (e.g. if the NOPE predicted outcome is incorrect).
- Sell/buy to close shares even if it is correct ideally before conference call, or by the end of the after-market/pre-market session.
- Only play tickers with high NOPE as well as high option/share vol.
In my next post, which may be in a few days, I'll talk about potential use cases for SPY and intraday trends, but I wanted to make sure this wasn't like 7000 words by itself.
First Chapter Previous Chapter submitted by
The view of Sanctuary was made even more impressive as An’Ra and his team waited in the V-Lift. Through the window, they can see the ornate streets curving through resplendent pools underneath, dotted by the occasional fountain.
“I hate this.” Vora groaned, dressed in a soldier’s standard battle uniform. “Why are we here, Commander?”
“We were investigating genocide and possible use of bioweapons,” Sonak explained, “Even without the first part, Strain Y is going to scare a lot of people. I think it’s reasonable for the Council to take a personal interest in this. Besides, I think the real issue here is the fact you might actually have to speak to the Council.”
“But...ugh, fine. Yes, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it when An’Ra came along and went, Party’s over, ass to the Council, now.”
“Hey now.” An’Ra feigned offense, “I didn’t say it that way, did I?”
“Kind of close, Commander.” Sonak chuckled.
“But still, I think that this isn’t about keeping the galaxy safe.” Vora sighed. “I think the Council’s keeping an eye open for any opportunity to to convince the galaxy they’re still in charge.”
“Or maybe they genuinely want to make sure that we’re not at risk of dying a horrible death by watching our own bodies melt.” Sonak shrugged. “Strain Y doesn’t care if you’re an officer or infantry.”
“That assumes the Council cares about what’s going on outside of these walls.” Vora glanced over, wariness in her look.
“Either way, we’re going to get our answer. Eyes open.” An’Ra said as the V-Lift doors parted ways, revealing the same ornate architecture within. Trees and grasses stole the eye as they walked through the hallways, various government officials from the myriad races conversing and conducting whatever business they were doing. After walking up some steps, they arrived at the large double-doors that lead to the Council Chambers. Standing on each side were the guards constantly on watch for any potential attack. Both of them Anaran, as expected. On approach, the guards opened up the doors to allow An’Ra and his team in.
When they entered, the room was probably more magnificent than they expected. A grand, curved window dominated the view. An unintrusive look into the beautiful splendor of Sanctuary. Directly in front of An’Ra and his team was a pathway that led to a semi-circular desk, standing in front of the raised platform that the Council sat, who had just now noticed the arrivals and are settling themselves in.
And it was there An’Ra got a good look at the Council. Four of them, half Esti, half Huak. An’Ra secretly never liked the Esti, the way he could see menacing fangs when their flat mouths opened, or those flaps of scale that expands outward into a hood. It just unnerved him, a reason he could never really find out. As soon as he sensed that they were ready, he walked up to the desk, wearing his officer’s dress uniform, comprised of a fine, smooth fabric shirt, adorned with a fluffy sash that went from his right shoulder down to his left side, shoulder pads accented with shining studs and finished with awards placed on his top-left chest, awards hard earned back in the Great War.
“Commander An’Ra.” The Huak councilor on the far right side, Neual, began, thick fingers interlaced together as he rested his hands on the desk. “Thank you for agreeing to this unusual request, we are very appreciative.”
“It’s no trouble, Councilor.” An’Ra gave a slight bow. “How can I help?”
“We’ll start at the beginning.” The first Esti councilor, Zhur, stated, holding up a secure datapad to ensure the information is easily accessible. “Strain Y. Your report says that while there is confirmation it was used, it was not used in significant quantities. Can you elaborate on that for us?”
“Previous uses of Strain Y all had one thing in common,” An’Ra began, “The amount deployed saturated the atmosphere of the planets they were used on. This is because, despite its lethality, is not actually that infectious. In order to guarantee the total elimination of a planet’s population, you will need to deploy it in such large numbers that everyone will be infected within minutes of deployment. In this case, for Planet 3, there simply wasn’t enough to reach that threshold.”
“At which you go on to state that thermal weapons were used in a state of panic,” Yhiz, the second Esti councilor, added, “Can you explain your reasoning for us?”
“As established before, Strain Y was used on the planet. My working theory is that, when they discovered that they grossly underestimated the amount needed, they panicked and used thermal weapons to both try and burn out the supplies used and finish the genocide they started.”
“But if thermal weapons were indeed used, how did you confirm Strain Y was deployed?” Zhur spoke up.
“We found pieces of Strain Y’s genetic material on the planet’s surface.” An’Ra glanced over to Zhur’s direction. “And as I arrived back in the system, I received a quantum packet from the expedition, stating that they have confirmed that Strain Y was indeed used. Adding that with the obvious use of thermal weaponry, I concluded that the attackers didn’t use enough of the weapon to guarantee extinction.”
Zhur leaned back in her seat, scarlet eyes fixated on the desk. An’Ra couldn’t tell if she was trying to find a counter argument or just processing the information.
“Have you found any evidence that can tell us if there’s more of the strain out in the galaxy?” Neual asked after giving a sigh through his wide nostrils.
“I’m afraid not, sir. All I can definitively say is that this planet fell victim to a biological Cruel Weapon.”
“I’m more concerned about the native life.” Ghala, the final and second Huak councilor, stated after being silent. “Are you absolutely certain that none of the planet’s indigenous life survived?”
“The scientific team said that there’s a very low chance of that.” An’Ra’s ears flattened. “And after seeing the surface myself, I must agree. I don’t think we should wait for a miracle.”
“Ah...I see.” Ghala leaned back in his chair, obviously disheartened. “Even if the planet is now incapable of supporting life, we still wish to move forward with a more symbolic gesture and statement by declaring Planet 3 of System AQ 115-4A illegal for colonization.”
“But let’s move onto what I believe is the most pressing issue: the identity of the attackers.” Neual leaned forward. “Based on your report, you and the team have found nothing that neither confirms nor clears any potential suspect?”
“That’s correct, Councilor.” An’Ra nodded. “We’ve found nothing, within the system and on the planet itself, that tells us anything about who did it.”
“Are there any surviving infrastructure on the planet?” Ghala asked, straightening his posture. “Even if there isn’t much, maybe the natives’ equipment has something we can use?”
“As established before, the planet was devastated terribly. There are indeed ruins of their civilization, but whether or not we can salvage anything from them is a different story.” An’Ra answered with a sigh.
“So in that case, the Qu’Rathi are still the likely aggressors then.” Zhur stated.
“I’m not convinced.” An’Ra shook his head. “Everything we have so far is just circumstantial, nothing solid.”
“Yes, that proves they did it. But looking at it from a different perspective, nothing that proves they didn’t do it either.” Zhur countered, her eyes squinting some.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to press forward with what I think you’re planning, Councilor.” An’Ra leaned forward on the table, ears flattening back. “If you do, and we uncover evidence that clearly proves their innocence, you will be pushing an innocent race away.”
“But if we uncover evidence that proves their guilt, then the trial will be much more expedient.” Yhiz joined in, his eyes also squinting slightly.
“With respect Council, I still think that’s the worst decision you can make.” An’Ra’s teeth began to bare as he spoke. “We can’t make any decision until we acquire more evidence.”
“Nothing we have proves that Strain Y is permanently removed as a future threat.” Zhur started, “Nothing we have proves that the Federation did not do anything. Right now, we have the threat of a Class 4 Cruel Weapon looming over everyone’s heads. People will start becoming scared, start wondering if their shadows will melt them at any time.”
“I know that Councilors!” An’Ra raised his voice. “Give me time! I’m not saying this is over yet, just let me keep looking!”
“We aren’t stopping your investigation, Commander.” Neual said, holding his hand up slightly. “We’re just informing you that you may not have the time you thought you had.”
“What does that mean?” An’Ra’s ears stuck out at an angle, mixed between stiffening and anger.
The councilors looked at each other for a few moments before Zhur stood up and took in a deep breath. “Commander, based on both the collected evidence so far, and lack of any other evidence, the Council has decided to proceed with charging the Qu’Rathi Federation on counts of Genocide, possession of a Cruel Weapon, and deployment of Cruel Weapons with intent for malicious harm. Out of respect for your efforts, Commander, we will give you eight months to continue your investigation. Beyond that, we will close your investigation to allow the courts time to process and review what has been collected.”
“Are you insane?!” An’Ra shouted. “Do you even realize what would happen if you’re wrong?!”
“We do, Commander.” Zhur nodded. “But the risk is just too high. The safety of the galaxy and justice for the inhabitants of System AQ 115-4A must be our top priority. This debrief is over.”
An’Ra stood in complete and stunned silence, watching the Council casually get up from their seats and dispersing to their own private offices. It wasn’t until that they have fully left the chambers that An’Ra finally found the will to move and regroup with Sonak and Vora, both of whom are also equally stunned.
“Those ekas!” Vora exclaimed. “It’s bad enough to be quick at accusing someone, but how dare they claim this is for those humans!”
“And here I thought all those things the news were saying was just to get people to watch them.” Sonak muttered softly. “Commander, obviously this is bad.”
“I know, Sonak.” An’Ra crossed his arms, ears now pointing straight back and teeth fully bared. “We can’t let them do this.”
“But what can we do?” Sonak exclaimed. “What options do we have?”
“Alliance Enforcement!” Vora declared. “Commander, what if you filed a complaint to the Lord-Enforcer? Tell him what’s going on?”
“That’s a good idea actually.” Sonak nodded. “If we convince the Lord-Enforcer that the Council is being too hasty with our investigation, which shouldn’t be hard, he just might deny the Council’s request for prosecution!”
“I can’t imagine the Lord-Enforcer approving this even without our complaint.” An’Ra replied. “Still, never hurts to be prepared. Come on, let’s get to it.”
Jur’El leaned back in the puffy seat he was assigned to. The restaurant he entered had a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The lighting was dimmed, which complimented the dark but cozy ambiance of the room. The walls and floor each had a dark-themed color scheme, the seats were of a different scheme but not too different to oppose the goal set by the designer. And although the building was packed with customers, their conversations did not threaten to turn anyone deaf. It was a quiet and relaxed experience, something he needed desperately.
Even now, as hard as he tried to focus on how delicious his food was, how balanced the flavor and texture of it was, he was still forced to relive what happened on Planet 3. He could hear the sudden screams of his colony group. The scientists who were first awoken that wanted to find out why their Life world was so different to the data they were given. To the families and menial workers who were just talking amongst themselves and organizing the supplies when those machines stormed the ship. And what still terrifies him, still sends his heart racing, was when that one machine entered the control room, blood drenching its chassis. Bits and pieces of Qu’Rathi innards on its cold mechanical manipulators. How it just stared at him, lifelessly, with a rifle aiming right at his chest. And those drills. Those ghenning drills.
He was forced out of his torment by the rough poking of his shoulder. When he looked, it was another Qu’Rathi. “Captain Jur’El, right?”
“Uh..yes, who are you?” He nodded in confusion.
“Jhen.” She introduced herself, quickly taking a seat opposite from him. “I need to talk to you.”
“The expedition to that system deep in the Dead Zone.” She glared at him, mandibles tense. “The same system who’s Life world had a native population, the very same world being investigated as a genocide site, where your expedition went to settle.”
“Jhen, please, we had no idea what was going on.” Jur’El leaned back, hands raised in a defensive posture. “All we were told was that this was the most pristine and beautiful Life world ever discovered in a system rich with stellar bodies.”
“I don’t care about that. What I care is how you seem to be the only one who came back.” Jhen started raising herself from her seat. “I’m pretty sure that anyone who attempts to colonize a freshly cleansed world is forcibly removed from that planet and returned to their respective people. So where is everyone?”
Jur’El’s eyes went wide. He knew exactly where this was going. “I...I can’t tell you.”
“Don’t you dare.” Jhen snarled, now leaning over the table. “I’ve heard enough of that from the company, I’m not here to be force-fed more of it!”
“Just...trust me,” Jur’El spoke softly, shakily leaving his seat, “You don’t want to know.”
“Don’t you ghenning walk away from me!” Jhen shouted, grabbing Jur’El’s shoulder firmly, the other patrons now locking eyes to the two. “Two of my sons were on that mission! What happened to them?!”
Jur’El clutched his head with a hand firmly, feeling tears exploding out of his eyes. His mind rushing back to those scenes. The sounds, the smell, the fear. Everything crashed into him all at once. And they’re not just memories now. They’re all coming back to him as if he was transported in time and placed back to the exact moment it started. Back to the moment where he was screaming for his wife and son to hide, to find a corner of the ship that was hard to see and to stay there until the shooting stopped. How he felt his heart give out when he heard them beg for their life when they were found, cut short by the merciless cracks of their alien weapons. How every possible feeling melted away when the clanking of the machine’s walking approached him, when he realized there was no nowhere in the control room to hide, not with how thorough those things were being. The frantic, mindless begging he got into when he saw the blood covered machine hold that weapon to him.
“You’re safe!” A voice rang out. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him to come back. That scene melting away back into the restaurant. All those smells and sights to be gone. When he was certain that it was over, he looked around. There was Jhen, face beaten and currently being restrained by a blue-furred Anaran. And in front of him was another, gray-furred one. “You hear me? You’re safe now!”
“We saw what was going on. The Qu’Rathi over there? She was just screaming down your throat, all while you were just on the floor. Ken’A there nearly caved her face in by the time we got some distance between you two.”
“Th...thank you.” Jur’El muttered, shakily getting himself back on his feet with the help of the gray Anaran. Jur’El was just about to walk away when the Anaran firmly, but not threateningly, gripped his shoulder.
“I know the signs, friend.” He began softly. “Your soul is badly wounded and is bleeding heavily. Just like a doctor if you’re shot or cut, you need to find someone to talk to, get your soul back together.”
“As long as I don’t run into another person like her, I’ll be fine.” Jur’El countered, trying to walk away still.
“No, you won’t.” The Anaran still held his grip. “I need you to trust me. With how bad your soul is right now, doing anything other than talking to someone will just make it worse. And when your soul dies, well...believe me, it’s not a good experience, for anybody.”
Jur’El stared into the gray Anaran’s orange eyes for a moment before he let out a sigh. “You’re not going to give up, are you?”
“I’ve seen what happens too many times. Good Battle-Brothers, completely different people. Either they’re just shadows of themselves, or doomed to forever relive their horrors. If I have the chance to prevent it happening again, I’m giving it my all.”
Jur’El looked aside for a few moments, internally fighting himself as to whether he should comply or keep resisting. He finally reached his decision when he became certain that the Anaran would most likely hunt him down as a life mission if he didn’t seek therapy. “Fine, I’ll do it. Got anyone in mind?”
“A dear friend of mine. He’ll get you back on track, promise.” The Anaran patted Jur’El’s shoulder a few times before proceeding to lead him, motioning for Ken’A to let go of Jhen and follow.
Michael, accompanied by his newly founded Praetorian Guard, continued his leisurely stroll down the surprisingly spacious corridor. The hallway itself was typical. All-metal construction with evenly spaced rows of blue-white lights.
The Praetorian Guard themselves are comprised of those Servants who display both extreme scores in combat efficiency and effectiveness in defensive situations. Armed with the absolute best in magnetic-ballistics, the most impenetrable of armor designs and the highest optimized combat-frames, even a squad of these guards can hold off a virtual army, provided they aren’t subjected to bombardment or heavy ordinance.
Just as Michael was about to enter the main command center of the station he was touring, Central contacted him on a private channel.
“Master? Your new administration is ready.” He declared proudly.
“Alright, let’s begin the introductions.” Michael replied, signaling the guardsmen that he’s about to enter a meeting. Although unneeded, the Guard promptly took up a defensive formation around him. He assumes this is mostly to keep unwelcome guests from interrupting him.
The scenery of the tranquil design of the corridor melted away into the virtual world built by neon-blue blocks, the same visual that he witnessed when he first received the interface. After a few moments, several other Servants materialized and stood attention in a semi-circle in front of him.
“My Lord.” The first Servant bowed, its voice deep, if gruff. “I’m Supreme Commander Schwarzkopf, in charge of managing our armed forces and overseeing the grand strategy of the Imperium.”
“I am Secretary Elizabeth.” The second spoke with a calming, soothing feminine voice. “I’m responsible for ensuring our economy runs perfectly. In short, I make sure every project gets the hammers and resources it needs.”
“I’m Foreign Minister Edward, at your service m’Lord.” The third, with a distinct British accent and of a composed, controlled voice. “While regretfully I’m useless at this stage, the moment we initiate contact with xeno species, I’ll handle diplomatic affairs and achieving our goals through negotiations when possible.”
“No offense, but I thought every Servant wants to see aliens dead?” Michael spoke up with slight confusion.
“Oh, of course. The very idea of ripping out the entrails of a xeno and suffocating them with it brings such joy it’s therapeutic.” Benjamin replied. Michael was unsure if he was joking or not. “I was appointed because I displayed the most effective ability at hiding such feelings.”
“Ah...good to know.” Michael nodded dryly, not exactly assured. “Back to where we were?”
“Yes, Lord. I’m Director Mansfield.” The fourth spoke with an eloquent-sounding voice. “I’m in charge of Imperial Intelligence, running operations abroad and managing counter-intelligence on the homefront. I give you my word that we will know everything about the aliens and they will know nothing about us.”
“And that leaves me, Master.” Central began. “As a result of this delegation, I now possess more processing cycles towards research and development. That means that I’ll be in charge of ensuring Imperial dominance in technology. I will also act as your adjutant, filtering out information that does not need your attention.”
“Well...shit, this sounds like an actual government I’m in charge of.” Michael gave out a nervous chuckle. “All the more reason to get down to business though. Let’s start with the first matter. Schwarzkopf, how’s our military coming along?”
“It’s growing rapidly, your majesty.” He answered with distinct pride. “Already we have several hundred frigates, fifty light cruisers and twenty heavy cruisers, with the first wave of battleships due to exit the drydocks within a few days. Additionally, we have established four different army groups with fifty divisions each.”
“I thought we’d take a lot longer.” Michael stated with no hidden amazement.
“There’s great benefit in our workforce able to operate at a hundred percent every hour of the day.” Elizabeth commented, her emotion-flags also indicating pride. “And speaking of which, our population of Servants grows geometrically. That benefits both our economy and the military. Our economy by providing more workers in skilled and unskilled labor, and the military by providing more crew members and soldiers.”
“So in short, it won’t be long before we become a virtual powerhouse.” Michael said, arms crossed.
“Especially if we continue expanding.” Elizabeth nodded. “On that note, we have already claimed several dozen more systems.”
“With Rigel and Betelgeuse selected as naval bases.” Schwarzkopf chimed in.
“So we’re expanding in all the ways, got it.” Michael nodded. “Now the second matter. Terraforming Mars.”
“At present, there are two issues that must be resolved.” Central answered. “The first problem is the planet’s lack of a magnetosphere. Without that, any and all organic life would perish under lethal bombardment of the Sun’s solar wind, in addition to any sustainable atmosphere being lost to space. The second problem is Mars’ inability to retain heat, the cause for it’s known low planetary temperature.”
“And knowing you, you already have possible answers?” Mansfield shrugged.
“Correct. The heat issue is rather trivial to solve. Mars already has an abundant amount of carbon-dioxide within the atmosphere, a well known greenhouse gas. Combined with even more of the gas locked planet side, once temperatures begin to rise, we will set off a snowball effect. However, that is all for naught if the atmosphere is allowed to escape into space by solar wind.”
“So basically the key here is the magnetosphere.” Michael added. “Build that and everything becomes simple.”
“Exactly.” Central affirmed. “Already there are two main methods. One is to build superconducting rings around the planet and drive them with direct current. With enough power, we can generate magnetic fields strong enough to form a virtual magnetosphere.”
“And what’s the second?” Elizabeth said.
“The second is to construct a station at the L1 Lagrange Point that will generate a dipole magnetic field, diverting the solar wind around the planet instead of into it. Although it was simulated using slower, binary processing, the results indicate that Mars would gain half the atmospheric pressure of Earth’s within a few years.”
“So then, the main focus is building that magnetic shield.” Michael spoke firmly. “Elizabeth? Let’s get the ball rolling. Coordinate with Central as needed.”
“At once, my Lord.” Elizabeth bowed.
Unlike the Council chambers, the office of the Lord-Enforcer was much less opulent and more pragmatic. After going through the receptionist area, An’Ra and his team were escorted into the main office itself. However, just like the chambers, a large window dominated the view on entry, granting another view of a city district on Sanctuary.
And sitting in the more rectangular desk was the Lord-Enforcer himself, Dura. Blue eyed, with a fur of dull-orange it reminds of a sunset. As soon as An’Ra and his team walked into the office, the Enforcer sat up, tail wagging.
“Commander An’Ra, in my office!” He exclaimed, arms out to his sides. “Forgive me sir, but I never thought I’d see the day!”
“A pleasure to meet you, sir.” An’Ra replied warmly, greeting the Enforcer with their fists clasped together and pulling themselves inward, shoulder to shoulder.
“Please, no need to be formal with me.” Dura chuckled. “Sit down, what brings you here?”
After taking their respective seats, An’Ra looked at Dura grimly. “I’m here to file a delay on a request for prosecution against the Federation.”
Dura’s ears angled themselves in a mixture of stiffening and lowering. “I just got the paperwork from the Council. And I can tell you that won’t be needed. I’ve already submitted my rejection.”
“With respect, sir.” Sonak spoke up. “I get the feeling that the Council might fight that.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to present my back to them just because they ask.” Dura gave off a grin. “I might be some paper-tosser now, but that just means the battlefield is different. Don’t worry Commander, as long as I’m here, you’ll get the chance to finish this investigation properly.”
“Thank you, Enforcer.” An’Ra smiled as he got up from his seat. “With any luck, you won’t have to fight long.”
“Oh, take your time!” Dura replied with an inflection of humor. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve had in years. Was just about to smash my head on this desk any day now actually.”
“Wait, really?” Vora asked, ears stiffened.
“It’s just a joke, Vora.” Sonak assured dryly.
“Oh...” Her ears flattened as the team exited the office.
When they arrived in the main plaza where the Enforcer’s office is located, they congregated in a small collection of benches nearby an ornate fountain that commemorated the Anaran defense of Felaal IV, largely considered the turning point of the Great War, which further enhanced the beauty of the surrounding scenery of floating walkways above crystal-clear waters.
“Well, that’s a relief, hopefully.” An’Ra began, letting out a decompressing sigh.
“I meant what I said earlier, An’Ra.” Sonak said. “If the Council are determined to charge the Federation, which I’m sure they made abundantly clear, they’re not going to let the Enforcer drop mines in their path just like that.”
“Which just means we can’t lose our focus.” Vora replied sternly. “So, what are our options? We can’t exactly go back to Planet 3, there’s really no leads there.”
“What about that Detective we met when we arrived?” Sonak suggested. “He was handling that whistle blower. Maybe that’s something worth looking into?”
“There’s also the Nav-Net.” Vora said. “All we got right now is that the Feds were at that location, but what if we look at the rest of the network? Try and trace their path?”
“The network doesn’t extend into the Dead Zone.” Sonak countered.
“No, not like that. We look at the network across Alliance space. We start with the logs that end at the Dead Zone, and we try to backtrack their route.”
“We’ll need to obtain legal authorization for that, Vora.” An’Ra stated.
“Actually, if I could add something.” Sonak said with his arms crossed. “If the Federation didn’t actually do it, then that questions the credibility of those codes. I think there’s a question that hasn’t been asked yet. And that is, are those codes faked?”
“That’s...a good point actually.” Vora acceded. “If we get the legal permission to examine the NavNet logs, then if the Federation didn’t do it, the logs across the network won’t support it. Think about it. You need a big fleet to do what just happened, and that fleet has to come from somewhere.”
“And that would mean if this was a frame job, they need a way to account for that.” An’Ra continued, confidence flaring. “It’s one thing to trick a single Nav-Buoy, but I really doubt anyone is capable enough of affecting the network itself.”
“We still need the Enforcer’s help to get access to the network.” Sonak reminded.
“Let’s go get it then.” An’Ra stated firmly. With that, the team left their meeting spot and began returning to the Enforcer’s office.
With confidence in their step, the walk back to the office was much shorter compared to before. However, things took a turn when An’Ra and the team noticed a large gathering of officers around the office entrance. They didn’t have to time to wonder when a group exited the office, dragging a combative Dura out with them.
“Commander, this isn’t good.” Sonak growled under his breath.
An’Ra simply stepped forward and grabbed one of the arresting officers. “What in Arenar’s Sword is going on here?”
“Dura’s under arrest on suspicion of corruption.” The officer replied flatly. “Lil’Al has been appointed as acting Lord-Enforcer.”
“The Council’s behind this, Commander!” Dura shouted, his feet literally dragging along the floor as four officers were taking him away. “Don’t believe a word they say about me!”
An’Ra and his team just stood there in stunned silence, watching and hearing the Anaran official being dragged virtually kicking and screaming. By the time they returned to their senses, hushed conversations was populating both the room and outside.
“We’re not going to get in the network, are we?” Sonak asked, still recovering.
“We still have to try, come on.” An’Ra said, already moving. When the team returned to the office, standing next to the desk was a slender Esti. No doubt Lil’al. She was looking out the window when she turned around upon hearing the encroaching footsteps.
“Yes, may I help you?” She began.
“Acting Lord-Enforcer Lil’Al?” An’Ra began, trying the diplomatic route first. “I’m Commander An’Ra, investigating the genocide by use of Strain Y. We’d like to request legal authorization to examine the logs of the Nav-Net.”
“For what purpose?” She replied, taking her seat.
“We believe that it may hold evidence that either confirms or disproves the Federation’s alleged involvement in the attack.”
Lil’Al leaned back in her seat, staring at them. “The Nav-Net is the lifeblood of, well, everything. Commerce, tourism, law enforcement. It holds great information about who has gone where, and in what ship, Commander. You realize that, don’t you?”
“I do, and what you’ve said precisely states how important that is, how important the potential evidence is.”
Lil’Al stayed motionless for a few moments, her long, lithe fingers twiddling about that indicates her thought. “Very well, I’ll start the paperwork to get you authorization, just be mindful of what you’re about to analyze.”
“Thank you.” An’Ra gave a slight bow. “In addition, I’m not sure if it’s been passed along, but Dura has rejected the Council’s request for prosecuting the Federation. Can I assume you’ll uphold that?”
“I’m afraid not, Commander.” Lil’Al replied flatly. “The galaxy has suffered a great loss through the genocide of a race who’ve suffered the universe’s cruel sense of humor by being placed both far away from us and deep within an almost uninhabitable region. I have overturned Dura’s rash decision and accepted the Council’s request.”
“Then I’d like to file a delay on that decision, immediately.” An’Ra replied, ears flattened back.
“On what grounds?”
“Lack of decisive evidence, to start.”
“Same could be said on your side, Commander.” Lil’Al let out a sigh. “Yes, all the evidence collected thus far is not...ideal. However, the most significant points at this time are that a young race who was just about to leave their homeworld was exterminated through the most horrible of all options. We cannot ignore that.”
“But we also can’t rush to conclusions. We need to continue investigating and only go after someone if we have at least one crucial piece of information.” An’Ra countered, arms crossed and his teeth starting to bare.
“And I agree, that’s how it should be done.” Lil’Al replied. “But if we do, we risk dragging out an investigation to such a length we may end up forgetting this tragedy. We cannot allow such an insult to Planet 3’s memory. I’m sorry, but I must reject your petition for judiciary delay.” Next Chapter AN: Every single time I paste this in, Reddit is just determined to put it in some code block. Anyways, As of now, I've finally completely locked in the plot for this story, just one major question that could've changed a lot was on my mind for a while. Enjoy!
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