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Deal 1009: Titan Lab 1, Day 25 Spring.

Time go for a stroll outside, so that means getting dressed for the weather. The extreme cold temperature is relatively easy to handle, my suit is well insulated and is provided with electric heating elements woven through the garment. Even though the atmospheric pressure is high, it is only moderately higher than back home. We actually keep our shirtsleeve atmosphere inside the station at a slightly higher pressure to reduce the effect of any pinholes or leaks.

The biggest problem is the lack of free oxygen outside. Without it we couldn’t breathe for long. With it, we need to be extremely careful about sparks since the lakes of hydrocarbons that drew us here are combustible if oxygen is provided. When stepping outside, we need to be careful not to carry any oxygen with us we don’t know about or risk a “combustion event” that could threaten our survival.

The mirrors in the locker room are not there for our hair. They are part of the ritual of donning the suit and preparing to exit. A last minute inspection for anything contaminating the suit’s exterior could be critical.

The frogs in the locker room are there for luck. The croak a friendly greeting when we return inside, and are always glad of a little attention before we head outside. They were packed as part of an experiment whose direct phases are long over. But since they’ve been exposed to too much of the exterior soil and trace compounds, we dare not eat them. So they have become mascots of sorts. They are the only living creatures we know of to have handled the soils of Titan with bare hands, after all.

And they lived to tell the tale. To croak about it, at least. Something the rats that have been exposed to it cannot say. They did croak, but in a far more metaphorical sense. So we take as few risks as possible, and go to great lengths to not track in any soils.

We’re at the beach here, at a shoreline of a hydrocarbon lake so large that the opposite shore is hidden below the horizon. Even on a clear day you cannot see the other station on the far shore. Naturally they can’t see us either. And that is good, we rarely speak and despite our remote location we are fiercely competitive.

We’re both here because of the vast lakes of hydrocarbons. These are a valuable fuel in this day and age. Here on Titan we can simply drag a bucket to lift a lifetime’s worth on Earth. And we do that to power the station, we burn it with carefully hoarded oxygen to generate much needed heat and electricity. We’re pretty sure the other team is doing the same, but we know so little about their mission. We think they may be below the surface much of the year, either in tunnels on the shore, or some have speculated, in pods located within the lake itself.

We don’t know, and have no time for the idle curiosity needed to find out. Our flight suits have the range to visit, but any attempt is strictly forbidden to us by our sponsors back home. I guess part of our story is the isolation, and friendly neighbors would ruin that plot point.

Besides we are competing to survive in a supremely hostile place. It is only logical to be concerned that our limited resources could be a tempting target of a raid. The reverse has certainly been contemplated.

So in spite of all that, and in spite of the risks involved, today it is time for a trip outside.

The undersuit goes on easily. The isolation layer goes on over that, with a light armour shell over the whole thing. I can move pretty naturally, and even survive a bounce or two off our normal surface conditions.

I’m more at risk over the lake, but we avoid the liquid and stay ashore as much as possible. One day, though, we’ll put out a boat. I’d like to see a sailboat plying the lakes, enjoying the views of the planet and its rings overhead, all while dodging lake-monsters and shoals. But that day is still far off. Today is just a stroll around the base to check our fenceline.

Fenceline that is more virtual than physical, of course.

The ground is dimly lit by the distant sun, but with a little artificial light I can see enough to do my job. But there are always shadows. And the shadows move, and there are stories of things that move with the shadows. Things that ought not to exist, but there is the evidence here below me. Something has disassembled a sensor stand and stolen some components. Something that can’t exist.

But the radio is still silent. We don’t really know if our opposition is even still alive. We expect they aren’t sure about us.

We don’t know for sure about the conditions back home, either. The radio from home has been silent for a long time now.

Nothing for it but to put what I can back together, and then get back inside before I meet it face to face.

To face.

Something is out here.

I can feel it watching me.

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Deal 1003: Race day

At the track, I always bet on the nose. It seems disrespectful to assume that anyone wants to do anything other than win. The race for second is substantially more unpredictable, and never mind at all about the race for third. Not that I won’t occasionally protect my investment with smaller bets. But I only care about the bet to win.

They ran well today, despite the troubles. Something odd was happening out of view of the paying customers. Something hateful and ugly. It had everyone on edge. But on edge is often a good thing, so I doubled my usual investment.

Then they found that vagrant. In two places. It is never a good thing to find parts of an intruder on both sides of the track. That implies that security was way off their game. Or perhaps someone spiked their coffee again. And if someone is spiking the coffee, regulars start to worry about what else might have been spiked, and if it was just slipping a Mickey to security, or if something more serious might be going on.

But that vagrant was found in two pieces. So something a lot sharper than just a little rat poison was involved there.

But the games must go on. I’ve got an investment here, and the house doesn’t like to return bets. Much safer to assume that the situation is under control, that the event was an anomaly, and that things can proceed as usual. A few well placed hints and incentives will keep the gentlemen in blue out of the way, and avoid too many delays.

If they are causing troubles, whisper in the Mayor’s ear, and let him get the guard dogs to back down for an hour or two. It won’t hurt the dead guy too much to wait.

Or perhaps open a window and offer odds on the cause of death?

Nah, that would be more disrespectful than always betting on show.

Finally, they calmed everyone down and readied the main event. My favorite is running in the middle, but with an unfamiliar jockey. And there’s that other shoe that has been waiting to drop. That was no vagrant torn in pieces. That was my investment!

It all went downhill from there.

And now the gentlemen in blue seem to think I might be interesting to talk to too.

I’m gonna need some strong storytelling to get clear of this one.

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Deal 989: No town town

He was not a humble man, that much was obvious as he strode into town from the deep woods.

He stood six feet or more tall, slender, with long blond hair. The bow he carried was nearly as tall as he was. His quiver was empty, however. He walked steadily, as if accustomed to walking long distances.

This was a man who demanded attention. He drew the eye and held it.

His partner, however, was opposite in every way possible.

She was short. Short temper. Short hair. Short of breath. And clearly past the end of her patience for long walks. She carried a great battle axe strapped across her back, and clearly had the strength to use it. She also had no desire to be seen or noticed.

This couple was trouble incarnate. And my peaceful town was about to become the center of some chain of events that had followed them across the lands. Unless I took action to deflect it.

I acted alone, the need was too immediate to call for the others.

I cast the first stone in the pond, and muddled the reflection and by extension of my will, muddled what they saw.

If my will prevailed, they would not see the town spread out before them, and would walk on through, seeking shelter further along their trail.

This was the prudent thing to do.

It was not necessarily the right thing to do.

It was what I did.

As the town watched silently, they made their way through.

His confident strides missed every pothole, every small animal, every picket fence.

Her furtive pace nearly caught us out, but she was too intent on keeping up.

He held the attention of everyone as his tall bow and blond hair disappeared over the ridge and back into the deep woods.

I would pay for my actions tomorrow.

But for today, we remained safe and hidden.