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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 960: Path less travelled to fairy

I took the fabled path less travelled. This always works out well for the poet. But in the real world, the well trod path leads somewhere people want or need to be. The other path, not so much.

I had my reasons for travelling, and at the moment I made the turn, taking a path where I might not be followed or expected made a lot of sense. If I had just noticed the Fairy Ring it lead me through before it was too late, all this might be different.

Of course, if wishes were fishes, as they say.

Instead, my first clue something was no longer normal was stepping out of a muddy spring day into a crisp, cold winter’s night. The sky was clear, but it was well below freezing and there was a substantial amount of drifted snow. In the distance I could see a well appointed campsite with a large fire and figures dancing to tunes coming from a well cranked gramophone.

I looked behind me, just in time to see the window to that muddy spring day flicker and evaporate like a will-o-wisp.

I was committed to this path now.

I made my way down into the valley, where the snow drifts to either side of the narrow trail were often well over my head. The path crested enough small ridges on the way down to assure me it went somewhere. Whether that was somewhere I wanted to be remained to be seen.

Of course, before my unexpected change of seasons it was all out war from horizon to horizon, and that was no place for me to be.

I decided to simply embrace my fates, and put my best foot forward. With a new sense of resolve and hope for my future, I made my way down to the camp.

It was only much later that the nature of my mistake became clear.

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Deal 908: Brainwashed

I had once been a free man, or as free as a young man can be in a place and time where the ordinary citizens knock knees in terror of what a group of friends might do of an evening. My droogs and I had our way with any that displeased us, and several who pleased us as well.

Then it all changed.

We’d met a force to be reckoned with, one that we had no chance to overwhelm with our wit and charm and practice of the good old ultraviolence that had served us so well to date.

And thus I found myself bound hand and foot to a chair for days on end, forced to watch, forced to listen, forced to change my ways.

And forced to lose my love of Beethoven as they tied the master in knots in my head, tied him to all that they saw as wrong with me.

And after, I am a broken man. But also a peaceful man.

Unless a recording of the good ol’ Ludvig Van comes on. Then the only certainty in the world is that I will find myself curled in a tight ball and weeping for all that used to be lovely in my life.