Image

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.

Image

Deal 1008: Standard Story

Once upon a time, the standard collection of three brothers were assigned the usual set of pointless tasks.

The oldest brother, being at all times the biggest and knowing himself to be the smartest, took no care at all. His task was completed swiftly, but without any wisdom was not completed well. Worse, his actions had offended the richest man in the kingdom, and he was soon served with a suit for his troubles. As the case progressed, it became clear to all that he had failed miserably.

The middle brother, often ignored, took up his lute and spent his time at music, letting his assigned task languish as he pursued his art. He spent many hours of many days in many inns and clubs. He chased elusive sounds. He chased a true love. He found many things to be happy about, and in time found himself married with a enough children to fill out his band. In due time, he died as he lived, a happy man surrounded by the joy he brought to all around him. And yet, as these stories go, he too must be judged a failure for he had ignored the arbitrary task that fate (or the Author) had assigned him.

The youngest brother, going by all that is expected in this sort of story, set out diligently to accomplish his task. From time to time, stories of his one brother or the other’s fate would reach him as he sought first the tallest tree in the forest, then the sharpest herring, then some knights with weird and rude habits of accosting people and setting tasks, and finally a decent shrubbery. Along the way he was plagued by rabbits, coconuts, and swallows. Eventually, stories came to be told of his exploits, and even the Author had to admit that by the arbitrary rules in play, he had succeeded.

Except for one thing.

Where was the bat?

Image

Deal 997: Veterans

The dog was nearly as jumpy as the human it was escorting. Like peas in a pod, they were. Both going slightly grey about their muzzles, both lean and wiry.

He was clearly a veteran, and the dog may well have been too. You can’t always disguise the nervous tics of someone freshly home from combat. The strangest things would alarm both man and dog, sometimes causing them to practically levitate in surprise.

Then the moment would pass and they’d realize together that whatever the shared moment was about, it wasn’t real, wasn’t happening here and now.

So I sit here and watch people go by, and they sit over there and relive their shared pasts. I briefly consider telling them who I am and what I am doing, but then that never works out well. I can invent a better story for them from here than whatever it is that they share.

So I collect my cane, my hat, and my notes and make my way towards the parking lot to find my car, leaving them in their moment. Together.