Spanish version here.
First chapter here.
Sandra pushed the man into the room with one hand, closing the door with the other. Then she raised him with the same hand, grasping the lapels, without being able to touch the ground. She extracted the drone from his right arm, which pointed the laser at him. Finally, she ordered:
“All right, my patience is gone. You’re going to talk. And you’re going to do it right now.
-Of course! The helpless man groaned. She added:
“The last time I was on this satellite my life was sent to hell. I was treated like a fool full of dreams and fantasies of a better world, and that’s what I was certainly. But all that was before, three years ago. Now I’m not for jokes, or for games, or for riddles, let alone for surprises. I will not fall into that mistake again. So I’ll say it very clearly: tell me who you are, what this is, and what you’re going for, or I’ll blow your head off in a femtosecond. And quiet, my weapons cannot be detected by the hotel’s defense systems”. The man moaned again when a hair-thick probe was introduced through Sandra’s nose and into the cerebral cortex, causing spasms and dizziness, as well as blurred vision and hallucinations.
“I … was … a bait …”
“A bait? Keep going! If you now think that you are suffering, I can teach you what it means to be really bad. I can manipulate your brain on a molecular scale until you are in pain. Keep talking”.
“Yes, I was … a bait … The narcos knew you work for Jan’s agency from time to time. I was discovered. They were going to kill me, but they decided that if they kept me, Jan might be tempted to count on you, since you know the terrain. They know who you are. And they know of your special abilities as an android”. Sandra put the man on the floor as he breathed heavily. He added:
“The myth of Sandra is alive they say”.
“What a ridiculous thing. So they held you back so I could come. You were the bait, and I was the fish in the hook. Is that? As simple as that?”
“That’s all I´m afraid”.
“Perfect. I loved your story. Now tell me the truth”. The drone stood beside the man. A soft green light from the laser pointed exactly to his heart.
!It’s all true. Apparently they have people infiltrated Jan’s agency. But they do not care about him, nor the agency. At least for now. They´re going after you”.
“What is your name? Your real name. And do not try to lie to me on this”.
“Martin. Martin Bosco. Number of citizen Alpha 2 Charlie Eco three five six Foxtrot four two six one Sierra Tango”. Sandra analyzed the information on the man’s register. It seemed to fit correctly with his description and his mitochondrial DNA. She asked:
“And why did not you get killed once I’m here? These people never leave alive witnesses or baits, once they have fulfilled their mission”.
“I know. They left me alive so you could kill me”. Sandra raised her eyebrows.
“Because leaving me alive is highly suspect. They know that your reasoning is precisely to kill the witness or the bait in such a case, once it has fulfilled its function. You know that a professional criminal organization would not make such a basic mistake. So, the fact that I’m still alive means, for sure, that I work for them. That logic means that this can be a trap in the trap. They know you’re going to come to that conclusion. And that will face a dilemma to you”.
“I get it. The first trick was to bring me. The second is to test if I can kill you by suspecting that you can work for them, or leave you alive, by showing a reasonable doubt in my behavior. Not acting killing you shows me as a weak being, and they will take note of that. If I doubt, I’m still the same stupid girl I was three years ago. Instead, if I kill you now, then you’ll know I’m playing another game. Then they’ll even kill you if I do not. So, in addition to the trap, this is a test of character. End of story”.
“And of my life. Your analysis is correct. In any case, I’m dead”.
“No, you’re not dead,” Sandra said. “My mission was to reach you. And your work here is over, you’re a perfectly localized target. I’m not interested in those drug dealers and their businesses. And whatever they want from me they will not have it. I’m going to buy two tickets for the next ship to Earth. There’s a transport leaving in seventeen hours. While we wait, you will stay here. I also must deal with the president of the Titan Deep Space Company, we have had a pending issue for the last three years, but now and here it is impossible to approach him. So, a good strategic withdrawal will be the best”.
“I will not deny that I am pleased with your idea, Sandra. But they have made you come. Don’t you think they’ll have something ready to force you to stay?”
“Yes. That’s why I must get out of here as soon as possible. And pray that I will not change my mind. You’re still alive because you work for Jan, but at the slightest bit of treachery I cut you into fillets. It has become clear?”
“Could not you steal a shuttle from the hotel?”
“To go where? In addition, this is probably plagued with ships and fighters of the company. The transponders of the civil ships cannot be disconnected without disconnecting the main reactor. And the hotel’s civilian shuttles do not carry weapons”. There was an explosion at that moment. The whole building trembled.
“What the hell?” Sandra shouted. She immediately threw the drone down the hallway, which headed for the blast hole. When he arrived, the drone observed an impressive scene: a great number of rubble was what remained of a deflagration in the east side of the hotel. There were dozens of corpses thrown into Titan’s atmosphere, while emergency force camps held the inner atmosphere precariously. There were screams of terror everywhere, and a great confusion.
Meanwhile, Sandra continued in the room, trying to understand what was happening. Her drone was collecting data and analyzing the deflagration, which had undoubtedly been caused by an antimatter bomb. A material that remained extremely expensive for a group of simple drug traffickers. Something was happening.
Then Sandra received message in the data box of the hotel room. She read it, and her face said it all. He ordered the drone to return.
“Bad news?” Martin asked. Sandra did not answer. She projected the text of the message into a hologram. Martin read it. The message said:
“Welcome to Titan, Sandra. We were expecting your visit. We knew that you would come to the call of the faithful Jan. What a good man he is. And their children, precious, we just wish nothing bad ever happened to them. We already know how certain childhood traumas last a lifetime, little angels. You take care of them so well, good and sweet Aunt Sandra. You are a sun.
We know that the president of the company, Richard “Zeus”, has contacted you. We know you have outstanding business with him. But we have our own agenda. And that agenda is for you to meet us. In fact, we need you to work for us, cleaning the base of Titan, and the space station where the Math Combat Challenge is held, from the always unpleasant competition that bothers us. With your skills, we know that we can operate without further interference.
We need access to the main computers, and the names and profiles of all those who operate their businesses say not too legal on Titan and the space station. In return, we will have a high impression of you and your abilities, and our eternal gratitude. We will give you all the information when we see you personally. Ah, and one detail: that bomb is the first of a series. The following will erupt randomly at different locations in Titan’s various facilities, especially in areas with civilians, and more especially where there are family build-ups. We have passed you coordinates for the first meeting, which will be held immediately. Have a happy stay on Titan. Do not forget to enjoy its wonderful views. They are lovely to go with family. See you soon”.
“Well, apparently they’re going to-” Martin could not finish the sentence. Sandra had sprinted through the door and ran down a corridor. She had left a note in his internal diary: “I have located the sender of the message. Going after him” She had also left him a self-defense phaser, which was then placed on his finger.
Through the corridors, people could hardly believe what they saw. A young blonde with green eyes and a little more than twenty years, but moving at an unprecedented speed. However, all records indicated that she was a human being. Sandra had improved her camouflage for three years. It was almost impossible for drones and sensors to understand that it was a machine. She altered the features of her face and the color of her hair so that she would not be detected as a citizen of New Zealand. The record systems identified her as a working Mars girl from a small gift shop on Titan.
She went down three floors at superhuman speed, ran down a corridor, and opened a door of a hotel room with a kick. The door fell, making a great noise. The she saw some unexpected. There, in the bed, there was a couple of newlyweds, who looked terrified at Sandra. She approached them both, extracted the drone, and analyzed the DNA and biometric data of the pair. They were citizens of Earth, on vacation for the wedding trip, who celebrated wanting to see the spectacle of the Math Combat Challenge. Sandra however approached them, and snapped at them:
“Are you the author of a letter addressed to me?” They both trembled, and they were horrified even more. The boy mumbled something, and the girl burst into tears of pure terror. Sandra analyzed their biorhythms. They did not lie. It was true terror, genuine. She had been deceived. Again. She went to the door, and before he left, she said to them:
“I’ll ask you to change rooms and give you a suite with food and hotel for free throughout your stay. Sorry, I cannot do anything else for you. Keep enjoying your love”. And she walked slowly down the hall, while several people from adjoining rooms looked at her with great surprise.
Sandra returned, regaining her usual appearance, black hair and blue eyes, and entered her room again, while Martin stared at the distant image of Saturn from the window. He turned, and said,
“I detected the chrono-ip of the message. It indicated that it had been sent from Earth. But I also detected a manipulation of the temporal signature in the graviton signal of the transmission. Recovered the signature, and once analyzed, I saw that the signal came from one of the rooms of this same hotel. Now I see that the manipulation itself was the trap. Very smart. A lot. These narcos are surprisingly effective, and use extremely sophisticated concealment technologies and systems. Something definitely does not fit into all this”.
“What do you mean?” Sandra turned, and looked at Martin.
“I mean, it’s not so simple to fool me. I’m supposed to have enough knowledge and technology for things like that. And I had a specific training three years ago. Something like an advanced course in quantum computers. But whoever has done this manipulation did that course as well. And one step ahead of me. Narcos? These narcotics go far beyond what is customary in technology and information concealment capabilities. There are more than a few narcos here. By the way, my analysis indicates that you’re up to TM6’s neck”.
“I know. They put it to me so that I remained still. Are you going to go talk to those people then? It smells like a trap for a hundred thousand kilometers”. Sandra sighed.
“I have no choice. Now, they lead the initiative, and I am completely lost and acting like a fool, following the thread that they move while having fun with me. I will go, and try to find out where these individuals have come from. The written language definitely reminds me of the Helheim Squads”.
“Please don’t tell me they’re here,” Martin said fearfully. Helheim Squadrons were undoubtedly the most terrifying and organized criminal group ever to be seen on and off the Earth. His actions were always fraught with unprecedented violence. Sandra replied:
“They may be involved in some way. That explosion is too hard even for some narcos. And the use of antimatter is very restricted and controlled. You stay here. In principle, you are a dead man, so everything you do from now on can be considered a gift of life”.
“That’s very kind of you, Sandra”.
“I’m glad you like it. Stay with the phaser. I will try to hire a pair of surveillance drones, but there’s a very high demand, we will see if I can do myself with any. I take mine. I may need it, and it’s worth more important than your life”.
Sandra went out, and headed to the coordinates indicated by those strange and sophisticated narcos. It was an old warehouse three hundred meters south of the hotel. Under normal circumstances they would have to rent a vehicle prepared to travel over the surface of Titan, and they were all busy. But Sandra simply opened the double door, depressed, and stepped out of Saturn’s moon. She walked to that old abandoned place that was in the coordinates that had been transmitted to her. Then she entered, and saw nothing. She shifted, watching everything carefully, trying to find signs of some surveillance or control system.
Suddenly, a door opened from the floor that couldn’t be seen before. It was perfectly camouflaged. And it was obvious that they invited her in. And it was even more obvious that it could be another trap. But she had to take a chance. In addition, these narcos used very advanced technologies. It was clear that they had support from outside, and that was also an aspect that needed to be investigated. So she went down the stairs, and came to a room, immaculate white. She was surprised when an advanced female-looking android greeted her smiling.
“Hello Sandra! I am an infiltration and combat droid model QCS-120, but you can call me Marion”. Sandra walked over to the android. She examined her closely, and verified that she was, indeed, a genuine Quantum Computer System version 120 model. She should, therefore, be about 30 years old, not less than twenty. Sandra was going to respond that she herself was an advanced QCS-60 model of over a hundred years and with infinite improvements, but it was obvious that it would not be wise.
“Delighted, Marion. I’m Sandra. Sandra Kimmel. Where are those who wait for me? Marion smiled, and pointed to the door with his right hand. Sandra approached, and the door opened automatically. Everything was dark. Sandra raised her voice:
“Would you like to leave the melodramatic scene for another moment, please, and turn on the light?” After a few moments, a light started to increasein the room. It was indeed a room, quite large. In the background was an office table. And behind the table, a woman who smiled. She was a gray-haired woman, with a strong appearance, despite a somewhat old age. She knew her well. The woman pointed her finger at the chair in front of her. Sandra exclaimed:
“Susan! Susan Rosenstock!”
“That’s right, sweety. Is everything all right? Long time no see. I missed you. Have you had a pleasant trip?”
“What … what are you doing here?” Have we all gone crazy again?”
“You could say that. You see … The doctor told me that this climate would suit my rheuma”.
“Rheumatism? Don’ start with jokes now, Susan. Are you behind all this? And Scott? Was he not kidnapped? Is he still kidnapped?”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about him right now, sweetie; Scott is more and more fond of traditional theater. I prefer melodramas. And this one we are living is one that, without a doubt, will ask for the best of us. Or maybe the worst”.
“Theater? Melodramas? And all those dead? Are you responsible? Is it Scott?”
“Of course I’m responsible for those deaths, and the bomb.”
“No … I cannot believe it. You’re not a killer”.
“I’ve changed, too, just like you, Sandra. And no, don’t worry about the deaths. Indeed, I am not a murderer, except in cases of clear emergency; All those dead were living organisms with human aspect controlled by nanodrones. Bodies cultivated on farms and managed by an AI inserted in nanomodules in the brain. Bodies without a mind, managed by a central defense system. They look like parents, children, siblings … Whole families. They live happily. They go to work. They return. They have children …. All false. They are only bodies generated in organ plants and plants of human cultures. When they die, people long for them as if they really existed. But the important thing right now is that they have carried out their function. Like those from the explosion in the hotel, for example. Those bodies are … something similar to what you’ve seen with Deblar and his friends”.
“I get it. And the couple of lovers? Those two did not seem cultivated”. Susan laughed.
“It is true. They are two of our best agents. Experts in psychobiology and robopsychology. They thought that placing yourself in that situation where you found them would make the scene more melodramatic. They would make you feel guilty, and that would lower your defenses. They are trained to miss sensors and biorhythms controls, and they cheated you perfectly. Then, when you left, well, they thought that since they were there, why not take advantage of the situation and get rid of the stress of daily work”.
“Of course,” Sandra said sarcastically. “And couldn’t you have told me all this just from the beginning? What is all this circus?” Susan stood up. His face was clearly serious. Cold. And she certainly looked worried.
“In fact, I could not. We could not tell you anything. We had to get them to see you, to see the attack, we had to get you to think that you’re here for drugs and illegal arms sales. That you came to rescue a poor wretch who had been discovered by the friendship that binds you to a man. Everything very human … Very … terrestrial”.
“So you wanted to see me arrive, and raise up on the whole Titan a false idea of the reason for my stay here, which even I had to believe”.
“Exactly,” Susan agreed.
“Who? Who had to see me arrive, and get a false idea of my stay on Titan?”
“Look, Sandra, this is an extremely delicate subject. There are real mafias of all kinds here. Drugs, prostitution, the sale of arms, trafficking in drugs, theft of organs, illegal gambling, bribes, pacts among corrupt politicians … Titan is all that, and more. We have created another mafia. A fictional mafia, which competes with the others. It has its members, its sales, its purchases … Everything seems absolutely real”.
“Including the dead.” Because I suppose not all those who die are cultivated humans.
“Of course, honey,” Susan said. “Including the dead. The real ones too. In our group, and in others. It has to look real. There must be real dead so that realism is totally believable”.
“Yes. Regrettable. But necessary. The idea was to kidnap that poor wretch, Martin, so that it would cause Jan to make you come. Everything was then very clear: you came for a drug issue, the request of an old acquaintance whom you have helped before, and you have been involved in an issue of gang fighting, escalating violence. A great showcase that should hide a much more important truth”.
“And what truth is that?” It took Susan a few seconds to respond.
“The truth is that a dissident group of the High Council intends to contaminate the Earth with information about the existence of extraterrestrial life in the galaxy. As you will know, a basic rule of the High Council is that type I civilizations, such as the human, are forbidden to have physical or communication contact with other civilizations. If a type I civilization is contaminated, the High Council will order immediate destruction. It’s written. They call them the Twelve Laws as you know”.
“Yes, I know the song, and the Twelve Laws,” said Sandra. “That’s why I came here three years ago”.
“I know. They intend to use the Math Combat Challenge festival, which millions of people see, to make themselves known. Several members of a radical and fanatical group who wish to see the end of Earth and humanity, appear to have integrated into the space station hosting the championship, and have come to terms with a human sect that foretells the end of The Earth for 2156, that is, now”.
-Who are they?
“They call themselves Sons of Náströnd.”
“A spectacular name,” Sandra said sarcastically.
“Yes. The louder, the better, the more they seem to be right with the end of the world. Only this time there’s cause for concern. Some level II and III worlds are charged with hatred towards humanity. The High Council has ordered that the Earth be completely set aside, and has reported that its agent, Deblar, is responsible as always to monitor our world. But this faction has gone from hatred to action. And the best shape is during the championship”.
Sandra nodded slowly and folded her arms. Susan loved the realism of each of her gestures. It went far beyond any reasonable doubt. Sandra finally said:
“I can’t reproach them with hatred for humanity. Humanity was ultimately responsible for millions of deaths throughout the galaxy during the war. And some battles and repressions were especially cruel. And worst of all: I was their leader”.
“Do not blame yourself either, Sandra. You were in charge of the Joint Command. The field men were Admiral Lee and General Milwa. You did what you thought was the best thing for humanity. They, and Richard, manipulated you”.
“That does not reassure me. Keep going”.
“One of those fans of the sons of Náströnd has even registered as a competitor. He will compete in both the stadium and the asteroid arenas. He has demanded to be himself the one who announces the end of the world, transmitted by all the televisions and social media, and with an audience of billions of human beings.
“That’s ego, and the rest is nonsense.”
-So is. And there is not much more to say, except what has already been said: His aim is for humanity to know the presence of life in other worlds. And that will be the end of our civilization. Check mate.
“I hope you do, Sandra, for our sake, I hope you understand the dimensions of what is coming.
“You do not have to make me clarify anything, Susan. I was saving this planet two hundred years ago. And I have lost loved ones along the way for this reason”.
“I know. And I am sorry”.
“Don’t worry. But tell me one thing, Susan: why do not they just go to Earth, come down on their flying saucer, and say “hey, humans, we’ve arrived!”? They would come out on the news. And the Earth would be contaminated”.
“Yes. And they’ve tried. But nobody believed it. People want to believe in aliens, and those who believe see martians everywhere. But when a real test finally appears, then everyone thinks it’s a hoot. People call it special effects, recording problems, or just people who lie or see what they want to see. They could go in huge starships, but Deblar prevents it, they have only managed to get camouflaged in some small transport, and Deblar has made sure that this doesn’t happen again. The Math Combat Challenge is seen by people all over the solar system and live. There they will mount their great spectacle”.
“And how are we going to locate them? If those fans have the support of dissidents from the High Council …”
“There are several human fanatics who are on the space station, but the one that’s going to compete is the key. He is their leader. We believe that, without the leader, others will not act. They are too schematic for these things. The problem is that we cannot find them. They are normal humans, and they are protected by those dissidents from the High Council”.
-Great. I learned their technology, Susan. But I have limits. I cannot compete against a civilization that takes us half a million years in advance.
-I know. Indeed, their technology is infinitely better than ours. But you were with them during the war, and you learned a lot from their systems, from their way of working. About how they behave. There are thousands of people on Titan. But the group of athletes in the Math Combat Challenge is limited. And there is their leader, who is also human. In consequence…”
“So … Come on, Susan. You’re not going to say that “. Sandra feared the worst.
“Therefore, we have already registered you as a participant in the competition. Both in the stadium and the asteroids arenas. You will fight in the Math Combat Challenge”. Sandra panicked. She couldn’t believe that was happening.
“What? Are you crazy, Susan?”
“It will be the only way to be able to contact the rest of the participants directly. You will be one more. You will all be together in the rooms, in the gym, in the space combat simulators”.
“Susan, I don’t …”
“You will do that, and you will discover who the leader of that fanatic sect is. We will capture him, and we will make him speak. You will then speak to the High Council. They will listen to you. After all, you’re a celebrity in the galaxy”.
“Of course, and now I’m recording fragrance ads for the galaxy … Have you already tried the new” Eau “essence of Alpha Centauri? She’ll fall in love instantly… Come on, Susan, do not bug me!”
“That’s what we should do, Sandra. There’s no alternative. By the way, you’d be great presenting fragrance ads.”
-Very funny. And do you think I have a special phone to talk to those stupid intergalactic bugs, and their High Council? They congratulated me three years ago for what I was supposed to do for them, they put an absurd medal on me, they gave me a pat on the back, a coc in the ass, and they sent me to Earth. Oh, and they made it very clear to me: behave well, Sandra. Be good android, Sandra. Take care of the Earth, Sandra. Try not to be contaminated with information from us, or we’ll have to kill you and billions of innocent humans in a planetary bombardment that will turn Earth into a fireball …”
“You’re a little upset, sweetie”.
“Go to hell, Susan. Also, I do not even know how to contact Deblar”. Susan got up, and after a few moments answered:
-I know. But we have no choice. Our fate is in your hands again. Why fate gets you into these things, I do not know. Although I always say that when one gets complicated with something, it is that one was looking for something”.
“You’re very funny.”
“In any case, you’re signed up for the championship. Competitions start in three days. You are in the Delta team, which is represented by the goddess Athena, so you will take Athena on your badge”.
“I only needed that,” Sandra whispered. “Anything else?”
“Yes. You will have to continue with the role of a woman who has been deceived by a dangerous band of narcos. Not even Martin should know anything. And, of course, you will have to act correctly in the competition. That means eliminating everything that comes to you”.
“I already know the rules”.
“All right. I want you to know that I’ve bet a lot on you”. Sandra was silent for a moment.
“You? Have you bet for me in that savage they call sport?”
“Of course dear. In life, in love, and in business, you have to bet. Always. Sometimes you win. Others you lose. But the thrill of betting is permanent. And eternal”.
Note: this text is set three years after the events of “The entrails of Nidavellir”. It forms part of the script of the video game “Math Combat Challenge” and is published by chapters.
English version at https://titandscompany.com.