This page contains the story of the Legendary divine, Tormenta, directly copied from the game page.
- Prologue -
My General, have I failed this mission you entrusted to me?
I rode tirelessly southwards through these lands. I was not able to use your pass with the barbarian tribes I came across; they spoke an incomprehensible language and proved to be hostile. I occasionally had to use my sword to cut my way through, choosing to avoid human contact from them on. Then the mountains, valleys and plains gave way to a vast expanse of saltwater.
I had no option but to travel westwards along the coast, hoping to find a way to cross this sea and continue my path south. I found a harbour where a few merchant ships were docked. By means of gestures, and showing some of the gold coins you had entrusted to me, I was able to book passage with the captain of one of the ships for myself, but not for my horse. I regretfully gave him his freedom. I was just beginning to enjoy the rolling waves when, after many miles at sea, we were attacked by a galley.
The pirates were as ferocious as they were cunning. Bringing themselves alongside us, they began to board. I fought valiantly with the crew, but I soon realised that the assailants had the upper hand and so I decided to take a gamble. I sliced my thigh open, slid the object you had given me into the wound and bandaged my leg with a rag torn from the sail. The pirates killed anyone whose injuries were too severe, plundered our ship’s cargo and sank it to the bottom of the ocean. The survivors were chained to the oars, slaves to a merciless whip; and so began my life as a galley slave.
This sea was the setting for a procession of battles between barbarians each more bloodthirsty than the last. I survived as a piece of human merchandise, brute force allowing me to take an oar without whining or begging. Escape was impossible. The wound in my thigh healed unusually quickly and nobody could have guessed what was hidden there.
Seasons, then years of slavery went by thus, where I was batted from sea to land and back to sea again, discovering the vastness and the diversity of this world that Alexander wanted to rule. I lived as a slave until a storm smashed my last master's ship to pieces. I was carried away with the debris of the vessel to an unknown shore. I rid myself of the chain that still shackled my ankles by smashing it against the rocks and, alone and free at last, I left the sea behind me, its waves filled with more sweat and blood than the battlefields I traversed with you, my General, in pursuit of glory for Alexander the Great. What became of you after the defeat at the Hydaspes? What became of our King, whom I saw fall and then carried away on a stretcher from the battlefield under your orders?
I remember this young, flamboyant king, intriguing and invincible, sitting astride his great stallion Bucephalus and for whom each of his men would have given their life without hesitation. Why did his inflexible desire to conquer the world have to lead him, lead us, to the injustice, the excess and the madness of these massacres? We entered the final battle against the Indians with fear and disgust in our bellies, but only because you asked us to, Ptolemy. Your men believed in you alone. And yet we knew that for most of us, this battle would be our last…
Washed up on these shores at the edge of the world, surrounded by nothing but waves until the setting of the sun, I gave up on searching for a way south. I chose to retreat inland. One day, when the fatigue of loneliness and fever overcame my courage and strength, a barbarian woman, surrounded by a handful of frail children, took me in and gave me food. I learned the language, worked alongside her to help grow crops and spiced up her meals with game from my hunts. Until the day when I disturbed a mountain bear during a hunt. It inflicted terrible wounds upon me before I was able to defeat it.
I can feel my life fading as I walk, and then am finally reduced to crawling, back to my companion. I will not have time to see the face of my unborn child, which she is carrying. I will not have time to tell her the story of that which is hidden in my thigh. It will be buried along with my body in this foreign land that could have become my own one day. General Ptolemy, I carried the object that you entrusted to me as far as I could. Although I was unable to take it to the southern border, it has remained hidden all these years and will continue to do so.
General, I am going to die without knowing the answer to my question. Have I failed my mission?
Soldier Efcharisto, approximately 310BC
- 1 -
She was born prematurely one night during a Tormenta, a violent storm. While my grandfather Ramundo tried to save her mother from bleeding to death, I rubbed the filly with straw to remove the rest of the amniotic sac membrane covering her and to try to warm her up. She was so tiny and was barely moving. Without knowing why, I began to blow into her nostrils with all my strength, as though even at the tender age of five years old I could somehow infuse her with the will to breathe. Then I continued to rub her chest, encouraging her, breathing into her nostrils, despite my grandfather’s pleas for me to stop tormenting the poor filly. This caused me to burst into tears. I held her tight, cradling her, begging her to wake up. Then I felt my grandfather's hand pulling on my shoulder, forcing me to let her go. At that moment there was a deafening clap of thunder. I felt an intense burning deep in my chest and the motionless filly jumped into my arms. I loosened my grip, unable to believe the miracle that was happening. The filly's legs, driven by an ancestral survival instinct, moved in a slow gallop. I could hear the chaotic beating of her heart as she tried to lift her head.
“Maldito!” cried grandfather incredulously. “Pablo, you saved her. Look, she's trying to stand up!”
My eyes blurred with tears, now of joy, I watched the wonderful sight of this newborn horse managing to get to her feet and walking a few paces before falling from exhaustion, then trying again, standing awkwardly on her legs, dazed but already searching for her mother’s teat.
“Keep warming her up,” cried grandfather. “I'll fetch some milk and a blanket.”
She walked back to me and tried to suck my fingers, ears and nose while I continued massaging her vigorously. When my grandfather returned to the stable, with the rain dripping off him, she had fallen asleep against me. He slipped a bottle into my hand and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders like a cape, covering and protecting us both. It was the first time I ever had ever seen grandfather Ramundo show his softer side. The filly shuddered in her sleep, her lips sucking the air before finding the teat and drinking in large gulps. My grandfather shook his head before murmuring,
“Brave little thing. What do you want to call her?”
The night when Tormenta was born is still my strongest memory. We grew up together, getting to know each other and comforting one another. She soon grew in size and strength, and became a graceful filly with a light dun coat, a chocolate mane and high white stockings. During the summer we splashed together in my paddling pool, in the spring we played hide and seek in the tall grass and I even taught her to play football! If my grandmother had not been so adamant about it – “Verdammt, wir sind keine Tiere” (we are not animals!) – I would have slept in the stable next to my mare every night. The first drama happened when they told me I had to go to school; in Argentina school is compulsory for children between 6 and 14 years old. In order to try and console me, they allowed me to ride to the school in the neighbouring village on horseback, like the children of the estancia workers, and we “parked” our horses in a field adjacent to the school. The next tragedy came when I was 14 years old and had to begin five years of secondary school before the Bachillerato, A-levels, in the city of Santa Rosa; I was no longer able to ride my horse to school and instead had to take the bus. The hardest thing was leaving for university in Buenos Aires.
Of course I was ecstatic to leave the nest, and enjoy some independence in the halls of residence in the capital, but I was also heartbroken at leaving myTormenta behind. I would only see her during the school holidays between each university semester. Grandfather Ramundo spoke to me the day before my departure to Buenos Aires. I know that he was incredibly sad that I was moving away from the estancia, where the future of the proud gauchos of old is now no different to that of the paesanos, the poor peasants. But all he said was how proud he was of me and my studies. And he pointed at the piece of metal on my chest inherited from our ancestor Esteban, attached to a leather cord that I have worn since I was a child:
“It has always brought our family luck. Keep it with you always and be strong. And don't get lost in the capital. Adios!”
Now that I know where this damn piece of metal came from, I understand why it has never brought me any luck...
- 2 -
“Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas and Argentinians from the ships.” Octavio Paz, poet, essayist and Mexican diplomat (1914–1998)
In 1877, fate really had it in for my ancestor Esteban Ruiz Escobar Mendoza: his young wife died in childbirth, taking their first child with her; an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease decimated his herds; a forest fire ravaged his fields and farm. He had nothing left apart from this piece of metal engraved with indecipherable symbols that had been in the family since time immemorial and was miraculously found intact in the ashes of the farm. Alone and penniless, Esteban decided to leave his native Spain and set off towards the New World, determined to start a new life and make his fortune there. He arrived in Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1878.
Esteban was a tireless worker and managed to earn enough to buy a few head of cattle and land. In the vast, dreary plains of the Pampas, the name of the Native American tribe that once lived in the area, he chose a plot between Rio Salado and Rio Colorado. He built his estancia on these rich lands where the grass was fertile and nourishing and where horses and cattle could be bred easily. He soon needed help to look after his cattle and so he hired some gauchos, horse wranglers. “Gaucho” means vagabond in the native South American language Quechua; they are essentially Spanish-Native American mestizos, rejected by society. Mounted on Criollos, a breed of courageous Argentinian horses, they proved to be as taciturn as they were hard-working. One day while travelling through his land, Esteban came across one of the gauchos washing at the river. He was shocked to discover that it was in fact a young woman, who’d been living hidden among these boorish, independent men. It was love at first sight; Esteban married this strong, mysterious, nameless mestizo. She bore him many children that she cherished in her own way, but they say she preferred riding alone in the Pampas.
When I look at his faded picture above the fireplace, his legs encased inguardamontes which look like leather butterfly wings and protected him from scratches, and his face stern and distant, I tell myself that I would not have fancied facing him in a duel. My grandfather, Ramundo Ruiz Escobar Mendoza, said that I must have inherited his rotten temper. But the man they call “El Zorro”, the fox, and who manages the estancia passed on by our ancestors with an iron hand, also shares some responsibility for my “rotten temper”. I guess he has transferred the hope of seeing his own son following in his footsteps and running the estancia to me. And that's a lot of pressure…
Spellbound by her girlish fair hair and indigo blue eyes (which I inherited), my dear grandfather married Helga Siegfried, daughter of German immigrants. They had just one son, Cesar Ruiz Escobar Mendoza, my father, who quickly left the cowshed to become a professional tango dancer. Ah, the overwhelming melancholy of this dance of fevered bodies and souls... He married my mother, also an incredible dancer, named Mafalda. And they named me Pablo, after the painter Picasso whom my mother adored. But they were carried away by tango fever and took their show around the world, so they entrusted my education to grandfather Ramundo and grandmother Helga.
In short, if I am indeed a mysterious loner with a rotten temper, it’s mainly my family's fault. But when I'm onTormenta’s back and we are galloping at full speed across the vast Pampas, I am completely different. My smile is so wide with happiness and fulfilment that flies could get stuck in my teeth.
I need to stop thinking about when I will see my mare again and hurry to the conference room. Today we have a guest scientist all the way from Mongolia, on the other side of the world: Professor Temudjin who, together with his students at the University of Ulan Bator, has developed a robot that searches for missing people in extreme weather conditions. It seems that this project was inspired by a true story, something that happened to one of his students in the icy mountains of Mount Altai...
- 3 -
For my 10th birthday I received a present by mail from Shanghai. It was from my parents, those eternal absentees, who were on tour in China at the time. They had sent me a remote-controlled propeller plane that was linked by a long cable to some sort of ancient Game Boy. Overjoyed, I pranced around the house making my plane fly and making loud engine noises until my grandmother chased me outside with an imperious “Raus!” This toy invited me to go on an extraordinary journey. I imagined myself proud and free on board my plane, ready to join my parents on the other side of the world whenever I wanted then leaving Argentina to explore unknown lands. I was a hero, an adventurer to the rescue, whether it be making food drops for poor countries or bombing super villains, depending whatever I dreamt up. I became Antoine de Saint Exupéry, delivering mail around the world for Aéropostale through thick and thin, or Charles Lindbergh, the first person to cross the Atlantic solo. A tireless and invincible pilot, I ended up landing… in the branches of the hundred-year-old jacaranda planted by my ancestors at the estancia’s entrance. The flamboyant blue flowers seemed to form a dazzling sky above me and I wondered how I would be able to fly into the sky high enough to get my plane back. I obviously tried pulling on the cable like a madman, but I only succeeded in ripping it out. Plan B was to climb up, but I would have needed a ladder just to reach the first climbable branches. So I opted for a different approach.
I whistled a long trill and my loyalTormenta, who had been grazing nonchalantly a few hundred yards from me, pricked up her ears upon hearing my call. She whinnied happily and cantered towards me. She pushed the tip of her nose into my neck, nibbled my hair and pranced around me, ready to play. It was difficult to make her understand that I just wanted to use her as a stool, but I eventually managed to calm her down and make her stand still beneath the branches of the jacaranda. I stood on her back and, arms at full stretch, grabbed a branch and hoisted myself up like a monkey. I had to climb a bit further to reach the plane, but after a few manoeuvres that caused the jacaranda to shed quite a few flowers, I made it and managed to free the plane. I let out a cry of victory, but at that moment my foot slipped. I tumbled down, bouncing like an overripe fruit and crashing onto the ground in a cloud of blue petals. The fruits of my labour earned me one plane and two broken tibias. Fortunately for me, as I was much too stunned to call for help,Tormenta caused such a thunderous racket that she alerted the estancia’s workers.
Those weeks of recovery determined my future. I was of course unable to ride my horse or go to school, but I tried everything I could to repair my poor aeroplane. Using bits from other electronic toys brought by my sympathetic classmates, tools borrowed from the worker who’d picked me up from under the jacaranda and advice gleaned from model plane enthusiasts and RC fanatics, I was able to completely remake my remote-controlled aeroplane, and this time without even needing the linking cable. In the years that followed before the Bachillerato, when the weather was too dreadful to frolic in the Pampas with myTormenta, I amused myself by making improvements to my plane: using lighter, stronger materials, increasing the flight time and the range of the remote control... and even installing a hand-held camera and finding a way to control the aeroplane using my laptop. During my final year at secondary school, my science teacher convinced my grandfather to enroll me at the University of Buenos Aires. He told me that a mind as curious and as sharp as mine could only flourish in the discovery of new technology... and that I would also be able to miniaturise my flying tank!
So that's why I'm now studying nanotechnology and have such a keen interest in drones, whether they're flying, crawling or rolling. I can't wait to find out everything I can about this robot created by the uni students in distant Mongolia...
- 4 -
I think that the “Drobot”, the drone robot created by Professor Temudjin's students, is a work of genius! The way it’s shaped, like something between a mutated caterpillar and a flying cockroach, however ugly it looks at first glance, allows it to function in all geographical and climatic conditions. This thing could win the gold medal in the decathlon; it can fly, jump, crawl, run, swim, ski, launch grappling hooks, climb smooth walls and get out of any situation. It's also “intelligent”, adapting to whatever conditions it encounters, and is able to perform on-site operations autonomously or in response to commands from a remote operator.
“It's like Luke Skywalker’s robot in Star Wars, only uglier!” laughs my friend Tiago in his thunderous voice, slapping me on the back.
He just can't help embarrassing me with his idiotic interruptions. But Professor Temudjin doesn’t get flustered, waiting for the laughter to fade before responding.
“Which one, R2-D2 or C-3PO? In any event, however ugly it might look, I hope that our “Drobot” will be as useful to humankind as Luke Skywalker's robots were to him!”
And the professor continues his speech. “The Drobot is equipped with multiple sensors, GPS, sonar, gyroscopes and much more. A computer unit processes all the information gathered, allowing it to adapt accordingly. For example, it can react to a gust of wind or an ocean current and adjust its trajectory. It can also take samples of material, film them, scan them, light them up and record them. In short, this robot makes it possible to remotely carry out tasks that a team of experienced, well-equipped scientists would normally have to do on-site. And you can do all this without having to use a laptop, just an ordinary smartphone will do the job! Professor Temudjin then shows us a short film on the lecture theatre’s big screen that demonstrates how the robot can be used in areas that are hazardous to humans, for example in assessing the toxicity of polluted groundwater or by inspecting a damaged nuclear power plant just like Fukushima. It can also relay invaluable information to rescue teams in the event of forest fires or serious natural disasters such as cyclones and hurricanes. The civilian applications are endless. But we were all particularly impressed by the part in the film where the robot was able to detect the location of people buried under an avalanche, speeding up the rescue time and improving their chance of survival significantly.
“See how this Drobot differs from military drones intended for surgical warfare where the targets are hit from a distance without risking the life of a single attacker.”
Tiago, a pacifist who’s staunchly anti-military, stands up and begins one of his favourite speeches.
“It's disgraceful! These so-called “surgical strikes” cause unacceptable collateral damage. Innocent civilians die or are injured and—”
“Absolutely, young man,” interrupts the professor, making the Drobot fly through the lecture theatre to hover in front of Tiago, transmitting the image of his face to the big screen. “That's why I recommended my students to file a patent to prevent this invention from being used for violent means. But now let me move on to the main point of this talk,” he continues, returning the Drobot to his desk by simply flicking on his phone with his finger. “As it is the focus of your university education, I would like to explain the invaluable contribution nanotechnology has to offer and how we can use this to make the robot even more effective...”
Tiago, mesmerised by the quiet confidence of this amazing little man, sits down without a word of protest.
At the end of this fascinating speech, the students give him a round of applause before slowly leaving the lecture theatre, exchanging comments of heated approval. I, however, decide to go up to the professor to express my admiration and ask him whether he would like to take a look at my creation, my “Draeroplane”. Professor Temudjin, busy packing his things, looks up and smiles. Then, as though a dam had burst, I passionately blurt out the story of my aeroplane. But, after a moment, I can tell that he is not listening to me anymore. His eyes are fixed on my chest and then return to my face. He looks dumbfounded. Other students are trying to speak to him, but Professor Temudjin ignores them, frantically searching the inside pocket of his suit and taking out a pen and a small battered notebook which he hands to me.
“Write down your name and your telephone number and send your plans and photos to the University of Ulan Bator’s email address.”
Then he pulls his smartphone from another pocket and asks,
“Could I take a photo so that I can remember you? I meet so many people, it’s hard to remember everybody’s face...”
I nod, speechless. The professor beckons me over, straightens my collar and takes a few photos. I feel horribly embarrassed, particularly as Tiago and some of the other students begin to heckle me.
“Woooo! Is señor Pablo having an audition?”
At this moment, the Director of Studies arrives to disperse the crowd and to remind Professor Temudjin that he needs to hurry if he doesn't want to miss his plane. The professor nods, puts his phone, notepad and pen back in his pocket, grabs his briefcase and, just before leaving, whispers in my ear,
“I… someone will call you on my behalf very soon. I'm sorry, I would have liked to talk with you further. You can trust this person completely…”
“Hurry!” cries the Director of Studies impatiently. “You know what the traffic’s like in Buenos Aires...”
Tiago grabs me by the arm and drags me through the crowd, waddling like a chicken and cackling in a high-pitched voice,
“You're going to be a staaar, querrrido! You’ll be in Game of Drones, Pablo’s Anatomy or maybe even Gossip Boys! Can I have your autograaaph?”
I choose to simply laugh at Tiago’s teasing, but I can't get the strange words whispered by the professor out of my head: “Someone will call you. Trust him”...
- 5 -
My brain is running on overdrive while I think of new ways to boost my “Draeroplane” with new applications. I've just walked into the university cafeteria teeming with noisy students and have filled my calabash from the hot water dispenser. Here, like almost everywhere in Argentina, you can drink mate (the invigorating herb we drink here instead of tea and coffee) whenever you want. I suck up some of the hot, slightly bitter infusion through my aluminium “straw” and try to get my thoughts in order. Suddenly, my phone starts to vibrate insistently…
Unknown international number. Could this be the trustworthy person that Professor Temudjin was talking about? I apprehensively accept the call.
“This is John Fitzgerald Hannibal, from Hannibal Corp.
I drop my calabash. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't know Mr Hannibal, the genius billionaire whose companies are at the forefront of the most advanced innovations in technology and who also sponsors scientific researchers across the world? Who wouldn't dream of maybe getting a scholarship offered only to the most promising students? But I don't understand why Hannibal himself is calling me; I'm only just beginning my university studies and am yet to prove myself. Unless I was recommended specifically by one of my teachers… or Professor Temudjin perhaps? I don't understand. I haven't sent him the plans of my “Draeroplane” yet.
“Young man,” continues Hannibal in perfect Spanish with just the slightest hint of an American accent, “you wear a pendant that is of great interest me due to its historical importance. I would like you to have it examined by one of the experts from the Hannibal Human History foundation, currently working in Buenos Aires. A taxi is waiting for you at the main entrance of the university and will take you to the meeting point. My expert, Horacio Cortès, will compensate you for the inconvenience. It goes without saying that you should come alone.”
I couldn't even get a word in edgeways as he has already hung up. I have this horrible feeling I’ve been given an order I can’t disobey, worse than when grandfather Ramundo used to tell me to do something with no explanation. I hate it; all I want to do is call Hannibal back and tell him to get lost. I pick up my empty calabash and stuff it angrily into my bag. Through the hubbub of the cafeteria, I hear some shrill laughter and automatically turn towards the source. Ah, Tiago is busy showing off in front of a harem of swooning admirers. It's easy when you have a body like Cristiano Ronaldo... Once he’s started his performance nothing can stop him, and even when I begin gesturing like crazy I’m not able to get his attention. I wanted to tell him about the phone call, but it’s clearly not a good time. I swallow down my frustration and head to the university entrance, cursing under my breath. I barely make it through the door when I notice the driver of a stationary black and yellow taxi checking the screen of his mobile phone before beckoning me over. I tell myself that, if only to make grandfather happy, I could perhaps learn something interesting about this damn scrap of metal, brought over from Spain by our ancestor Esteban...
The taxi driver has put the radio on full blast, preventing me from asking any questions. He drives like Fangio, the Argentinian five-time Formula 1 world champion. Buenos Aires stretches over almost eighty square miles and is arranged in a perfect chequerboard pattern that seems to go on forever. When I arrived in the capital, I flew my “Draeroplane” over the city to get a picture and was impressed by the sprawling, methodical geometry. Thanks to the driver racing like a madman through the “French-style” avenues of Haussmannian buildings lined with trees and screeching around corners, following a route that only he seems to know, I end up not being able to work out where I am and have to fight against the nausea building up inside me. I open the windows and hang onto the door handle until the driver is forced to move more slowly through the cobbled streets. Judging by the brightly painted facades of the houses on stilts, based on an idea from the painter Benito Quinquela Martin in the 1920s, I’m in the popular neighbourhood of La Boca. I can hear passers-by calling to each other in Italian through the open windows. Over the scent of the nearby river, I can make out the delicious smells of bubbling tomato, fried food, garlic and crispy mozzarella from the noisy restaurant terraces. The taxi honks its horn angrily at the dawdling passers-by and slips through the alleyways, ending up in a small square at the end of a cul-de-sac. He sends a text message and within a few seconds, a door overgrown with beautiful bougainvillea opens to reveal a large man in a light linen suit. The man hands the driver a wad of cash before asking me to get out of the taxi. He nods briefly by way of greeting before introducing himself.
“I am Horacio Cortès, an antiques dealer and an expert working with the Hannibal Human History Foundation. If you would like to follow me…”
I gulp and then do as he asks. What kind of mess have I got myself into?
- 6 -
I follow Señor Horacio Cortès through a maze of dark corridors into a large room that is bathed in the sunlight that is coming through the large bay window. I can see an incredible courtyard gleaming from behind the window, my gaze torn between the understated orchids, the roses with their silky petals, and the vibrant groves of multicoloured flowers. I turn back towards the inside of the room and, as my eyes adjust to the light, I breathe in the scent of beeswax. An impeccably waxed golden parquet floor reflects the light onto the furniture: a large carved desk, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and surrounded by soft leather club chairs. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases line the walls, filled with old books and a collection of all kinds of antiques. A sensation of luxury and refinement emanates from this sheltered space, tucked away unexpectedly in this poor neighbourhood...
“Please, have a seat,” says Cortès, gesturing to a chair across from his.
He slides a crystal glass filled with lemonade towards me, the ice cubes clinking inside it, then takes a long sip from his own glass while scrutinising me intently. Once I’ve set my glass back down on the ornate tray, Cortès takes a transparent Plexiglas box from a drawer. It contains equipment worthy of a dental surgeon. Then his well-manicured hand waves at the leather blotter between us.
“Show me the object.”
Reluctantly, I take the pendant from around my neck and place it on the blotter. Cortès holds a kind of magnifying glass up to one of his eyes and rotates the pendant using fine tweezers, similar to those used by a stamp collector. His face betrays no hint of emotion, no special interest. But I guess that's all part of his job as an antiques expert… Then he puts it down and remarks casually,
“This piece of scrap metal has no market value. I guess you already knew that.”
I shrug my shoulders.
“It's not gold, just an old metal alloy. Anyway, it's not for sale. It's a family heirloom.”
“Well then, tell me what your family knows about this pendant,” continues Señor Cortès, removing his eyeglass and settling in his chair, his arms on the armrests.
I tell him briefly about my ancestor Esteban’s expedition from Spain to Argentina, but, rather annoyed at the man's haughty attitude, I neglect to mention the fact that this piece of metal also withstood a fire…
“So, this object was brought into Argentina in 1878.”
“That's right. Now it's your turn to tell me something. What did your examination tell you? And why is Mr Hannibal so interested in my pendant?”
His lips curl into a thin, cold smile.
“The Hannibal Foundation is very interested in the Hellenistic period. I take it that you never learnt Greek, young man, otherwise you would have recognised some of the ancient Greek letters engraved on this pendant.”
“This piece of metal comes from Greece? Them what on earth was it doing in Spain? How old is it? And do you know what is written on it?”
“Hold your horses,” says Cortès, his smile unwavering. “For starters, I don't know what is written on it. Some of these engraved symbols are indeed Greek letters, but they don't make any sense by themselves. This pendant is only one incomplete fragment of another, the whereabouts of which is unfortunately unknown to the Foundation. And just like you, I have no idea where this pendant comes from nor why it was in Spain at the end of the 19th century. If you want to know when it was made and find out more about where it came from, you will have to let us examine it in one of our specialist laboratories.”
A sudden flash of greed in Cortès’ eyes sets off alarm bells in my head. I reach out towards the blotter to pick up my pendant, but Cortès grabs it just before I get there, holding it by the leather cord and dangling it in front of me like a hypnotist. He whispers unctuously,
“You will get it back after the examination, of course, with a detailed report of the analyses. The Foundation is most generous to those who help advance historical research.”
“That's enough. Give it back,” I say, trying to keep my voice as steady as possible and holding out my hand.
“But wouldn't you like to drive a beautiful sports car? Wouldn't your grandparents love a well-earned retirement rather than having to keep dragging themselves to Buenos Aires to sell livestock at the Ignas Market? The price of meat is not the best these days…”
I am overwhelmed by a terrible uneasiness. How does Cortès know all this about my family? And why is he so desperate to get his hands on this “worthless piece of scrap metal”?
Cortès slowly places the pendant in my palm, the smile gone from his face and replaced with a look of sorrow,
“What a loss for history... Nevertheless, the Foundation would like to keep a... well, a photocopy of sorts of the original. Have you ever heard of 3D printing? Ah yes, since the financial crisis in Argentina, subsidies to universities have dwindled somewhat. But my sources tell me that your education authority is hoping to acquire one of these machines. Perhaps the Foundation could make a small gesture? And perhaps you would like to see for yourself how one of these machines, such as the one in the room next to this very office, creates an exact copy of any object you put in it?”
Whaaa... My thoughts are bouncing around in my head like billiard balls. My curiosity is pushed to its limits and, despite my distrust of this rather too well informed individual, I think he might have sold me on this... But it's for a good cause after all! A 3D printer at the university? That would be great! And I would be able to keep my promise to my grandfather about never letting this pendant out of my sight, since I’ll be there when it’s copied. Maldito, alright then!
- 7 -
I would never have imagined that behind this office, decorated in such an upmarket antique style, I would find another room, ultramodern, sterile, windowless, purring away like a high-tech monster. The machine is connected to numerous computers and devices, and I find myself mesmerised by the way it works. Cortès shows me the stages of three-dimensional printing.
“The antiques displayed in the office are perfect copies, made from plaster of Paris using the additive manufacturing method developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is of course sponsored by the Foundation. But here I will use FDM, Fused Deposition Modelling, where a metal object is ‘printed’, the ‘ink’ being replaced by wax, ceramics, plastic or other materials.”
My pendant, minus its leather cord, has been placed on a glass shelf in the middle of some kind of translucent sphere.
“First, I model the object I want to 3D print using this computer-aided design software. Then I adjust the print settings, such as speed, layer thickness and accuracy, and then I set the layout of the print nozzles by generating the G-code. Do you want to start the printing process?”
I press the “Enter” button and can instantly see the printer nozzle moving behind the thermal protection screen to the end of its arm where it starts to deposit tiny filaments of liquid metallic material, beginning with the outline and then filling in the middle, layer by layer, until the object is completely finished. Volume is created by the layers stacking on top of each other. It’s fascinating.
I don't know how long I spend watching the nozzle dance, but the rumbling of my stomach urges me to think about getting some food. As if reading my mind, or maybe he just has great hearing, Cortès casually hands me a wad of pesos.
“Where are my manners? Go get yourself a snack. I hope you like Italian food. I’m not leaving. I have to watch every second of the process. There’s still an hour and four minutes left.
I am reluctant to leave my pendant behind; what if Cortès disappears and takes it with him? Sensing my hesitation, Cortès waves the cash in front of me and fixes his eyes on mine.
“Look, young man. I have been commissioned and paid handsomely to make this copy. I am going to finish it. I guarantee you that I will not leave this room.”
His assurance makes me give in. After all, I tell myself, stretching my legs a bit won’t do me any harm. I take the pesos and put them into my pocket, stretch, cracking my back, and start to walk back the way I came in. No way, it's almost night time! The delicious smell of food teases my nose, causing my stomach to rumble violently. No, wait, it's my phone vibrating. It must be Tiago calling me to grab something to eat. But before answering, I realise I have several missed calls. Why didn't it ring or vibrate when I was in Cortès’ office?
“Tiago, eat without me, I'm a bit busy here...”
“Pablo?” says a man's voice, young but determined and with a strange foreign accent. “Please," he continues in English that I struggle slightly to follow, “listen to me carefully. I'm calling you on behalf of Professor Temudjin. I’m one of his students, Battushig, the one who was in an accident in the mountains in Mongolia and whom the professor mentioned when talking about the Drobot. I fell into an icy crevasse and discovered a horse frozen in the ice. After I was rescued, researchers from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences found the horse’s rider and certain objects allowing us to place their death at the end of the fourth century BC. But then Hannibal Corp took control of operations. They transported all of the ‘discoveries’ in refrigerated aeroplanes to their cryogenic centre in Massachusetts in the United States. A former student from the university who works there told me that the mounted warrior was carrying a bill of exchange and a military pass signed by Ptolemy, Alexander the Great's general in 326BC. The rider was also carrying a metal object with engravings on it, very similar to the one you wear around your neck.”
“I don't understand!”
“Listen. Using the photos of you that Professor Temudjin sent to me, I was able to identify the pendant you’re wearing as part of a five-pointed star. It's identical to the piece found on the frozen rider in Mongolia and the one that was stolen in Egypt. The three fragments fit the template perfectly. This star was worn by Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors in the history of the world. I hope that you haven't given your pendant away or sold it?”
“No, I refused. But Señor Cortès is in the middle of making a 3D copy of it. It's for research for the Hannibal Human History Foundation and—”
I am interrupted by a furious rumbling sound. Battushig carries on immediately.
“Sorry. The Foundation is just a pretext. It's John Fitzgerald Hannibal himself who wants to get his hands on the pendant. It's imperative that he doesn’t! I met this man. He’s really dangerous, believe me.”
“This five-pointed star is the seal of power that made Alexander invincible. But it also drove him mad. That's why Ptolemy broke the star and gave the pieces to several elite riders, asking them to take it as far away from Alexander as possible. Hannibal now has at least two pieces. If he uses the power of his intelligence network, his financial backing and his mastery of the most sophisticated technology to find them then he will be able to piece them all together and reforge the star. He will become as powerful and indestructible as one of the greatest conquerors – and dictators – in the world!” Along with all of the members from our ‘Network’, we are working to stop him from achieving his goal, but he's always a step ahead of us! This Cortès is a middleman. He’s there to take your fragment. You mustn’t let him!”
I am reeling from these revelations. I mumble,
“But… my pendant… the 3D copy… Señor Cortès...?”
“Hannibal must not get his hands on it! Find a way to get the pendant back as soon as possible and get out of there. Hide it, hide yourself, but first get rid of your phone so that he can't trace you any more. Don't use your computer either. He has spies everywhere and… the ‘Network’ is being... Krrr... Krr... Jamm... Krr...ed... G... Luck...
The line suddenly goes dead. My heart is thumping in my chest and I start to get really scared... How am I going to be able to get my pendant back and escape without getting caught?