Today's Reading

Kimberly remembered watching a video about the young billionaire tourist from Qatar. He'd paid $60 million for the opportunity to stay aboard the ISS for nine days. But she didn't focus on him. He was a newbie, and as a tourist he might not even adapt to the station's zero-gee environment before it was time for him to leave.

To Kimberly, the real threat was Farid.

Farid moved out of the monitor's view, disappeared from the screen. Where's he heading? What was he going to do?

Kimberly jerked forward and slapped a hand on the emergency alert button on the caution and warning panel. Klaxons started blaring all through the station. The signal should not only get everyone's attention, but the crew should rush to their emergency stations. Farid and the fake tourist would hear it, too, and know that they'd lost the element of surprise.

Gingerly, her hand still throbbing from its exposure to the microwave beam, she jabbed at the monitor control, her feet rotating in midair as she moved. In addition to warning the two Russians and the American in the Joint Airlock, she needed to quickly alert Al Sweeting to what she'd just seen. Al was one of her American colleagues who was manning the station's control center, next door to the Russian SM module, during the docking. Unless he'd been watching the docking he wouldn't know what had just happened.

Farid was probably heading for Al. Kimberly's fingers flew over the controls and the monitor blinked and switched to Central Post. She turned up the volume—

And she saw Al and Farid grappling in the zero-gee compartment, rotating around in the air, bouncing off the metal shelving, monitors, computers, and white-sided insulation as they clawed at each other.

I've got to do something! Kimberly knew. But what? NASA couldn't even help, as this view was internal to the ISS, and not being broadcast.

The SM was at the far end of the ISS, and the Russians or the remaining American should be able to get to it faster than she could. Still, Kimberly couldn't just stay in the JPM and watch. She flicked her eyes from the monitor to the array of white cloth bags Velcroed to the compartment's wall; they held tools and equipment that she might be able to grab and use.

With the Klaxon continuing to hoot throughout the station, she turned back to the laptop's monitor, her breath quickening as she watched Al and Farid battling. Al fought furiously, arms pummeling wildly, but Farid was bigger, more solidly built, obviously more experienced.

A scientist like Kimberly herself, Al was small in stature and had a feral appearance: the other astronauts called him Rat, although Kimberly kept their relationship strictly professional and always referred to him as Al.

But that didn't do anything to help Al now.

Farid was holding Al in a choke hold with his left arm. Kimberly could see the dark hair on his wrist in the high-resolution clarity of the laptop's monitor. His arms bulged in his cosmonaut's blue uniform. It looked as though the man had spent the three years since his last ISS mission lifting weights and working out. This certainly wasn't the quiet Kazakhstani that the psychological profilers had analyzed. Had he undergone some sort of physical training for this radically different behavior?

As they gyrated in zero gravity, Farid twisted Al to the left and brought his right hand up and placed it against the back of Al's head.

Al's face turned beet red as he struggled for breath. Gasping, he used both hands to try to pry Farid's massive left arm off his throat. He thrashed and kicked with both his legs, jerking violently back and forth, desperately trying to work free. The two started rotating in midair, bouncing off the consoles. Just as they floated out of sight of the video, Farid viciously twisted Al's neck...and he went limp.

Kimberly pounded at the comm link to NASA, wanting to make sure that the ground was aware of what was happening. How much had they seen? They should have seen Colonel Zel'dovich's dead body floating from the Soyuz and Vasilev being murdered, but they hadn't responded in any way. She was sure they were shocked, probably too stunned to respond. She knew they wouldn't be able to do anything from the ground to help her at this moment, but they had access to the most creative minds in the world: somebody should be able to come up with a workable countermeasure.

But Kimberly realized that at this moment it was up to her, the two Russians, and one other American. They couldn't rely on NASA to do anything in the station that they couldn't do for themselves.
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