1:10 PM – EDT
Having frightened guileless Danny into compliance, Zimmerman held court with the full complement of Lehigh guards and local police outside the power plant. The colonel had toyed with the idea of a complete lockdown of buildings, but rejected it as too overt. When curious students began to congregate, he had dispersed them with random threats and vague comments about a mock drill.
He grouped the patrols according to a map of the Catacombs, dorms, and classrooms. Every single exit point would be monitored. Instead of a laborious and possibly futile search of thousands of interior locations, he would wait them out. “People, we have two escaped convicts running loose. They are being aided by a government worker and your own Professor Frank Thomas, as per the photos we issued. All four are wanted for crimes of treason against our beloved United States of America. From this moment forward, I am in charge. All orders will come directly from me and only from me. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison.
“All vehicles must leave through the main gate and will be personally inspected by me and my assistant here, Sutherland.”
The captain bristled. Assistant, indeed.
“Remember, you must use the utmost caution. These fugitives are assumed to be armed and dangerous. You are hereby permitted to use any means to apprehend them, but I want the women alive. Dismissed.”
1:45 PM – EDT
Frank removed his bifocals and wiped the lenses with a handkerchief from his pocket. Thoroughly soiled from the Catacombs, he had repeatedly performed this action. Realizing the transparency of his behavior, he shoved the cloth back into his trousers.
Sera decided he needed a distraction. “Frank, now that we’ve been honest with you”—she caught his angry glare—“we’d like to know the real reason you left NASA. You loved that job.”
He hesitated. “Remember last year when the auxiliary oxygen tank on the Sentinel Space Fort blew?”
Iggy turned to them with interest. “It could have ended in a devastating tragedy if not for that Zeus 5 astronaut. He was a hero.”
“Right. But the general public doesn’t know all the facts. The NASA press secretary told the media that Zeus 5 was simply a reconnaissance expedition to study construction of the Russian space fort.”
“Gagarin.” Jay whispered the word with reverence. “The Soviets named it after Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space and the first to orbit the earth in 1961.”
“Correct. But Zeus 5 wasn’t directed to spy on the Gagarin Fort. Their mission was to blow it to smithereens.”
Sera raised her eyebrows.
“I know what I’m talking about because I was CAPCOM.” Frank’s gaze flitted over Iggy and Jay. “I mean capsule communicator, from Houston. Shortly after we launched Zeus 5, the accident occurred on Sentinel in a completely separate incident. When their tank exploded, not only did they lose reserve O2, but the blast punched a gaping hole in the hull. The crew sealed off that compartment; however, their breathable air diminished to a two-hour supply.”
Frank rubbed his beard. “We were ecstatic we’d just sent off another spacecraft that could effect a rescue. We couldn’t believe our luck. But then NASA ordered the commander of Zeus 5 to continue with the Gagarin destruction first. Their ship couldn’t handle the additional passengers along with the immense weight of the bomb.”
Iggy wrinkled her forehead. “That must have been one heck of a weapon.”
“It would have to be, wouldn’t it?” Jay stepped away from the window where he’d been scanning for activity. “You see, bombs within the earth’s atmosphere work mostly on overpressure. The explosion pushes air away at a high velocity. In the vacuum of space, of course, you need a much larger reaction to cause comparable damage.”
Frank stared at him. “Anyway, Commander Dylan was no fool. He knew that by the time he deployed his weapon, the Sentinel crew would be dead. So Dylan defied orders. He deactivated the bomb, released it into space and courageously went on to save eight brave men and women. The newswires picked up the story and hailed him as an American hero. And it suited him. You probably saw the coverage. A handsome rogue, he had a veritable love affair with the cameras. Naturally, NASA officials weren’t too pleased that he’d ejected a two million dollar piece of ordnance. But they could hardly discipline a national icon.”
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG