PART I - SUNRISE
1 – Having A Blast in Orbit
The commander of the huge space station studied the displays in front of him, broadcast from external cameras that covered every bit of his current home, circling the earth. “Everything seems to be copasetic, Jim,” Fred Shapiro said into the mike, “I would say the security is . . . holy shit!” A blinding flash on one screen interrupted his pronouncement. In an instant, he realized what had happened. “Looks like Module Five! Gotta seal that sunovabitch now!” He hollered to his partner, “Jim get those people into Module Four!” He paused. “If anyone’s left after decompression.” He spoke more to himself than to anyone else.
Jim Sullivan grabbed a suit and headed down the passageway. “I’ll stay on the Com. See if you can hold off ‘till you hear from me.”
“Go for it.” Shapiro’s hands hovered over the buttons that would seal off sections of the station. Two minutes later he heard Sullivan’s voice on the Com.
“Yeah. What’s happenin’?”
“I’m in Three. We sealed it from here.” He sounded subdued.
“But what about - - aw, hell.” Shapiro understood. There was nothing left of Modules Four and Five. Or the people in them. He sighed. “How many?”
“Um, I’d say fifty or sixty, at least. Obviously we haven’t taken a head count yet.”
Shapiro closed his eyes. Fifty or sixty people, perhaps more. Gone. Just like that. He knew who was responsible, he just knew. Bastards! Then he remembered. Modules Four and Five belonged to the Chinese who had recently come on board.
Shapiro sighed. “Jim?”
“Is the Emergency Team there?”
“Come on back, let them handle it. We got other problems. Big problems.”
“I know. On my way.”
A few moments Sullivan was back in the Command Module of Terra Station One or “TS-1,” the successor to the International Space Station that had been destroyed a few years before. He studied the craggy, worn face of his colleague. “It was them, wasn’t it?”
Shapiro grunted. “Of course it’s them.”
“You think it was Megalor?” He referred to a descendant of C-4, the much-heralded (and much feared) “plastic explosive” of the past. Easily handled in the vacuum of space, placed against the outer wall of a space vehicle, it was quite effective. It didn’t take much for a sudden release of air. Just like a balloon. Pop! End of story. And of lives. It was what everyone assumed was used against TS-1’s predecessor a couple of decades back.
A shrug. “Probably.”
Sullivan lowered his gaze. In a soft voice he said “Damned Solarites.”
“All good things come from the sun, don’t you know that?”
Sullivan sat in the seat next to his boss. The view from the great curved window in front was fantastic. They were over the Pacific and had just cleared the coast of China. He gazed out for a minute and gulped. “Man, Beijing’s gonna be pissed.”
His boss stared at him. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Gotta be. Those were their modules. Might have been some others in there, of course, but the majority of the casualties must have been our latest ‘guests.’”
“Damn. I was afraid of that. The president busted his ass convincing them it was safe up here.”
“I know. I guess we’ll be expecting a visit from Castello.”
Shapiro nodded. He’s the best. He’s nabbed, what, a dozen of those pricks so far?”
“Yeah, at least. God knows how many he’s capped.”
“Jim, between you and me, he should have capped them all. The hell with putting them in jail.”
“That’s no shit. All they do in jail is learn how to be bigger and better assholes.”
A chime came from the console in front of Shapiro. “Yes?”
“Casualty reports, sir” said a woman’s voice from the speaker overhead.
Hell. “Okay, Lieutenant, how many and who?”
“Sixty-two, Sir. Mostly Chinese.”
Shapiro winced. “Shit.” He closed his eyes for a minute. “Anybody get out?”
“Two. They had just entered Module Three. They are the only people left from the Chinese delegation. There are two Americans and one Russian missing as well. I guess they were visiting.”
Shapiro didn’t ask if there were any bodies. Whatever was left was mixed in the debris in space left behind by the orbiting TS-1. Shapiro glanced down at all the blinking lights on the board in front of him. “I guess Downstairs wants to know what happened. Catch you later, Lieutenant.” He touched a button. “Let’s see, who’s first?” At his command, a small plasma screen silently slid up into view, a list of demanding interlocutors blinking at him. He selected one. Northcom - North American Command. “Yes, General Fielder, Shapiro here.”
An angry face greeted him on the screen. “What the fuck happened up there?”
“Somebody lit up Modules Four and Five. They’re gone.”
“Four and five? The Chinese modules?”
“Sixty-two missing as of five minutes ago. Mostly Chinese.”
“Yes sir, that’s what we said.”
2 – Roman Castello
“Downstairs,” on Earth, a semi-reclining Roman Castello gazed up at the screen “floating” over him, a wireless keyboard on his lap. He was also known as Colonel Castello, United States Space Forces Command Special Operations Squadron (USSF/SOS - the clandestine operations branch of the USSF They truly were “deep black”). An image of a dark-haired man stared back at him. “You did it, didn’t you Zraqad, you sun-worshipper, you? You and yours took out those modules up there, didn’t you?”
The image gazed back at him with humorless eyes. Castello’s mind flashed back to their last meeting, when he’d narrowly escaped death at Zraqad’s hands. He fingered the burn on the back of his right wrist, a “souvenir” from Zraqad’s laser pistol. He touched the keyboard and the familiar words appeared. He knew them by heart, but he read them again and again, just to psych himself.
Zraqad Shimshaa, pronounced ZRAH-COD SHIM-SHAH, leader of the “Solarites,” worshippers of the sun (or Sol - also known by the ancient Egyptian name “Ra” which is used when referring to the sun as a deity). The Solarites do not believe the sun itself is God; rather it is the representation of God’s power (in essence, a giant cross or Star of David, etc.) and is the medium in which God delivers His warmth and light. Twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, they prostrate themselves and chant “Ra is God, God is Ra. There is no other and HE cannot be touched.” They believe that Man does not belong in space because it offends Ra, sunspots, solar flares and violent weather being “proof” that Ra is unhappy. The Solarites act violently as well in their quest to keep Man on Earth. Took “credit” for the destruction of the International Space Station as well as numerous acts of destruction to space-related installations Downstairs. Some analysts believe the destruction of the earlier space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were acts of sabotage committed by people of similar beliefs, perhaps precursors to the Solarites (it should be mentioned that there is no evidence of this). Zraqad emerged around 2055, declaring himself Chief Priest of Ra and a direct descendant of Akhenaten, the Egyptian Pharaoh who worshipped the sun. Little is known of Zraqad’s background except that he was born somewhere in North Africa . . .
An image appeared at the lower right of Castello’s screen and a soft voice announced “incoming communication from Northcom.” Gotta be Fielder. He touched another node and the bald-headed, four-star general’s round face filled the screen. Fielder commanded the United States Space Forces, or USSF which, in turn, came operationally under Northcom, military shorthand for North American Command. Heading Northcom was Fielder’s “other hat” – he ran them both. “Good morning. I had a feeling you’d call.”
“Get off your ass, Castello. Your friend’s been up to no good again.”
“Hell. Don’t call him my friend.” He rubbed the back of his hand again.
The general’s smile was thin. “I know. Get on the next flyer and get out here. I’ll upload the brief and you can view it on the way. Roman, this is bad, real bad. The Chinese Premier is on the President’s ass, the President’s on the Secretary’s ass, and he’s on my ass.”
“I take it I’ll be going Upstairs?”
“You want to inspect at the damage, don’t you?”
“I suppose.” He started to rise. “You know I just love space travel.” He lied.
A day later, Castello sat in the familiar, round briefing room deep in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, home of Northcom, charged with the defense of North America which included “Upstairs,” the space above it. All the way out to geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 miles above Earth. When the Lunar Base was finished, Northcom’s Area of Responsibility would increase. If the Lunar Base was finished, a touch and go situation, especially with the rather determined opposition of some people.
Like the Solarites he thought as he took in the sight of the Lunar Base model, a holograph perpetually floating in one small alcove of the room.
“Proceed, Captain” said the General to the young officer standing in front of the oblong, black table.
An image floated above the right side of the captain’s head. “Terra Station One, as it appeared three days ago. At exactly 0921 Mountain time a day later, the following event took place.” Suddenly the room was awash with white light as the image showed one end of the station exploding.
“CIA and her sister agencies as well as the intelligence agencies of the major Earth powers are in agreement that this was a deliberate attack perpetrated by this individual.” At that an image of Zraqad replaced that of the ill-fated TS-1. The captain proceeded to give a breakdown of the casualty figures, prompting an audible “Hmmm” from one particular person at the table.
Fielder turned to him. “General Teng, I assure you we will do everything we can to bring these people to justice.”
Teng shook his head. “I know, General. It is just that I will have to face Premier Hsiang. As you know, he was not in favor of Chinese participation in this ‘adventure.’”
Fielder held his hands up in a “what can I do?” gesture. Teng merely shrugged in response. Fielder nodded to the captain to continue. After some images of the damage, and some known members of the Solarites for background, the briefer came to the proverbial “bottom line.”
“The big question is how are the Solarites gaining access to orbit? Northcom monitors every launch from Downstairs, yet nothing out of the ordinary was detected that day, just as no unauthorized launches were detected twenty-five years ago when TS-1’s predecessor blew up.”
Fielder turned to Castello. “How indeed? Ro, among other things, that’s for you to find out.”
Castello tried to smile. “Piece of cake.” No one laughed.
NOTE: "DULY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITY" had been selected by Readers Guild to be part of an upcoming anthology of thrillers. Unfortunately the company's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse and the contract has been terminated. Therefore "Duly" will return for purchase at Amazon shortly.
My latest novel, "In the Name of the Sun," is now finally finished. I had hoped to get this one published the "traditional" but I have decided to self-publish (see my "miniblog" for more on this). "Sun" is best described as a science fiction thriller.
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