Adisa's mind raced, and he brought up a virtual shell console. "I can cripple their transmitter—at the ship's OS level. They would be unlikely to find the cause."
She nodded. "Do it. Buy us some time."
Adisa swiftly wrote a shell script that locked out all the transmitter ports. He then inserted the script into several core services that launched during the ship's OS startup. In a few minutes he was finished. "I have disabled their transmitter."
"Good." She was focused on the surveillance monitors. The intruders inside the ship were now moving into the Central Hab—the junction to all three radial arms and the habs at their ends.
Abarca switched cameras to monitor their progress. "We could physically bar the hatch to this hab. It'll take them at least five minutes to winch down the hab tunnel, and we still have sysadmin control of the Konstantin."
"But they now have physical control of the ship's computer core, Isabel. They could reinstall the entire ship's OS and then detect us on surveillance cameras."
She nodded. "And purge our atmosphere. Like last time. We are in a tight spot here, Ade."
"Do you think they will kill us?"
"Their employers already tried to, and that's who sent these people."
Adisa pointed at a surveillance monitor. "Look. They found the Far Star..."
On-screen, one of the intruders lifted a glittering kiwi-fruit-sized diamond from its perch on the wall of the Central Hab. They held it up for the others to see and appeared to celebrate. The stone was a 250-carat diamond James Tighe had discovered during mining operations. Nicole Clarke, the Konstantin's original captain and resident geologist, had cut it into a flawless, brilliant pear diamond they named the Far Star—before she died of cancer. The stone was worth several hundred million back on Earth and no doubt was on a manifest of objects for the new crew to secure.
"They knew right where to look for it." She turned to him. "And next they'll probably start searching for our bodies. Here in the habs."
Two of the intruders opened the pressure door to access the Konstantin's computer core, while the other two pairs went "down" into the spin-gravity wells of the habitat modules, leaving the third module—the Fab Hab workshop—for last.
Intruders were headed their way. "What do we do, Isabel?"
"I'm thinking." She studied the surveillance cameras as two of the intruders clipped in to the winch and slowly descended the hundred-meter airless tunnel toward their hab unit.
"There are only two of them coming toward us. We have the element of surprise." Adisa got up and rushed into the living quarters. After a few moments he emerged with an ice ax.
"What do you plan to do with that?"
"We must be prepared to defend ourselves."
She grabbed it from him. "You're not killing anyone with my climbing ax."
"Then what are we doing? Are we accepting our fate?"
They stood staring at each other. Adisa's thoughts raced as the moments ticked by, but no solution to their predicament came to mind.
All too soon the clunk of boots sounded on the ceiling of the hab unit directly above them.
They both looked upward.
He whispered, "They are here."
Abarca entered the hab core and stared up at the airlock hatch in the ceiling. Adisa moved alongside her. The airlock was already cycling.
She placed the ice ax out of sight, leaning it against the wall next to her. "No matter what happens, it has been an honor crewing with you, Adedayo Adisa."
He nodded. "And with you, Isabel Abarca."
They hugged and looked back up at the ceiling as the rattling air pump stopped.
The hatch lever slid aside, then the lid lurched open with a loud squeak, demonstrating the wear of years. In a few moments, a gray booted foot appeared, probing for the top ladder rung. Then another boot followed, and the intruder started descending shakily into the full spin-gravity of the living quarters. A bulky space suit with a life support pack became visible. A second set of boots followed close behind.
Abarca and Adisa silently stood their ground.
Reaching the base of the ladder, the first intruder planted their feet on the deck, and unsteadily turned around in the bulky space suit. In a moment the reflective visor finally came into view.
The intruder suddenly snapped alert—startled at the first sight of Abarca and Adisa. And now they could clearly see the flag of North Korea sewn onto the suit's chest plate.
This excerpt ends on page 10 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, May 29th, we begin the book Rubicon by J. S. Dewes.