Murder at the Space Olympics
by Mike Wilson
This was the day he had trained months for. The holy warrior checked his equipment. His air supply, helmet, and communicator were fine. He fished a long very sharp blade out of its sheath, and prepared his approach. Soon now...
Rod glanced at his wrist monitor; h is O2 and vitals were nominal. He steeled himself for the starting tone. Other competitors were lined up against their pusher plates, all eight of them. The last was barely visible against the looming blue glow of Earth. They all floated as one with their platforms, the mild magfields of their boots just enough to hold them in place against the starting plates. Stretched out ahead of them was a row of pusher-platforms, surrounded with a grid of handholds. Rod lowered his wrist monitor, and squinted ahead, at his first destination: A pusher platform .5 kilometer distant. He crouched, steeling himself.
"Ready. On your mark. Get set. Go!" Beeep! Rod pushed off as hard as his legs could manage, and then gradually unfolded himself. The action-reaction pushed the floating platform back a bit; it activated small thrusters and realigned itself, automatically -- just like all of the others. He glided forward swift and smooth, heading right for his target.
Rod stole a look sideways: The other contestants were also sailing forward. A few were backwards of him, but most of them were pretty much even. They worked their bodies just as hard as me to prepare for this, he thought.
They approached the first relay plate. This was where an athlete could lose time. If one didn't grab the handles, pirouette over and line themselves up just so, seconds were lost. Rod was able to seize the bars, flip himself up and over using his forward momentum, and then line his legs up against the plate. Then, he had to slow his movement enough to get a purchase on the plate with his feet, and push off for all he was worth. He did so, and sailed off towards Relay # 2. One down, eight to go before the finish line. A voice intoned in his helmet speaker: 'Relay one achieved. The United States is in first place, followed closely by Germany and France. Russia and Saudi Arabia are bringing up the rear.'
The second plate grew larger in Rod's visor. Nearby, the German athlete, Hans, gave him a cursory wave. Not enough to cost him momentum, just enough to let the American know he was not going to float away with a gold that easily. Rod nodded and then faced forward, aiming his entire consciousness on the upcoming relay.
Several miles away, spectators were enjoying the race in a special viewing area on Bigelow III space station. More people were seeing this on video monitors all over Earth and the Moon. The action was transmitted efficiently by a slew of cameras positioned all along the racing lanes. An "ooooh" rose from the small crowd in Bigelow III after relay point #2. The French athlete, Jacques, had mis-judged and slipped during his translation over the relay plate. He almost lost hold entirely, but managed to hold onto one bar, and reposition himself to push off. He was okay, but he had lost a hundred feet, or several seconds of time. Barring a miracle, he would not be getting any medals in this field today.
In the viewing area on Bigelow III, Marcia turned towards Kathy, and said, "Wow, did you see that?"
Kathy tapped some on her commpad. "Yep. Looks like France might be last in this one." They were both news stringers for different organizations, and lucky enough to cover this, the first Space Olympics. Their gaze went back to the large-screen monitor mounted in the center of the Press area, located on a central level of the large station, which was parked in a Geostationary orbit thousands of miles above Earth.
Rod sensed more than saw the absence of his French counterpart. He got a clean translation and push-off of no. 2, and was sailing directly towards platform three. This series of platforms were offset slightly to the right and elevated, to make it more challenging. An athlete misjudging or disoriented could end up trying to reach an opponents platform, a guarantee of disqualification. As Rod floated ever closer to his target, he noticed a shadow flitting by. What the...?
He reached his platform, but before he could grab the bars for his translation, a different tone sounded in his form-fitting helmet: A shrill alarm warble. Then, a voice that said "This is an emergency. The competition has been canceled. All athletes, please return to your starting platforms. Repeat, all athletes, please return to your starting..."
Rod grabbed the bars on No. 3, and halted his motion. He looked over at the other athletes, who were doing the same. Wondering what could have happened, nevertheless he reached down to his wrist panel and activated the emergency return system. Now, all he had to do was stretch himself out, and the pack on his back would fire a pattern of gas puffs, returning him safely to the platform attached to a lower level of Bigelow III.
Rod toggled the comm mic in his slender helmet; "Hey, coach? What is the deal? What happened?"
"One of the athletes has been hit by something, we don't know. But he has been hurt, Rod. The judges have decreed that you all come in."
"Hurt? By what, a meteor? Darn it, I was really in my good zone today."
"Sorry about that, Rod, tough break. Will talk more later. Gotta go. Team USA out."
Rod was left alone with his thoughts, as the ARS maneuvered him back to the massive space facility.
The Press room was in chaos. Everyone was trying to get a hold of someone else. The monitor was replaying what had transpired. A series of graceful, tight-fitting suits floating towards platforms, ready to pirouette off. And then, a black-suited figure torpedoing in and impacting the athlete with a French tricolor emblazoned on his suit. The flash of silver - a knife! One slash was all it took. Then, the dark figure pushed off the now-injured athlete, and angled up and out of range of the cameras. The action froze, then repeated.
"Where did he go?" What nationality was he or she?" "Why are they trying to hurt the French?" Does anyone claim responsibility?" Lots of questions, but no answers.
Marcia was yelling into her commpad. "No, I don't know if anyone is claiming responsibility. I have to go, someone is about to make a statement." She stabbed a button, then swore. A dapper figure was making his way to the center of the room, waving his hands. "Ladies and Gentlemen! Please! Silence, we have a statement!"
Finally the hubbub dulled down somewhat. The man stretched himself full up so that his magnetic shoes barely held him steady. Then he hollered: "The situation as it stands is this. At 14:21 GMT today, during the pushoff competition, an unknown assailant attacked the French athlete, Jacques Kanes, with a large object presumed to be a knife. They succeeded in bursting his suit, causing depressurization and death. Recovery efforts are still underway to find his body. This entire station is under quarantine and lockdown. You will be escorted back to your rooms momentarily. In the meantime, please be patient. Security forces are searching for the person or persons responsible. If you see or hear anything, please let us know. That is all."
Almost instantly, the room erupted in a cacophony of questions. "Who is responsible? Where are they from? Where did the body go?" Marcia and Kathy had been through chaotic scenes like this before. Even though they worked for competitors, they grinned at each other, and shrugged. "I don't know, can you get a word in? I can't," said Kathy.
"My boss will just have to wait. Let's just sit tight for a spell." Marcia sighed, and sat down on one of the flimsy webbed chairs.
Meanwhile, a dark figure maneuvered itself at the very bottom of the Bigelow III station. Down here was all framework, piping, and a few tiny security cameras, all of which had been compromised to feed false data into the system. The holy warrior was proud of what he had done, and looking forward to hearing the acknowledgment signal that would tell him: 'We have read the statement, your work is done.' He wanted to get to Sparta station which housed the athletes; that was where his escape rendezvous was: Things would be too hot on Bigelow anyway, and while he did not fear death, he did not relish it either. He discarded some items, picked up a couple others that had been stashed down there, and soon pushed off on a long, arcing trajectory that would take him to the Sparta station, several miles distant from Bigelow in a slightly lower, but still geostationary orbit.
Rod and his coach, Don Walker, conferred in a cramped locker room on a lower level of Bigelow. Other athletes were stowing their suits and talking in low tones.. The mood was tense.
"So what does this mean for our standings? We just start over, right?"
"Pretty sure. France will have to decide if they want to field a replacement athlete. Since the replacement is not very well trained, they may disqualify themselves. The judges have never been faced with this before. But I suspect the entire competition will have to be postponed until near the end of the Olympics. What a lousy debut for the Space Games," Don grimaced.
"Crap. After all that training, all those years... Will we have to wait four more years, coach?"
"Well, not necessarily. Another thing that has been discussed is adding the space games to the Winter Games as a special. That could always be done. Right now, the authorities have to find out who is responsible."
"They still don't know who did it?"
"Hell, Rod, we are still in here - they haven't caught the killer yet. First things first!"
"Good point, coach.. So, we sit tight here until we get word. Do we get anything to drink?" Rod patted his grumbling stomach.
Don sighed. "I'll go see what I can shag up," and clomped out. Rod turned to chat with a few of the other athletes, who were in a similar state of discomfiture. While talking, he picked up his commpad and idly checked for messages.
A security officer seated at his console, deep in the bowels of Bigelow III, looked again at a video feed, and then motioned for his supervisor.
"Sir, I just saw this on the westward feed. Would you take a look?"
The supervisor watched, then grunted in surprise as he saw the dark figure floating by in a rapid arc. "Whoever this was did not think there was a camera mounted on this section. Get me some stills out of this, and we'll study them."
The supervisor stood up, and his commpad warbled. He spoke into it in brief tones, then ended the call. "People, guess what? A group has taken responsibility! They just made a statement!" The small group of security officers in the monitoring center all murmured. Then, one of them noticed the patched in video coming from Earth, and moved quickly to cross-connect the signal into the station feeds.
In the press briefing room, Marcia and Kathy were riveted to a wall-mounted screen. A turbaned, angry-looking figure was reading from a prepared script:
"The policies of the French government towards our Arab brothers, and specifically the massacre of so many innocents in Kandahar, has prompted our actions. This has been but a warning. If all French troops are not removed from the country of Afghanistan in 24 hours, there will be more bloodshed - much more. You have been warned. That is all." Then, the feed went black. Marcia answered her noisome commpad. "Yes, I just saw it. Yeah? No kidding, and everyone else. I'll do my best, boss. Yeah, you too. Bye." She clicked off, then grimaced to Kathy. "Find out who is behind it. Find out this, find out that. Ya gotta love it, eh?"
"Well, that is why we like our jobs, right," said Kathy with a wink. "I gotta go. My boss wants the same thing."
"Wait, where are you going. Let me come too."
"Who better to talk to than some athletes. Remember, you were not with me for this. Let's go together."
The two women made their way with shaky steps, to a tiny elevator going down to the athletes section.
Paul-Henri adjusted his weapons belt. The new suits were supposed to be better fitting, but any kind of spacewear was not going to be ideal, especially when it combined life support and weaponry. He sat facing a complement of FS forces, ten in all - they were seated in a specially outfitted Ariane shuttlecraft. They all looked grim-faced serious, even floating in weightlessness.
"So what good will we do here, commander? The criminal has done the deed already," said Cpl. Arnaud.
"We are to assess the condition of our athletes, and assist the station security forces as best we can. We represent France, looking after her own. Is it not obvious?" Paul fixed Arnaud with a glare to make his point.
"Yes, sir. I was just wondering."
"But since you brought it up, here are a few things we can all do to make this go as smoothly as possible. First, we need to attempt to locate the killer, if he or she is still on board. They may have taken their own life. But we still have to find a body, something, anything to help us understand..." And he went on detailing procedures and potentialities.
Meanwhile, the killer arrived at Sparta station, floating up to the prearranged meet area at the base of the oblong complex. He secured himself on a protruding grid, and waited. The tiny shuttle was supposed to launch from the southern hemisphere any time now to pick him up, or so he had been assured. But right now, even with his augmented visor, all he could see was a small shuttle docking with Bigelow. What the devil?
Several minutes passed. He would have to think about a plan B if they did not come for him; his simple suit only had one hour of air. Suddenly, some dark figures exited a side hatchway, and began to push off towards the Sparta station! He thought, Those couldn't be my rescuers; something just does not feel right. Time to hide.
He looked around the base, and spotted a small maintenance hatch. Hoping for the best, he searched around the perimeter of the hatch. And finally found what he needed: A tiny recess with access buttons. He stabbed at them until he heard grinding noises, and saw the hatch begin to move. He was in.
The tiny security force reached Sparta station just as the small hatchway was closing; furthermore, they were approaching from the upper area, and did not see it. They made their way over the other side to a main entry airlock.
As soon as the pressure equalized, and the inner hatch opened, the captain of the small forces saw what he was up against. There was a man dressed in a black, form-fitting suit inside the first compartment. And he was holding a wicked-looking knife up to the throat of an athlete from Poland, who looked petrified.
"I would not come too close, eh? Watch it now. I will cut this man's throat," said the terrorist.
"Oh, come on now. Do you really want to die up here, all alone in space? You have nowhere to go. Why don't you let this poor man go, and let's end this charade," The security captain said, more confidently than he felt.
"Sorry, infidel. My ride is coming soon. So I think I'll just relax here awhile," said the terrorist, pressing the blade against the man's throat.
"Ride? What ride? There have been no launches or spacecraft seen recently," said the captain.
"Quit your lies. I wait here for my ride, and you can wait too, if you want. But make one wrong move, and this man dies!"
The captain's eyes flicked upward for a split second, then went back to the terrorist. "You are the lowest sort of animal.," he said.
The terrorist caught the eye movement, but discounted it in his mind. As he leveled his gaze back to the captain and his men standing there, a body suddenly torpedoed out of an aft area of the cargo bay. The body was in tip-top shape, having trained for over a year in the pusher-plate competition. Rod slammed into the back of the unaware terrorist full-force, knocking him forward and breaking some vertebrae in the process. Then everyone moved at once.
The captain grabbed the flailing terrorist, who was crying out in pain, by an arm, and quickly overpowered him. The three other security crew rushed in to help. And Rod had to land in a pile of packing material and webbing, and then untangle himself from it all. But they finally sorted it all out.
As Rod stood over the now-cuffed terrorist, he looked over at the Captain and grinned. The Captain was in awe, but effusive.
"Merci! Many thanks to you from me and from my government. But how did you know? How did you get over here so quickly?"
"Well, sir, here I was, full of pent-up energy, and my competition was shut down. And then, my buddy Kevin in security tells me about a figure headed here to Sparta, which is our athlete lodging anyways. I decided to use my energy to go back to the hotel, so to speak, and see what I could do."
"You are lucky, son. All by yourself, you could have been hurt. But, we are glad you came. "
Another crewmember added, "that is what I would call a gold medal performance!"
Rod's face reddened, but he just grinned. Wait until the coach hears this!
Marcia and Kathy were beside themselves. They had just completed an exclusive interview with the American athlete who had saved a man's life and helped capture a known terrorist. They were seated in a lounge area on Bigelow III, one on either side of the Olympic athlete, named Rod Flanders.
"I hope that was adequate for your news broadcasts, ladies," said Rod, smiling.
He had an arm strategically positioned in back of each one of them; he was feeling totally in control of events for the first time in a long time.
"Oh yeah, that was super. Thank you." They grinned. Rod was thinking, I cannot believe how well this day has ended.
He said, "So what are you both doing this evening?" and winked.
© 2010 Mike Wilson
Bio: Mike has been writing short stories, poetry and essays for several years. He has been published in periodicals like Tales of the Talisman, as well as an annual poetry book. Mr. Wilson's stories and poems have appeared a number of times in Aphelion, most recently the poem Jones Ropes a Thistle (December 2009) and the short story Cognition (November 2009). A member of the Iowa Poetry Association, he has had formal training in the IT field. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his very eccentric cat, Snickers.
E-mail: Mike Wilson
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