Doctor Asraf Al Aziz could hardly contain his excitement while watching the circular pressure door slowly swing open. A middle-aged man sporting a grizzled beard and a big smile appeared in the opening.
"As-salamu alaykum Asraf."
" Wa alaykumu s-salam Habib," Asraf replied returning the smile. "Permission to come aboard sir."
"Permission granted," the captain replied and grabbed his hand. "It pleases me to see you in good health old friend."
"You look well too Habib. Allah has been merciful to us both."
Asraf floated through the airlock into the main module of the Osama bin Laden. He was immediately struck by its sheer size. Usually space travel equalled crammed spaces and narrow passageways, but certainly not in this case. Several people were busy operating various instruments - he counted five in total - yet the room still seemed far from crammed.
"This place is truly amazing. How large is this module?"
The captain smiled proudly.
"It was made from two third-stage Russian boosters of their Mars program. The raw diameter is eighteen feet but fully fitted it's more like twelve. The length from airlock to airlock is one hundred and ten. Yes, the Osama bin Laden is quite a sight, isn't he? And this is just one module. Wait till you see the rest. It makes the NASA, ESA and Chinese stations look like garbage cans in comparison."
Asraf floated to the opposite wall and pushed back, enjoying the feeling of moving in a zero gravity environment. On the rebound he grabbed the center guide rope to kill his momentum before bumping into something breakable. He was still working on developing his space-legs.
"This is like a dream Habib. I still can't believe that I'm actually here. That I'm truly in space."
The captain smiled at Asraf's enthusiasm.
"Believe it my friend. You're here alright."
"But how in the name of the prophet did we pull this off? An actual space station in space?"
"Where else would a space station be?" Habib retorted with a wink.
"Come on. You know what I mean Habib. How did we build this? How can we be here without anybody on earth detecting us?"
"As to why we are not detected," Habib replied. "We are orbiting outside a large Israeli communications array. It has no sensors pointing outwards so it can't detect us. But it provides a radar shadow thus effectively hiding us from earth."
"The irony is not lost on you, I see. The very minions of the devil protecting us."
Asraf couldn't help laughing.
"And how was it built? I mean, surely you can't create something this big without at least the Americans spotting it."
"You are correct my friend. You can't. The Osama bin Laden was built in multiple smaller sections, each of which was sent into orbit disguised as a civilian communications satellite or left coasting as space debris. Remember the giant solar storm five years ago?"
"Sure do. Two entire days of communications blackout for anything in orbit. All our satellite phones were dead."
"Precisely," captain Habib continued. "And all electronic tracking systems were down as well. That was the opportunity we had waited for. In less than forty-eight hours the main module was assembled from parts already placed in orbit. The rest of the modules were added later under similar circumstances."
"Forty eight hours? Beard of Ishmael! Without use of communications?"
"Oh we had close range communication based on optics and we used laser ranging instead of radar. Bear in mind that we were planning on using an extended non-com window all along, so we had deliberately designed the system accordingly. There was plenty of redundancy of course, which was good since we lost several modules in the process. But through the grace of Allah we made it and here we are."
"And the Russians and the Chinese -- where do they think we are going when they launch our people?" Asraf wondered.
"We pay certain key people in both countries generously to list our launches as unmanned satellites."
"So the Osama bin Laden is as shadowy and elusive as the mighty holy warrior it was named after, eh?"
"Aye," Habib confirmed with a laugh. "So it is."
"Now my friend Asraf, are you finally going to tell me about... it?"
"In your quarters Habib. This is strictly for your ears only."
The two friends were strapped in a pair of seats in the captains section of the habitation module, soaking their pallets in a decades old Glen Fiddich from a high tech sippy cup.
"Most enjoyable Habib. We are not really supposed to drink this kind of alcoholic beverage though."
The captain took a sip of the precious fluid.
"I am sure the prophet makes allowances for his holy warriors Asraf. But now pray tell me of that mysterious secret weapon your people have been working on in our lab for the past three months. I understand it has truly awesome potential?"
"As you may know already it's virtually impossible to run any serious weapons development without getting discovered these days. Believe me, we have tried numerous times. The cursed American spy satellites and drones would find us regardless of where we set up base. Even in deserted areas or under-ground. They just kept shutting us down and destroying our facilities."
"Ungodly minions of Satan!" Habib cursed.
"So when we were offered the use of a remote facility outside the range of any scanner it was truly a gift from Allah. I immediately designated production of the new weapon to said place, but I always wondered about the location. Never in my wildest fantasy would I have guessed it was situated in space."
Habib nodded modestly. Asraf continued.
"Just like I haven't been privy to the location of this facility for security reasons, you have been excluded from the details about the weapon. But the time has come for both of us to see the whole picture."
Asraf touched a panel and the large screen came to life displaying the picture of a young woman. She was beautiful with the thick dark hair and aquiline features characteristic of Middle Eastern girls.
"A woman," Habib exclaimed. "Is she developing the weapon?"
"No Habib. She IS the weapon."
"Huh?" captain Habib exclaimed. "She doesn't look very dangerous to me."
"Remember long ago when infidel scientists thought they had discovered so-called cold fusion? Their peers ridiculed the discovery and everybody abandoned the concept. While I was studying physics in America I, of all people, realized that they had been on to something."
"So cold fusion actually works?"
"Naah, not like that my friend. For one it is not exactly cold. But where they really got it wrong was the fuel. You see, it only works with the fusion fuel surrounded by neutron enriched water -- deuterium. You might say that the main difference from hot fusion is the level of energy needed for ignition. No need for large lasers or fission bombs. A relatively simple organic reaction will do."
"Organic?" Habib noted with a smile. "Ok I think I know where this is heading."
"Exactly my friend. The trigger reaction can be synthesized inside a human body with slightly modified body chemistry. This is where Aliah -- the woman on the screen -- comes in. You can get all the biochemical details from the project files if you like, but in short we have managed to adapt her body into producing the substances needed for the trigger reaction."
"She can trigger a nuke?"
"Better yet Habib. She contains a biological neutron source able to enrich most of the water in her body to deuterium. Combined with the trigger this effectively makes her..."
"A living hydrogen bomb!" the captain shouted. "Brilliant. Just brilliant!"
Asraf soaked up the praise with obvious pride and took a sip of his drink.
"Best of all. Her condition is undetectable by any conventional methods of scanning. Even a millimeter wave scanner or a backscatter x-ray machine will show nothing out of the ordinary. She could walk right into any of the most secured places in the world and explode with a yield of approximately one kiloton."
Habib could hardly contain his enthusiasm.
"Beard of the prophet! We can strike anywhere. Even the White House itself isn't safe from us."
"Funny you should say that Habib. Because that is her designated target. The very seat of the cursed American leader. The center of their power. The White House."
"Seriously? When will this take place?"
"Tomorrow evening on December the twenty-fifth." Ashraf replied. "In three hours Aliah will depart in a small one person stealth reentry vehicle which will land outside the city of Washington. Tomorrow she will attend a special banquet inside the White House in honor of the heathen holiday known as Christmas..."
"Death to the infidels!" Habib exclaimed.
Both men cursed - then Asraf continued his briefing.
"The banquet will be attended by the American president and many of the most powerful men in the country. Their families will be there too of course. Aliah will go as the companion of a member of their corrupt government. He has been well paid."
"Does he know?"
"No. He assumes that she is a journalist from a TV network."
"But the girl knows?"
"Oh yes. Aliah was selected from a pool of suitable volunteers ready to defend Islam with their lives. Her husband has received suitable compensation for the loss of one of his wives of course..."
"Of course," Habib agreed approvingly.
"She will trigger the explosion manually with an injection of endorphins. Her purse will contain a specially prepared insulin injector pen for that purpose. We reduced the functionality of her pancreas in order to make her a type one diabetic, so her cover story for bringing the pen can withstand even medical scrutiny."
"The level of endorphins is the trigger I assume?"
"Right you are my friend. Once the level reaches a certain threshold the process initiates and insha Allah detonation will occur within two seconds. Our brave Aliah will go out high as a kite."
Both men laughed merrily.
"I would like to meet our brave martyr before she leaves and congratulate her on being chosen for such an honorable mission," Habib said.
"You will. As captain it doesn't seem right that you have been banned from entering the bio research areas of your own station anyway. We are in space -- that fact alone should be all the security we need. So by the authority vested in me as chief of weapons development of the Crimson Jihad I hereby grant you full and unlimited access to all research facilities on this space station. Now please lead the way and I shall introduce you."
Asraf and Habib were making their way through the main module towards the research modules.
"Her husband should be proud. One of his wives will pass into history as one of the greatest martyrs for the Jihad," Habib proclaimed.
"He IS very proud. He was on the flight with me up here and talked non-stop about her all the way."
"Her husband is here? Here onboard the Osama bin Laden?"
"Yes, he was a little behind me in the airlock. You missed him because we left to have our meeting." Asraf replied and continued...
"After today they are not going to see each other again in this life. They should be allowed to say a proper goodbye so I had him assigned as my assistant."
Habib interrupted him.
"For a certified genius you can be such an IDIOT!"
"Huh? What is your problem?" Asraf asked, taken aback by his friends strong reaction.
"What would YOU do if your wife was leaving on a final mission?" Habib barked.
"I don't know... probably fuck the shit out of her one last time or something..."
"And endorphins trigger the reaction, right?"
"What happens to the endorphin level in a woman's body during orgasm?"
Asraf gasped in horror. "Allah save us! Hurry! We need to..."
A muffled scream of pleasure sounded from somewhere ahead. Asraf opened his mouth as if to continue his sentence just as his entire world was swallowed by a blinding white light.
Eileen was waiting in front of her house for Stephen to fetch the car from the garage. She could hear the starter churning in an attempt to wake the frozen engine from its winter slumber when she felt a tug on her sleeve. She looked down at little Liysa who was pointing eagerly to the sky.
"Mom! See! The star of Bethlehem!"
She looked up and paused in amazement. There WAS a new star up there. A star so bright it outshone any other object on the clear dark December sky...