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  1. A XVIII 1
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  3. A XVIII 3
  4. A XVIII 4
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Marjorie Tenchs raspy voice echoed in her mind. Are you aware that Sexton is accepting bribes from private aerospace companies?

Gabrielles pulse began racing as she gazed down the darkened hallway toward the archway that led into the senators den. She knew she should speak up, announce her presence, and yet she felt herself inching quietly forward. She moved to within a few feet of the archway and stood soundlessly in the shadows... listening to the conversation beyond.




While Delta‑Three stayed behind to collect Norah Mangors body and the sled, the other two soldiers accelerated down the glacier after their quarry.

On their feet they wore ElektroTread‑powered skis. Modeled after the consumer Fast Trax motorized skis, the classified ElektroTreads were essentially snow skis with miniaturized tank treads affixed‑like snowmobiles worn on the feet. Speed was controlled by pushing the tips of the index finger and thumb together, compressing two pressure plates inside the right‑hand glove. A powerful gel battery was molded around the foot, doubling as insulation and allowing the skis to run silently. Ingeniously, the kinetic energy generated by gravity and the spinning treads as the wearer glided down a hill was automatically harvested to recharge the batteries for the next incline.

Keeping the wind at his back, Delta‑One crouched low, skimming seaward as he surveyed the glacier before him. His night vision system was a far cry from the Patriot model used by the Marines. Delta‑One was looking through a hands‑free face mount with a 40 x 90 mm six‑element lens, three‑element Magnification Doubler, and Super Long Range IR. The world outside appeared in a translucent tint of cool blue, rather than the usual green‑the color scheme especially designed for highly reflective terrains like the Arctic.

As he approached the first berm, Delta‑Ones goggles revealed several bright stripes of freshly disturbed snow, rising up and over the berm like a neon arrow in the night. Apparently the three escapees had either not thought to unhook their makeshift sail or had been unable to. Either way, if they had not released by the final berm, they were now somewhere out in the ocean. Delta‑One knew his quarrys protective clothing would lengthen the usual life expectancy in the water, but the relentless offshore currents would drag them out to sea. Drowning would be inevitable.

Despite his confidence, Delta‑One had been trained never to assume. He needed to see bodies. Crouching low, he pressed his fingers together and accelerated up the first incline.


Michael Tolland lay motionless, taking stock of his bruises. He was battered, but he sensed no broken bones. He had little doubt the gel‑filled Mark IX had saved him any substantial trauma. As he opened his eyes, his thoughts were slow to focus. Everything seemed softer here... quieter. The wind still howled, but with less ferocity.

We went over the edge‑didnt we?

Focusing, Tolland found he was lying on ice, draped across Rachel Sexton, almost at right angles, their locked carabiners twisted. He could feel her breathing beneath him, but he could not see her face. He rolled off her, his muscles barely responding.

Rachel...? Tolland wasnt sure if his lips were making sound or not.

Tolland recalled the final seconds of their harrowing ride‑the upward drag of the balloon, the payload cable snapping, their bodies plummeting down the far side of the berm, sliding up and over the final mound, skimming toward the edge‑the ice running out. Tolland and Rachel had fallen, but the fall had been oddly short. Rather than the expected plunge to the sea, they had fallen only ten feet or so before hitting another slab of ice and sliding to a stop with the dead weight of Corky in tow.

Now, raising his head, Tolland looked toward the sea. Not far away, the ice ended in a sheer cliff, beyond which he could hear the sounds of the ocean. Looking back up the glacier, Tolland strained to see into the night. Twenty yards back, his eyes met a high wall of ice, which seemed to hang above them. It was then that he realized what had happened. Somehow they had slid off the main glacier onto a lower terrace of ice. This section was flat, as large as a hockey rink, and had partially collapsed‑preparing to cleave off into the ocean at any moment.

Ice calving, Tolland thought, eyeing the precarious platform of ice on which he was now lying. It was a broad square slab that hung off the glacier like a colossal balcony, surrounded on three sides by precipices to the ocean. The sheet of ice was attached to the glacier only at its back, and Tolland could see the connection was anything but permanent. The boundary where the lower terrace clung to the Milne Ice Shelf was marked by a gaping pressure fissure almost four feet across. Gravity was well on its way to winning this battle.

Almost more frightening than seeing the fissure was Tollands seeing the motionless body of Corky Marlinson crumpled on the ice. Corky lay ten yards away at the end of a taut tether attached to them.

Tolland tried to stand up, but he was still attached to Rachel. Repositioning himself, he began detaching their interlocking carabiners.

Rachel looked weak as she tried to sit up. We didnt... go over? Her voice was bewildered.

We fell onto a lower block of ice, Tolland said, finally unfastening himself from her. Ive got to help Corky.

Painfully, Tolland attempted to stand, but his legs felt feeble. He grabbed the tether and heaved. Corky began sliding toward them across the ice. After a dozen or so pulls, Corky was lying on the ice a few feet away.

Corky Marlinson looked beaten. Hed lost his goggles, suffered a bad cut on his cheek, and his nose was bleeding. Tollands worries that Corky might be dead were quickly allayed when Corky rolled over and looked at Tolland with an angry glare.

Jesus, he stammered. What the hell was that little trick!

Tolland felt a wave of relief.

Rachel sat up now, wincing. She looked around. We need to... get off of here. This block of ice looks like its about to fall.

Tolland couldnt have agreed more. The only question was how.

They had no time to consider a solution. A familiar high‑pitched whir became audible above them on the glacier. Tollands gaze shot up to see two white‑clad figures ski effortlessly up onto the edge and stop in unison. The two men stood there a moment, peering down at their battered prey like chess masters savoring checkmate before the final kill.


Delta‑One was surprised to see the three escapees alive. He knew, however, this was a temporary condition. They had fallen onto a section of the glacier that had already begun its inevitable plunge to the sea. This quarry could be disabled and killed in the same manner as the other woman, but a far cleaner solution had just presented itself. A way in which no bodies would ever be found.

Gazing downward over the lip, Delta‑One focused on the gaping crevasse that had begun to spread like a wedge between the ice shelf and the clinging block of ice. The section of ice on which the three fugitives sat was dangerously perched... ready to break away and fall into the ocean any day now.

Why not today...

Here on the ice shelf, the night was rocked every few hours by deafening booms‑the sound of ice cracking off parts of the glacier and plummeting into the ocean. Who would take notice?

Feeling the familiar warm rush of adrenaline that accompanied the preparation for a kill, Delta‑One reached in his supply pack and pulled out a heavy, lemon‑shaped object. Standard issue for military assault teams, the object was called a flash‑bang‑a nonlethal concussion grenade that temporarily disoriented an enemy by generating a blinding flash and deafening concussion wave. Tonight, however, Delta‑One knew this flash‑bang would most certainly be lethal.

He positioned himself near the edge and wondered how far the crevasse descended before tapering to a close. Twenty feet? Fifty feet? He knew it didnt matter. His plan would be effective regardless.

With calm bred from the performance of countless executions, Delta‑One dialed a ten‑second delay into the grenades screw‑dial, slid out the pin, and threw the grenade down into the chasm. The bomb plummeted into the darkness and disappeared.

Then Delta‑One and his partner cleared back up onto the top of the berm and waited. This would be a sight to behold.

Even in her delirious state of mind, Rachel Sexton had a very good idea what the attackers had just dropped into the crevasse. Whether Michael Tolland also knew or whether he was reading the fear in her eyes was unclear, but she saw him go pale, shooting a horrified glance down at the mammoth slab of ice on which they were stranded, clearly realizing the inevitable.

Like a storm cloud lit by an internal flash of lightning, the ice beneath Rachel illuminated from within. The eerie white translucence shot out in all directions. For a hundred yards around them, the glacier flashed white. The concussion came next. Not a rumble like an earthquake, but a deafening shock wave of gut‑churning force. Rachel felt the impact tearing up through the ice into her body.

Instantly, as if a wedge had been driven between the ice shelf and the block of ice supporting them, the cliff began to shear off with a sickening crack. Rachels eyes locked with Tollands in a freeze‑frame of terror. Corky let out a scream nearby.

The bottom dropped out.

Rachel felt weightless for an instant, hovering over the multimillion‑pound block of ice. Then they were riding the iceberg down‑plummeting into the frigid sea.




The deafening grating of ice against ice assaulted Rachels ears as the massive slab slid down the face of the Milne Ice Shelf, sending towering plumes of spray into the air. As the slab splashed downward, it slowed, and Rachels previously weightless body crashed down onto the top of the ice. Tolland and Corky landed hard nearby.

As the blocks downward momentum plunged it deeper into the sea, Rachel could see the foaming surface of the ocean racing upward with a kind of taunting deceleration, like the ground beneath a bungee‑jumper whose cord was a few feet too long. Rising... rising... and then it was there. Her childhood nightmare was back. The ice... the water... the darkness. The dread was almost primal.

The top of the slab slipped below the waterline, and the frigid Arctic Ocean poured over the edges in a torrent. As the ocean rushed in all around her, Rachel felt herself sucked under. The bare skin on her face tightened and burned as the saltwater hit. The flooring of ice disappeared beneath her, and Rachel fought her way back to the surface, buoyed by the gel in her suit. She took in a mouthful of saltwater, sputtering to the surface. She could see the others floundering nearby, all of them tangled in tethers. Just as Rachel righted herself, Tolland yelled out.

Its coming back up!

As his words echoed above the tumult, Rachel felt an eerie upwelling in the water beneath her. Like a massive locomotive straining to reverse direction, the slab of ice had groaned to a stop underwater and was now beginning its ascent directly beneath them. Fathoms below, a sickening low frequency rumble resonated upward through the water as the gigantic submerged sheet began scraping its way back up the face of the glacier.

The slab rose fast, accelerating as it came, swooping up from the darkness. Rachel felt herself rising. The ocean roiled all around as the ice met her body. She scrambled in vain, trying to find her balance as the ice propelled her skyward along with millions of gallons of seawater. Buoying upward, the giant sheet bobbed above the surface, heaving and teetering, looking for its center of gravity. Rachel found herself scrambling in waist‑deep water across the enormous, flat expanse. As the water began pouring off the surface, the current swallowed Rachel and dragged her toward the edge. Sliding, splayed flat on her stomach, Rachel could see the edge looming fast.

Hold on! Rachels mothers voice was calling the same way it had when Rachel was just a child floundering beneath the icy pond. Hold on! Dont go under!

The wrenching yank on her harness expelled what little air Rachel had left in her lungs. She jerked to a dead stop only yards from the edge. The motion spun her in place. Ten yards away, she could see Corkys limp body, still tethered to her, also jolting to a stop. They had been flowing off the sheet in opposite directions and his momentum had stopped her. As the water ran off and grew more shallow, another dark form appeared over near Corky. He was on his hands and knees, grasping Corkys tether and vomiting saltwater.

Michael Tolland.

As the last of the wake drained past her and flowed off the iceberg, Rachel lay in terrified silence, listening to the sounds of the ocean. Then, feeling the onset of deadly cold, she dragged herself onto her hands and knees. The berg was still bobbing back and forth, like a giant ice cube. Delirious and in pain, she crawled back toward the others.

High above on the glacier, Delta‑One peered through his night‑vision goggles at the water churning around the Arctic Oceans newest tabular iceberg. Although he saw no bodies in the water, he was not surprised. The ocean was dark, and his quarrys weather suits and skullcaps were black.

As he passed his gaze across the surface of the enormous floating sheet of ice, he had a hard time keeping it in focus. It was receding quickly, already heading out to sea in the strong offshore currents. He was about to turn his gaze back to the sea when he saw something unexpected. Three specks of black on the ice. Are those bodies? Delta‑One tried to bring them into focus.

See something? Delta‑Two asked.

Delta‑One said nothing, focusing in with his magnifier. In the pale tint of the iceberg, he was stunned to see three human forms huddled motionless on the island of ice. Whether they were alive or dead, Delta‑One had no idea. It hardly mattered. If they were alive, even in weather suits, theyd be dead within the hour; they were wet, a storm was coming in, and they were drifting seaward into one of the most deadly oceans on the planet. Their bodies would never be found.

Just shadows, Delta‑One said, turning from the cliff. Lets get back to base.




Senator Sedgewick Sexton set his snifter of Courvoisier on the mantelpiece of his Westbrook apartment and stoked the fire for several moments, gathering his thoughts. The six men in the den with him sat in silence now... waiting. The small talk was over. It was time for Senator Sexton to make his pitch. They knew it. He knew it.

Politics was sales.

Establish trust. Let them know you understand their problems.

As you may know, Sexton said, turning toward them, over the past months, I have met with many men in your same position. He smiled and sat down, joining them on their level. You are the only ones I have ever brought into my home. You are extraordinary men, and I am honored to meet you.

Sexton folded his hands and let his eyes circle the room, making personal contact with each of his guests. Then he focused in on his first mark‑the heavyset man in the cowboy hat.

Space Industries of Houston, Sexton said. Im glad you came.

The Texan grunted. I hate this town.

I dont blame you. Washington has been unfair to you.

The Texan stared out from beneath the rim of his hat but said nothing.

Twelve years back, Sexton began, you made an offer to the U.S. government. You proposed to build them a U.S. space station for a mere five billion dollars.

Yeah, I did. I still have the blueprints.

And yet NASA convinced the government that a U.S. space station should be a NASA project.

Right. NASA started building almost a decade ago.

A decade. And not only is the NASA space station not yet fully operational, but the project so far has cost twenty times your bid. As an American taxpayer, I am sickened.

A grumble of agreement circled the room. Sexton let his eyes move, reconnecting with the group.

I am well aware, the senator said, addressing everyone now, that several of your companies have offered to launch private space shuttles for as little as fifty million dollars per flight.

More nods.

And yet NASA undercuts you by charging only thirty‑eight million dollars per flight... even though their actual per flight cost is over one hundred and fifty million dollars!

Its how they keep us out of space, one of the men said. The private sector cannot possibly compete with a company that can afford to run shuttle flights at a four hundred percent loss and still stay in business.

Nor should you have to, Sexton said.

Nods all around.

Sexton turned now to the austere entrepreneur beside him, a man whose file Sexton had read with interest. Like many of the entrepreneurs funding Sextons campaign, this man was a former military engineer who had become disillusioned with low wages and government bureaucracy and had abandoned his military post to seek his fortune in aerospace.

Kistler Aerospace, Sexton said, shaking his head in despair. Your company has designed and manufactured a rocket that can launch payloads for as little as two thousand dollars per pound compared to NASAs costs of ten thousand dollars per pound. Sexton paused for effect. And yet you have no clients.

Why would I have any clients? the man replied. Last week NASA undercut us by charging Motorola only eight hundred and twelve dollars per pound to launch a telecomm satellite. The government launched that satellite at a nine hundred percent loss!

Sexton nodded. Taxpayers were unwittingly subsidizing an agency that was ten times less efficient than its competition. It has become painfully clear, he said, his voice darkening, that NASA is working very hard to stifle competition in space. They crowd out private aerospace businesses by pricing services below market value.

Its the Wal‑Marting of space, the Texan said.

Damn good analogy, Sexton thought. Ill have to remember that. Wal‑Mart was notorious for moving into a new territory, selling products below market value, and driving all local competition out of business.

Im goddamned sick and tired, the Texan said, of having to pay millions in business taxes so Uncle Sam can use that money to steal my clients!

I hear you, Sexton said. I understand.

Its the lack of corporate sponsorships thats killing Rotary Rocket, a sharply dressed man said. The laws against sponsorship are criminal!

I couldnt agree more. Sexton had been shocked to learn that another way NASA entrenched its monopoly of space was by passing federal mandates banning advertisements on space vehicles. Instead of allowing private companies to secure funding through corporate sponsorships and advertising logos‑the way, for example, professional race car drivers did‑space vehicles could only display the words USA and the company name. In a country that spent $185 billion a year on advertising, not one advertising dollar ever found its way into the coffers of private space companies.

Its robbery, one of the men snapped. My company hopes to stay in business long enough to launch the countrys first tourist‑shuttle prototype next May. We expect enormous press coverage. The Nike Corporation just offered us seven million in sponsorship dollars to paint the Nike swoosh and Just do it! on the side of the shuttle. Pepsi offered us twice that for Pepsi: The choice of a new generation. But according to federal law, if our shuttle displays advertising, we are prohibited from launching it!

Thats right, Senator Sexton said. And if elected, I will work to abolish that antisponsorship legislation. That is a promise. Space should be open for advertising the way every square inch of earth is open to advertising.

Sexton gazed out now at his audience, his eyes locking in, his voice growing solemn. We all need to be aware, however, that the biggest obstacle to privatization of NASA is not laws, but rather, it is public perception. Most Americans still hold a romanticized view of the American space program. They still believe NASA is a necessary government agency.

Its those goddamned Hollywood movies! one man said. How many NASA‑saves‑the‑world‑from‑a‑killer‑asteroid movies can Hollywood make, for Christs sake? Its propaganda!

The plethora of NASA movies coming out of Hollywood, Sexton knew, was simply a matter of economics. Following the wildly popular movie Top Gun‑a Tom Cruise jet pilot blockbuster that played like a two‑hour advertisement for the U.S. Navy‑NASA realized the true potential of Hollywood as a public relations powerhouse. NASA quietly began offering film companies free filming access to all of NASAs dramatic facilities‑launchpads, mission control, training facilities. Producers, who were accustomed to paying enormous on‑site licensing fees when they filmed anywhere else, jumped at the opportunity to save millions in budget costs by making NASA thrillers on free sets. Of course, Hollywood only got access if NASA approved the script.

Public brainwashing, a Hispanic grunted. The movies arent half as bad as the publicity stunts. Sending a senior citizen into space? And now NASA is planning an all‑female shuttle crew? All for publicity!

Sexton sighed, his tone turning tragic. True, and I know I dont have to remind you what happened back in the eighties when the Department of Education was bankrupt and cited NASA as wasting millions that could be spent on education. NASA devised a PR stunt to prove NASA was education‑friendly. They sent a public school teacher into space. Sexton paused. You all remember Christa McAuliffe.

The room fell silent.

Gentlemen, Sexton said, stopping dramatically in front of the fire. I believe it is time Americans understood the truth, for the good of all of our futures. Its time Americans understand that NASA is not leading us skyward, but rather is stifling space exploration. Space is no different than any other industry, and keeping the private sector grounded verges on a criminal act. Consider the computer industry, in which we see such an explosion of progress that we can barely keep up from week to week! Why? Because the computer industry is a free‑market system: It rewards efficiency and vision with profits. Imagine if the computer industry were government‑run? We would still be in the dark ages. Were stagnating in space. We should put space exploration into the hands of the private sector where it belongs. Americans would be stunned by the growth, jobs, and realized dreams. I believe we should let the free‑market system spur us to new heights in space. If elected, I will make it my personal mission to unlock the doors to the final frontier and let them swing wide open.

Sexton lifted his snifter of cognac.

My friends, you came here tonight to decide if I am someone worthy of your trust. I hope I am on the way to earning it. In the same way it takes investors to build a company, it takes investors to build a presidency. In the same way corporate stockholders expect returns, you as political investors expect returns. My message to you tonight is simple: Invest in me, and I will never forget you. Ever. Our missions are one and the same.

Sexton extended his glass toward them in a toast.

With your help, my friends, soon I will be in the White House... and you will all be launching your dreams.


Only fifteen feet away, Gabrielle Ashe stood in the shadows, rigid. From the den came the harmonious clink of crystal snifters and the crackle of the fire.




In a panic, the young NASA technician dashed through the habisphere. Something terrible has happened! He found Administrator Ekstrom alone near the press area.

Sir, the technician gasped, running up. Theres been an accident!

Ekstrom turned, looking distant, as if his thoughts were already deeply troubled with other matters. What did you say? An accident? Where?

In the extraction pit. A body just floated up. Dr. Wailee Ming.

Ekstroms face was blank. Dr. Ming? But...

We pulled him out, but it was too late. Hes dead.

For Christs sake. How long has he been in there?

We think about an hour. It looks like he fell in, sank to the bottom, but when his body bloated, he floated up again.

Ekstroms reddish skin turned crimson. Goddamn it! Who else knows about this?

Nobody, sir. Only two of us. We fished him out, but we thought we better tell you before‑

You did the right thing. Ekstrom exhaled a weighty sigh. Stow Dr. Mings body immediately. Say nothing.

The technician felt perplexed. But, sir, I‑

Ekstrom put a large hand on the mans shoulder. Listen to me carefully. This is a tragic accident, one I deeply regret. Of course I will deal with it appropriately when the time comes. Now, however, is not the time.

You want me to hide his body?

Ekstroms cold Nordic eyes bore down. Think about it. We could tell everyone, but what would that accomplish? Were about an hour off from this press conference. Announcing that weve had a fatal accident would overshadow the discovery and have a devastating effect on morale. Dr. Ming made a careless mistake; I have no intention of making NASA pay for it. These civilian scientists have taken enough of the spotlight without my letting one of their slipshod errors cast a shadow over our public moment of glory. Dr. Mings accident remains a secret until after the press conference. Do you understand?

The man nodded, pale. Ill stow his body.




Michael Tolland had been at sea enough times to know the ocean took victims without remorse or hesitation. As he lay in exhaustion on the expansive sheet of ice, he could just make out the ghostly outline of the towering Milne Ice Shelf receding in the distance. He knew the powerful Arctic current flowing off the Elizabethan Islands spiraled in an enormous loop around the polar ice cap and would eventually skirt land in northern Russia. Not that it mattered. That would be months from now.

Weve got maybe thirty minutes... forty‑five at the most.

Without the protective insulation of their gel‑filled suits, Tolland knew they would be dead already. Thankfully, the Mark IXs had kept them dry‑the most critical aspect of surviving cold weather. The thermal gel around their bodies had not only cushioned their fall, but it was now helping their bodies retain what little heat they had left.

Soon hypothermia would set in. It would start with a vague numbness in limbs as the blood retreated to the bodys core to protect the critical internal organs. Delirious hallucinations would come next, as the pulse and respiration slowed, cheating the brain of oxygen. Then, the body would make a final effort to conserve its remaining heat by shutting down all operations except the heart and respiration. Unconsciousness would follow. In the end, heart and respiration centers in the brain would stop functioning altogether.

Tolland turned his gaze toward Rachel, wishing he could do something to save her.


The numbness spreading through Rachel Sextons body was less painful than she would have imagined. Almost a welcome anesthetic. Natures morphine. She had lost her goggles in the collapse, and she could barely open her eyes against the cold.

She could see Tolland and Corky on the ice nearby. Tolland was looking at her, eyes filled with regret. Corky was moving but obviously in pain. His right cheekbone was smashed and bloody.

Rachels body trembled wildly as her mind searched for answers. Who? Why? Her thoughts were muddled by a growing heaviness inside her. Nothing was making sense. She felt like her body was slowly shutting down, lulled by an invisible force pulling her to sleep. She fought it. A fiery anger ignited within her now, and she tried to fan the flames.

They tried to kill us! She peered out at the threatening sea and sensed their attackers had succeeded. Were already dead. Even now, knowing she would probably not live to learn the whole truth about the deadly game being played out on the Milne Ice Shelf, Rachel suspected she already knew who to blame.

Administrator Ekstrom had the most to gain. He was the one who sent them out on the ice. He had ties to the Pentagon and Special Ops. But what did Ekstrom have to gain by inserting the meteorite beneath the ice? What did anyone have to gain?

: 2015-09-11; : 84 | |


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