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  1. A XVIII 1
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Rachel flashed on Zach Herney, wondering if the President was a coconspirator or an unknowing pawn? Herney knows nothing. Hes innocent. The President obviously had been duped by NASA. Now Herney was only about an hour away from making NASAs announcement. And he would do so armed with a video documentary containing endorsements from four civilian scientists.

Four dead civilian scientists.

Rachel could do nothing to stop the press conference now, but she vowed that whoever was responsible for this attack would not get away with it.

Summoning her strength, Rachel tried to sit up. Her limbs felt like granite, all her joints screaming in pain as she bent her legs and arms. Slowly, she pulled herself to her knees, steadying herself on the flat ice. Her head spun. All around her the ocean churned. Tolland lay nearby, gazing up at her with inquisitive eyes. Rachel sensed he probably thought she was kneeling in prayer. She was not, of course, although prayer probably had as good a chance of saving them as what she was about to attempt.

Rachels right hand fumbled across her waist and found the ice ax still bungeed to her belt. Her stiff fingers gripped the handle. She inverted the ax, positioning it like an upside down T. Then, with all her energy, she drove the butt downward into the ice. Thud. Again. Thud. The blood felt like cold molasses in her veins. Thud. Tolland looked on in obvious confusion. Rachel drove the ax down again. Thud.

Tolland tried to lift himself onto his elbow. Ra... chel?

She did not answer. She needed all her energy. Thud. Thud.

I dont think..... Tolland said, this far north... that the SAA... could hear...

Rachel turned, surprised. She had forgotten Tolland was an oceanographer and might have some idea what she was up to. Right idea... but Im not calling the SAA.

She kept pounding.

The SAA stood for a Suboceanic Acoustic Array, a relic of the Cold War now used by oceanographers worldwide to listen for whales. Because underwater sounds carried for hundreds of miles, the SAA network of fifty‑nine underwater microphones around the world could listen to a surprisingly large percentage of the planets oceans. Unfortunately, this remote section of the Arctic was not part of that percentage, but Rachel knew there were others out there listening to the ocean floor‑others that few on earth knew existed. She kept pounding. Her message was simple and clear.






Rachel had no delusions that her actions would save their lives; she could already feel a frosty tightness gripping her body. She doubted she had a half hour of life left in her. Rescue was beyond the realm of possibility now. But this was not about rescue.






Theres... no time... Tolland said.

Its not... about us, she thought. Its about the information in my pocket. Rachel pictured the incriminating GPR printout inside the Velcro pocket of her Mark IX suit. I need to get the GPR printout into the hands of the NRO... and soon.

Even in her delirious state, Rachel was certain her message would be received. In the mid‑eighties, the NRO had replaced the SAA with an array thirty times as powerful. Total global coverage: Classic Wizard, the NROs $12 million ear to the ocean floor. In the next few hours the Cray supercomputers at the NRO/NSA listening post in Menwith Hill, England, would flag an anomalous sequence in one of the Arctics hydrophones, decipher the pounding as an SOS, triangulate the coordinates, and dispatch a rescue plane from Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. The plane would find three bodies on an iceberg. Frozen. Dead. One would be an NRO employee... and she would be carrying a strange piece of thermal paper in her pocket.

A GPR printout.

Norah Mangors final legacy.

When the rescuers studied the printout, the mysterious insertion tunnel beneath the meteorite would be revealed. From there, Rachel had no idea what would happen, but at least the secret would not die with them here on the ice.




Every presidents transition into the White House involves a private tour of three heavily guarded warehouses containing priceless collections of past White House furniture: desks, silverware, bureaus, beds, and other items used by past presidents as far back as George Washington. During the tour, the transitioning president is invited to select any heirlooms he likes and use them as furnishings inside the White House during his term. Only the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom is a permanent White House fixture. Ironically, Lincoln never slept in it.

The desk at which Zach Herney was currently sitting inside the Oval Office had once belonged to his idol, Harry Truman. The desk, though small by modern standards, served as a daily reminder to Zach Herney that the buck did indeed stop here, and that Herney was ultimately responsible for any shortcomings of his administration. Herney accepted the responsibility as an honor and did his best to instill in his staff the motivations to do whatever it took to get the job done.

Mr. President? his secretary called out, peering into the office. Your call just went through.

Herney waved. Thank you.

He reached for his phone. He would have preferred some privacy for this call, but he sure as hell was not going to get any of that right now. Two makeup specialists hovered like gnats, poking and primping at his face and hair. Directly in front of his desk, a television crew was setting up, and an endless swarm of advisers and PR people scurried around the office, excitedly discussing strategy.

T minus one hour...

Herney pressed the illuminated button on his private phone. Lawrence? You there?

Im here. The NASA administrators voice sounded consumed, distant.

Everything okay up there?

Storms still moving in, but my people tell me the satellite link will not be affected. Were good to go. One hour and counting.

Excellent. Spirits high, I hope.

Very high. My staffs excited. In fact, we just shared some beers.

Herney laughed. Glad to hear it. Look, I wanted to call and thank you before we do this thing. Tonights going to be one hell of a night.

The administrator paused, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain. That it will, sir. Weve been waiting a long time for this.

Herney hesitated. You sound exhausted.

I need some sunlight and a real bed.

One more hour. Smile for the cameras, enjoy the moment, and then well get a plane up there to bring you back to D.C.

Looking forward to it. The man fell silent again.

As a skilled negotiator, Herney was trained to listen, to hear what was being said between the lines. Something in the administrators voice sounded off somehow. You sure everythings okay up there?

Absolutely. All systems go. The administrator seemed eager to change the subject. Did you see the final cut of Michael Tollands documentary?

Just watched it, Herney said. He did a fantastic job.

Yes. You made a good call bringing him in.

Still mad at me for involving civilians?

Hell, yes. The administrator growled good‑naturedly, his voice with the usual strength to it.

It made Herney feel better. Ekstroms fine, Herney thought. Just a little tired. Okay, Ill see you in an hour via satellite. Well give em something to talk about.


Hey, Lawrence? Herneys voice grew low and solemn now. Youve done a hell of a thing up there. I wont ever forget it.


Outside the habisphere, buffeted by wind, Delta‑Three struggled to right and repack Norah Mangors toppled equipment sled. Once all the equipment was back onboard, he battened down the vinyl top and draped Mangors dead body across the top, tying her down. As he was preparing to drag the sled off course, his two partners came skimming up the glacier toward him.

Change of plans, Delta‑One called out above the wind. The other three went over the edge.

Delta‑Three was not surprised. He also knew what it meant. The Delta Forces plan to stage an accident by arranging four dead bodies on the ice shelf was no longer a viable option. Leaving a lone body would pose more questions than answers. Sweep? he asked.

Delta‑One nodded. Ill recover the flares and you two get rid of the sled.

While Delta‑One carefully retraced the scientists path, collecting every last clue that anyone had been there at all, Delta‑Three and his partner moved down the glacier with the laden equipment sled. After struggling over the berms, they finally reached the precipice at the end of the Milne Ice Shelf. They gave a push, and Norah Mangor and her sled slipped silently over the edge, plummeting into the Arctic Ocean.

Clean sweep, Delta‑Three thought.

As they headed back to base, he was pleased to see the wind obliterating the tracks made by their skis.




The nuclear submarine Charlotte had been stationed in the Arctic Ocean for five days now. Its presence here was highly classified.

A Los Angeles‑class sub, the Charlotte was designed to listen and not be heard. Its forty‑two tons of turbine engines were suspended on springs to dampen any vibration they might cause. Despite its requirement for stealth, the LA‑class sub had one of the largest footprints of any reconnaissance sub in the water. Stretching more than 360 feet from nose to stern, the hull, if placed on an NFL football field, would crush both goalposts and then some. Seven times the length of the U.S. Navys first Holland‑class submarine, the Charlotte displaced 6,927 tons of water when fully submerged and could cruise at an astounding thirty‑five knots.

The vessels normal cruising depth was just below the thermocline, a natural temperature gradient that distorted sonar reflections from above and made the sub invisible to surface radar. With a crew of 148 and max dive depth of over fifteen hundred feet, the vessel represented the state‑of‑the‑art submersible and was the oceanic workhorse of the United States Navy. Its evaporative electrolysis oxygenation system, two nuclear reactors, and engineered provisions gave it the ability to circumnavigate the globe twenty‑one times without surfacing. Human waste from the crew, as on most cruise ships, was compressed into sixty‑pound blocks and ejected into the ocean‑the huge bricks of feces jokingly referred to as whale turds.

The technician sitting at the oscillator screen in the sonar room was one of the best in the world. His mind was a dictionary of sounds and waveforms. He could distinguish between the sounds of several dozen Russian submarine propellers, hundreds of marine animals, and even pinpoint underwater volcanoes as far away as Japan.

At the moment, however, he was listening to a dull, repetitive echo. The sound, although easily distinguishable, was most unexpected.

You arent going to believe whats coming through my listening cans, he said to his catalog assistant, handing over the headphones.

His assistant donned the headphones, an incredulous look crossing his face. My God. Its clear as day. What do we do?

The sonar man was already on the phone to the captain.

When the submarines captain arrived in the sonar room, the technician piped a live sonar feed over a small set of speakers.

The captain listened, expressionless.






Slower. Slower. The pattern was becoming looser. More and more faint.

What are the coordinates? the captain demanded.

The technician cleared his throat. Actually, sir, its coming from the surface, about three miles to our starboard.




In the darkened hallway outside Senator Sextons den, Gabrielle Ashes legs were trembling. Not so much out of exhaustion from standing motionless, but from disillusionment over what she was listening to. The meeting in the next room was still going, but Gabrielle didnt have to hear another word. The truth seemed painfully obvious.

Senator Sexton is taking bribes from private space agencies. Marjorie Tench had been telling the truth.

The revulsion Gabrielle felt spreading through her now was one of betrayal. She had believed in Sexton. Shed fought for him. How can he do this? Gabrielle had seen the senator lie publicly from time to time to protect his private life, but that was politics. This was breaking the law.

Hes not even elected yet, and hes already selling out the White House!

Gabrielle knew she could no longer support the senator. Promising to deliver the NASA privatization bill could be done only with a contemptuous disregard for both the law and the democratic system. Even if the senator believed it would be in everyones best interest, to sell that decision flat out, in advance, slammed the door on the checks and balances of government, ignoring potentially persuasive arguments from Congress, advisers, voters, and lobbyists. Most important, guaranteeing the privatization of NASA, Sexton had paved the way for endless abuses of that advanced knowledge‑insider trading the most common‑blatantly favoring the wealthy, inside cadre at the expense of honest public investors.

Feeling sick to her stomach, Gabrielle wondered what she should do.

A telephone rang sharply behind her, shattering the silence of the hallway. Startled, Gabrielle turned. The sound was coming from the closet in the foyer‑a cellphone in the pocket of one of the visitors coats.

scuse me, friends, a Texas drawl said in the den. Thats me.

Gabrielle could hear the man get up. Hes coming this way! Wheeling, she dashed back up the carpet the way shed come. Halfway up the hall, she cut left, ducking into the darkened kitchen just as the Texan exited the den and turned up the hall. Gabrielle froze, motionless in the shadows.

The Texan strode by without noticing.

Over the sound of her pounding heart, Gabrielle could hear him rustling in the closet. Finally, he answered the ringing phone.

Yeah?... When?... Really? Well switch it on. Thanks. The man hung up and headed back toward the den, calling out as he went. Hey! Turn on the television. Sounds like Zach Herneys giving an urgent press conference tonight. Eight oclock. All channels. Either were declaring war on China, or the International Space Station just fell into the ocean.

Now wouldnt that be something to toast! someone called out.

Everyone laughed.

Gabrielle felt the kitchen spinning around her now. An eight P.M. press conference? Tench, it seemed, had not been bluffing after all. She had given Gabrielle until 8:00 P.M. to give her an affidavit admitting the affair. Distance yourself from the senator before its too late, Tench had told her. Gabrielle had assumed the deadline was so the White House could leak the information to tomorrows papers, but now it seemed the White House intended to go public with the allegations themselves.

An urgent press conference? The more Gabrielle considered it, though, the stranger it seemed. Herney is going live with this mess? Personally?

The television came on in the den. Blaring. The news announcers voice was bursting with excitement. The White House has offered no clues as to the topic of tonights surprise presidential address, and speculation abounds. Some political analysts now think that following the Presidents recent absence on the campaign trail, Zach Herney may be preparing to announce he will not be running for a second term.

A hopeful cheer arose in the den.

Absurd, Gabrielle thought. With all the dirt the White House had on Sexton right now, there was no way in hell the President was throwing in the towel tonight. This press conference is about something else. Gabrielle had a sinking feeling shed already been warned what it was.

With rising urgency, she checked her watch. Less than an hour. She had a decision to make, and she knew exactly to whom she needed to talk. Clutching the envelope of photos under her arm, she quietly exited the apartment.

In the hallway, the bodyguard looked relieved. I heard some cheering inside. Sounds like you were a hit.

She smiled curtly and headed for the elevator.

Outside in the street, the settling night felt unusually bitter. Flagging a cab, she climbed in and tried to reassure herself she knew exactly what she was doing.

ABC television studios, she told the driver. And hurry.




As Michael Tolland lay on his side on the ice, he rested his head on an outstretched arm, which he could no longer feel. Although his eyelids felt heavy, he fought to keep them open. From this odd vantage point, Tolland took in the final images of his world‑now just sea and ice‑in a strange sideways tilt. It seemed a fitting end to a day in which nothing had been what it seemed.

An eerie calm had begun to settle over the floating raft of ice. Rachel and Corky had both fallen silent, and the pounding had stopped. The farther from the glacier they floated, the calmer the wind became. Tolland heard his own body getting quieter too. With the tight skullcap over his ears, he could hear his own breathing amplified in his head. It was getting slower... shallower. His body was no longer able to fight off the compressing sensation that accompanied his own blood racing from his extremities like a crew abandoning ship, flowing instinctively to his vital organs in a last‑ditch effort to keep him conscious.

A losing battle, he knew.

Strangely, there was no pain anymore. He had passed through that stage. The sensation now was that of having been inflated. Numbness. Floating. As the first of his reflexive operations‑blinking‑began to shut down, Tollands vision blurred. The aqueous humor that circulated between his cornea and lens was freezing repeatedly. Tolland gazed back toward the blur of the Milne Ice Shelf, now only a faint white form in the hazy moonlight.

He felt his soul admitting defeat. Teetering on the brink between presence and absence, he stared out at the ocean waves in the distance. The wind howled all around him.

It was then that Tolland began hallucinating. Strangely, in the final seconds before unconsciousness, he did not hallucinate rescue. He did not hallucinate warm and comforting thoughts. His final delusion was a terrifying one.

A leviathan was rising from the water beside the iceberg, breaching the surface with an ominous hiss. Like some mythical sea monster, it came‑sleek, black, and lethal, with water foaming around it. Tolland forced himself to blink his eyes. His vision cleared slightly. The beast was close, bumping up against the ice like a huge shark butting a small boat. Massive, it towered before him, its skin shimmering and wet.

As the hazy image went black, all that was left were the sounds. Metal on metal. Teeth gnashing at the ice. Coming closer. Dragging bodies away.


Tolland felt himself being grabbed roughly.

And then everything went blank.




Gabrielle Ashe was at a full jog when she entered the third‑floor production room of ABC News. Even so, she was moving slower than everyone else in the room. The intensity in production was at a fever pitch twenty‑four hours a day, but at the moment the cubicle grid in front of her looked like the stock exchange on speed. Wild‑eyed editors screamed to one another over the tops of their compartments, fax‑waving reporters darted from cubicle to cubicle comparing notes, and frantic interns inhaled Snickers and Mountain Dew between errands.

Gabrielle had come to ABC to see Yolanda Cole.

Usually Yolanda could be found in productions high‑rent district‑the glass‑walled private offices reserved for the decision makers who actually required some quiet to think. Tonight, however, Yolanda was out on the floor, in the thick of it. When she saw Gabrielle, she let out her usual shriek of exuberance.

Gabs! Yolanda was wearing a batik body‑wrap and tortoiseshell glasses. As always, several pounds of garish costume jewelry were draped off her like tinsel. Yolanda waddled over, waving. Hug!

Yolanda Cole had been a content editor with ABC News in Washington for sixteen years. A freckle‑faced Pole, Yolanda was a squat, balding woman whom everyone affectionately called Mother. Her matronly presence and good humor disguised a street‑savvy ruthlessness for getting the story. Gabrielle had met Yolanda at a Women in Politics mentoring seminar shed attended shortly after her arrival in Washington. Theyd chatted about Gabrielles background, the challenges of being a woman in D.C... and finally about Elvis Presley‑a passion they were surprised to discover they shared. Yolanda had taken Gabrielle under her wing and helped her make connections. Gabrielle still stopped by every month or so to say hello.

Gabrielle gave her a big hug, Yolandas enthusiasm already lifting her spirits.

Yolanda stepped back and looked Gabrielle over. You look like you aged a hundred years, girl! What happened to you?

Gabrielle lowered her voice. Im in trouble, Yolanda.

Thats not the word on the street. Sounds like your man is on the rise.

Is there some place we can talk in private?

Bad timing, honey. The President is holding a press conference in about half an hour, and we still havent a clue what its all about. Ive got to line up expert commentary, and Im flying blind.

I know what the press conference is about.

Yolanda lowered her glasses, looking skeptical. Gabrielle, our correspondent inside the White House is in the dark on this one. You say Sextons campaign has advance knowledge?

No, Im saying I have advance knowledge. Give me five minutes. Ill tell you everything.

Yolanda glanced down at the red White House envelope in Gabrielles hand. Thats a White House internal. Whered you get that?

In a private meeting with Marjorie Tench this afternoon.

Yolanda stared a long moment. Follow me.

Inside the privacy of Yolandas glass‑walled cubicle, Gabrielle confided in her trusted friend, confessing to a one‑night affair with Sexton and the fact that Tench had photographic evidence.

Yolanda smiled broadly and shook her head laughing. Apparently she had been in Washington journalism so long that nothing shocked her. Oh, Gabs, I had a hunch you and Sexton had probably hooked up. Not surprising. Hes got a reputation, and youre a pretty girl. Too bad about the photos. I wouldnt worry about it, though.

Dont worry about it?

Gabrielle explained that Tench had accused Sexton of taking illegal bribes from space companies and that Gabrielle had just overheard a secret SFF meeting confirming that fact! Again Yolandas expression conveyed little surprise or concern‑until Gabrielle told her what she was thinking of doing about it.

Yolanda now looked troubled. Gabrielle, if you want to hand over a legal document saying you slept with a U.S. senator and stood by while he lied about it, thats your business. But Im telling you, its a very bad move for you. You need to think long and hard about what it could mean for you.

Youre not listening. I dont have that kind of time!

I am listening, and sweetheart, whether or not the clock is ticking, there are certain things you just do not do. You do not sell out a U.S. senator in a sex scandal. Its suicide. Im telling you, girl, if you take down a presidential candidate, you better get in your car and drive as far from D.C. as possible. Youll be a marked woman. A lot of people spend a lot of money to put candidates at the top. Theres big finances and power at stake here‑the kind of power people kill for.

Gabrielle fell silent now.

Personally, Yolanda said, I think Tench was leaning on you in hopes youd panic and do something dumb‑like bail out and confess to the affair. Yolanda pointed to the red envelope in Gabrielles hands. Those shots of you and Sexton dont mean squat unless you or Sexton admit theyre accurate. The White House knows if they leak those photos, Sexton will just claim theyre phony and throw them back in the presidents face.

I thought of that, but still the campaign finance bribery issue is‑

Honey, think about it. If the White House hasnt gone public yet with bribery allegations, they probably dont intend to. The President is pretty serious about no negative campaigning. My guess is he decided to save an aerospace industry scandal and sent Tench after you with a bluff in hopes he might scare you out of hiding on the sex thing. Make you stab your candidate in the back.

Gabrielle considered it. Yolanda was making sense, and yet something still felt odd. Gabrielle pointed through the glass at the bustling news room. Yolanda, you guys are gearing up for a big presidential press conference. If the President is not going public about bribery or sex, whats it all about?

Yolanda looked stunned. Hold on. You think this press conference is about you and Sexton?

Or the bribery. Or both. Tench told me I had until eight tonight to sign a confession or else the President was going to announce‑

Yolandas laughter shook the entire glass cubicle. Oh please! Wait! Youre killing me!

Gabrielle was in no mood for joking. What!

Gabs, listen, Yolanda managed, between laughs, trust me on this. Ive been dealing with the White House for sixteen years, and theres no way Zach Herney has called together the global media to tell them he suspects Senator Sexton is accepting shady campaign financing or sleeping with you. Thats the kind of information you leak. Presidents dont gain popularity by interrupting regularly scheduled programming to bitch and moan about sex or alleged infractions of cloudy campaign finance laws.

Cloudy? Gabrielle snapped. Flat out selling your decision on a space bill for millions in ad money is hardly a cloudy issue!

Are you sure thats what he is doing? Yolandas tone hardened now. Are you sure enough to drop your skirt on national TV? Think about it. It takes a lot of alliances to get anything done these days, and campaign finance is complex stuff. Maybe Sextons meeting was perfectly legal.

Hes breaking the law, Gabrielle said. Isnt he?

Or so Marjorie Tench would have you believe. Candidates accept behind‑the‑scenes donations all the time from big corporations. It may not be pretty, but its not necessarily illegal. In fact, most legal issues deal not with where the money comes from but how the candidate chooses to spend it.

Gabrielle hesitated, feeling uncertain now.

Gabs, the White House played you this afternoon. They tried to turn you against your candidate, and so far youve called their bluff. If I were looking for someone to trust, I think Id stick with Sexton before jumping ship to someone like Marjorie Tench.

Yolandas phone rang. She answered, nodding, uh‑huh‑ing, taking notes. Interesting, she finally said. Ill be right there. Thanks.

Yolanda hung up and turned with an arched brow. Gabs, sounds like youre off the hook. Just as I predicted.

Whats going on?

I dont have a specific yet, but I can tell you this much‑the presidents press conference has nothing to do with sex scandals or campaign finance.

Gabrielle felt a flash of hope and wanted badly to believe her. How do you know that?

Someone on the inside just leaked that the press conference is NASA‑related.

Gabrielle sat up suddenly. NASA?

Yolanda winked. This could be your lucky night. My bet is President Herney is feeling so much pressure from Senator Sexton that hes decided the White House has no choice but to pull the plug on the International Space Station. That explains all the global media coverage.

A press conference killing the space station? Gabrielle could not imagine.

Yolanda stood up. That Tench attack this afternoon? It was probably just a last‑ditch effort to get a foothold over Sexton before the President had to go public with the bad news. Nothing like a sex scandal to take the attention away from another presidential flop. Anyhow, Gabs, Ive got work to do. My advice to you‑get yourself a cup of coffee, sit right here, turn on my television, and ride this out like the rest of us. Weve got twenty minutes until show time, and Im telling you, there is no way the President is going Dumpster‑diving tonight. Hes got the whole world watching. Whatever he has to say carries some serious weight. She gave a reassuring wink. Now give me the envelope.

: 2015-09-11; : 63 | |


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