1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Chapter 96

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is one of the largest memorials in the nation. With a park, waterfalls, statuary, alcoves, and basin, the memorial is divided into four outdoor galleries, one for each of FDR’s terms in office.

A mile from the memorial, a lone Kiowa Warrior coasted in, high over the city, its running lights dimmed. In a town boasting as many VIPs and media crews as D.C., helicopters in the skies were as common as birds flying south. Delta-One knew that as long as he stayed well outside what was known as “the dome”-a bubble of protected airspace around the White House-he should draw little attention. They would not be here long.

The Kiowa was at twenty-one hundred feet when it slowed adjacent to, but not directly over, the darkened FDR Memorial. Delta-One hovered, checking his position. He looked to his left, where Delta-Two was manning the night vision telescopic viewing system. The video feed showed a greenish image of the entry drive of the memorial. The area was deserted.

Now they would wait.

This would not be a quiet kill. There were some people you simply did not kill quietly. Regardless of the method, there would be repercussions. Investigations. Inquiries. In these cases, the best cover was to make a lot of noise. Explosions, fire, and smoke made it appear you were making a statement, and the first thought would be foreign terrorism. Especially when the target was a high-profile official.

Delta-One scanned the night-vision transmission of the tree-shrouded memorial below. The parking lot and entry road were empty. Soon, he thought. The location of this private meeting, though in an urban area, was fortuitously desolate at this hour. Delta-One turned his eyes from the screen to his own weapons controls.

The Hellfire system would be the weapon of choice tonight. A laser-guided, anti-armor missile, the Hellfire provided fire-and-forget capability. The projectile could home in on a laser spot that was projected from ground observers, other aircraft, or the launching aircraft itself. Tonight, the missile would be guided autonomously through the laser designator in a mast-mounted sight. Once the Kiowa’s designator had “painted” the target with a laser beam, the Hellfire missile would be self-directing. Because the Hellfire could be fired either from the air or ground, its employment here tonight would not necessarily imply an aircraft’s involvement. In addition, the Hellfire was a popular munition among black-market arms dealers, so terrorist activity could certainly be blamed.

“Sedan,” Delta-Two said.

Delta-One glanced at the transmission screen. A nondescript, black luxury sedan was approaching on the access road exactly on schedule. This was the typical motor pool car of large government agencies. The driver dimmed the car’s headlights on entering the memorial. The car circled several times and then parked near a grove of trees. Delta-One watched the screen as his partner trained the telescopic night vision on the driver’s side window. After a moment, the person’s face came into view.

Delta-One drew a quick breath.

“Target confirmed,” his partner said.

Delta-One looked at the night-vision screen-with its deadly crucifix of cross-hairs-and he felt like a sniper aiming at royalty. Target confirmed.

Delta-Two turned to the left side avionics compartment and activated the laser designator. He aimed, and two thousand feet below, a pinpoint of light appeared on the roof of the sedan, invisible to the occupant. “Target painted,” he said.

Delta-One took a deep breath. He fired.

A sharp hissing sound sizzled beneath the fuselage, followed by a remarkably dim trail of light streaking toward the earth. One second later, the car in the parking lot blew apart in a blinding eruption of flames. Twisted metal flew everywhere. Burning tires rolled into the woods.

“Kill complete,” Delta-One said, already accelerating the helicopter away from the area. “Call the controller.”

Less than two miles away, President Zach Herney was preparing for bed. The Lexan bullet-proof windows of “the residence” were an inch thick. Herney never heard the blast.

Chapter 97

The Coast Guard Group Air Station Atlantic City is located in a secure section of William J. Hughes Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport. The group’s area of responsibility includes the Atlantic seaboard from Asbury Park to Cape May.

Rachel Sexton jolted awake as the plane’s tires screeched down on the tarmac of the lone runway nestled between two enormous cargo buildings. Surprised to find she had fallen asleep, Rachel groggily checked her watch.

2:13 A.M. She felt like she’d been asleep for days.

A warm onboard blanket was tucked carefully around her, and Michael Tolland was also just waking up beside her. He gave her a weary smile.

Corky staggered up the aisle and frowned when he saw them. “Shit, you guys are still here? I woke up hoping tonight had been a bad dream.”

Rachel knew exactly how he felt. I’m headed back out to sea.

The plane taxied to a stop, and Rachel and the others climbed out onto a barren runway. The night was over-cast, but the coastal air felt heavy and warm. In comparison to Ellesmere, New Jersey felt like the tropics.

“Over here!” a voice called out.

Rachel and the others turned to see one of the Coast Guard’s classic, crimson-colored HH-65 Dolphin helicopters waiting nearby. Framed by the brilliant white stripe on the chopper’s tail, a fully suited pilot waved them over.

Tolland gave Rachel an impressed nod. “Your boss certainly gets things done.”

You have no idea, she thought.

Corky slumped. “Already? No dinner stop?”

The pilot welcomed them over and helped them aboard. Never asking their names, he spoke exclusively in pleasantries and safety precautions. Pickering had apparently made it clear to the Coast Guard that this flight was not an advertised mission. Nonetheless, despite Pickering’s discretion, Rachel could see that their identities had remained a secret for only a matter of seconds; the pilot failed to hide his wide-eyed double take upon seeing television celebrity Michael Tolland.

Rachel was already feeling tense as she buckled herself in beside Tolland. The Aerospatiale engine overhead shrieked to life, and the Dolphin’s sagging thirty-nine-foot rotors began to flatten out into a silver blur. The whine turned to a roar, and it lifted off the runway, climbing into the night.

The pilot turned in the cockpit and called out, “I was informed you would tell me your destination once we were airborne.”

Tolland gave the pilot the coordinates of an offshore location about thirty miles southeast of their current position.

His ship is twelve miles off the coast, Rachel thought, feeling a shiver.

The pilot typed the coordinates into his navigation system. Then he settled in and gunned the engines. The chopper tipped forward and banked southeast.

As the dark dunes of the New Jersey coast slipped away beneath the aircraft, Rachel turned her eyes away from the blackness of the ocean spreading out beneath her. Despite the wariness of being back over the water again, she tried to take comfort in knowing she was accompanied by a man who had made the ocean a lifetime friend. Tolland was pressed close beside her in the narrow fuselage, his hips and shoulders touching hers. Neither made any attempt to shift positions.

“I know I shouldn’t say this,” the pilot sputtered suddenly, as if ready to burst with excitement, “but you’re obviously Michael Tolland, and I’ve got to say, well, we’ve been watching you on TV all night! The meteorite! It’s absolutely incredible! You must be in awe!”

Tolland nodded patiently. “Speechless.”

“The documentary was fantastic! You know, the networks keep playing it over and over. None of tonight’s duty pilots wanted this gig because everyone wanted to keep watching television, but I drew short straw. Can you believe it! Short straw! And here I am! If the boys had any idea I’d be flying the actual-”

“We appreciate the ride,” Rachel interrupted, “and we need you to keep our presence here to yourself. Nobody’s supposed to know we’re here.”

“Absolutely, ma’am. My orders were very clear.” The pilot hesitated, and then his expression brightened. “Hey, we aren’t by any chance heading for the Goya, are we?”

Tolland gave a reluctant nod. “We are.”

“Holy shit!” the pilot exclaimed. “Excuse me. Sorry, but I’ve seen her on your show. The twin-hull, right? Strange-looking beast! I’ve never actually been on a SWATH design. I never dreamed yours would be the first!”

Rachel tuned the man out, feeling a rising uneasiness to be heading out to sea.

Tolland turned to her. “You okay? You could have stayed onshore. I told you that.”

I should have stayed onshore, Rachel thought, knowing pride would never have let her. “No thanks, I’m fine.”

Tolland smiled. “I’ll keep an eye on you.”

“Thanks.” Rachel was surprised how the warmth in his voice made her feel more secure.

“You’ve seen the Goya on television, right?”

She nodded. “It’s a… um… an interesting-looking ship.”

Tolland laughed. “Yeah. She was an extremely progressive prototype in her day, but the design never quite caught on.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Rachel joked, picturing the ship’s bizarre profile.

“Now NBC is pressuring me to use a newer ship. Something… I don’t know, flashier, sexier. Another season or two, and they’ll make me part with her.” Tolland sounded melancholy at the thought.

“You wouldn’t love a brand-new ship?”

“I don’t know… a lot of memories onboard the Goya.”

Rachel smiled softly. “Well, as my mom used to say, sooner or later we’ve all got to let go of our past.”

Tolland’s eyes held hers for a long moment. “Yeah, I know.”

Chapter 98

“Shit,” the taxi driver said, looking over his shoulder at Gabrielle. “Looks like an accident up ahead. We ain’t going nowhere. Not for a while.”

Gabrielle glanced out the window and saw the spinning lights of emergency vehicles piercing the night. Several policemen stood in the road ahead, halting traffic around the Mall.

“Must be a hell of an accident,” the driver said, motioning toward some flames near the FDR Memorial.

Gabrielle frowned at the flickering glow. Now, of all times. She needed to get to Senator Sexton with this new information about PODS and the Canadian geologist. She wondered if NASA’s lies about how they found the meteorite would be a big enough scandal to breathe life back into Sexton’s campaign. Maybe not for most politicians, she thought, but this was Sedgewick Sexton, a man who had built his campaign on amplifying the failures of others.

Gabrielle was not always proud of the senator’s ability to put negative ethical spin on opponents’ political misfortunes, but it was effective. Sexton’s mastery of innuendo and indignity could probably turn this one compartmentalized NASA fib into a sweeping question of character that infected the entire space agency-and by association, the President.

Outside the window, the flames at the FDR Memorial seemed to climb higher. Some nearby trees had caught fire, and the fire trucks were now hosing them down. The taxi driver turned on the car radio and began channel-surfing.

Sighing, Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt the exhaustion roll over her in waves. When she’d first come to Washington, she’d dreamed of working in politics forever, maybe someday in the White House. At the moment, however, she felt like she’d had enough politics for a lifetime-the duel with Marjorie Tench, the lewd photographs of herself and the senator, all of NASA’s lies…

A newscaster on the radio was saying something about a car bomb and possible terrorism.

I’ve got to get out of this town, Gabrielle thought for the first time since coming to the nation’s capital.

Chapter 99

The controller seldom felt weary, but today had taken its toll. Nothing had gone as anticipated-the tragic discovery of the insertion shaft in the ice, the difficulties of keeping the information a secret, and now the growing list of victims.

Nobody was supposed to die… except the Canadian.

It seemed ironic that the most technically difficult part of the plan had turned out to be the least problematic. The insertion, completed months ago, had come off without a hitch. Once the anomaly was in place, all that remained was to wait for the Polar Orbiting Density Scanner (PODS) satellite to launch. PODS was slated to scan enormous sections of the Arctic Circle, and sooner or later the anomaly software onboard would detect the meteorite and give NASA a major find.

But the damned software didn’t work.

When the controller learned that the anomaly software had failed and had no chance of being fixed until after the election, the entire plan was in jeopardy. Without PODS, the meteorite would go undetected. The controller had to come up with some way to surreptitiously alert someone in NASA to the meteorite’s existence. The solution involved orchestrating an emergency radio transmission from a Canadian geologist in the general vicinity of the insertion. The geologist, for obvious reasons, had to be killed immediately and his death made to look accidental. Throwing an innocent geologist from a helicopter had been the beginning. Now things were unraveling fast.

Wailee Ming. Norah Mangor. Both dead.

The bold kill that had just taken place at the FDR Memorial.

Soon to be added to the list were Rachel Sexton, Michael Tolland, and Dr. Marlinson.

There is no other way, the controller thought, fighting the growing remorse. Far too much is at stake.

Chapter 100

The Coast Guard Dolphin was still two miles from the Goya’s coordinates and flying at three thousand feet when Tolland yelled up to the pilot.

“Do you have NightSight onboard this thing?”

The pilot nodded. “I’m a rescue unit.”

Tolland had expected as much. NightSight was Raytheon’s marine thermal imaging system, capable of locating wreck survivors in the dark. The heat given off by a swimmer’s head would appear as a red speck on an ocean of black.

“Switch it on,” Tolland said.

The pilot looked confused. “Why? You missing someone?”

“No. I want everyone to see something.”

“We won’t see a thing on thermal from this high up unless there’s a burning oil slick.”

“Just switch it on,” Tolland said.

The pilot gave Tolland an odd look and then adjusted some dials, commanding the thermal lens beneath the chopper to survey a three-mile swatch of ocean in front of them. An LCD screen on his dashboard lit up. The image came into focus.

“Holy shit!” The helicopter lurched momentarily as the pilot recoiled in surprise and then recovered, staring at the screen.

Rachel and Corky leaned forward, looking at the image with equal surprise. The black background of the ocean was illuminated by an enormous swirling spiral of pulsating red.

Rachel turned to Tolland with trepidation. “It looks like a cyclone.”

“It is,” Tolland said. “A cyclone of warm currents. About a half mile across.”

The Coast Guard pilot chuckled in amazement. “That’s a big one. We see these now and then, but I hadn’t heard about this one yet.”

“Just surfaced last week,” Tolland said. “Probably won’t last more than another few days.”

“What causes it?” Rachel asked, understandably perplexed by the huge vortex of swirling water in the middle of the ocean.

“Magma dome,” the pilot said.

Rachel turned to Tolland, looking wary. “A volcano?”

“No,” Tolland said. “The East Coast typically doesn’t have active volcanoes, but occasionally we get rogue pockets of magma that well up under the seafloor and cause hot spots. The hot spot causes a reverse temperature gradient-hot water on the bottom and cooler water on top. It results in these giant spiral currents. They’re called megaplumes. They spin for a couple of weeks and then dissipate.”

The pilot looked at the pulsating spiral on his LCD screen. “Looks like this one’s still going strong.” He paused, checking the coordinates of Tolland’s ship, and then looked over his shoulder in surprise. “Mr. Tolland, it looks like you’re parked fairly near the middle of it.”

Tolland nodded. “Currents are a little slower near the eye. Eighteen knots. Like anchoring in a fast-moving river. Our chain’s been getting a real workout this week.”

“Jesus,” the pilot said. “Eighteen-knot current? Don’t fall overboard!” He laughed.

Rachel did not laugh. “Mike, you didn’t mention this megaplume, magma dome, hot-current situation.”

He put a reassuring hand on her knee. “It’s perfectly safe, trust me.”

Rachel frowned. “So this documentary you were making out here was about this magma dome phenomenon?”

“Megaplumes and Sphyrna mokarran.”

“That’s right. You mentioned that earlier.”

Tolland gave a coy smile. “Sphyrna mokarran love warm water, and right now, every last one for a hundred miles is congregating in this mile-wide circle of heated ocean.”

“Neat.” Rachel gave an uneasy nod. “And what, pray tell, are Sphyrna mokarran?”

“Ugliest fish in the sea.”

“Flounder?”

Tolland laughed. “Great hammerhead shark.”

Rachel stiffened beside him. “You’ve got hammerhead sharks around your boat?”

Tolland winked. “Relax, they’re not dangerous.”

“You wouldn’t say that unless they were dangerous.”

Tolland chuckled. “I guess you’re right.” He called playfully up to the pilot. “Hey, how long has it been since you guys saved anyone from an attack by a hammerhead?”

The pilot shrugged. “Gosh. We haven’t saved anyone from a hammerhead in decades.”

Tolland turned to Rachel. “See. Decades. No worries.”

“Just last month,” the pilot added, “we had an attack where some idiot skin diver was chumming-”

“Hold on!” Rachel said. “You said you hadn’t saved anyone in decades!”

“Yeah,” the pilot replied. “Saved anyone. Usually, we’re too late. Those bastards kill in a hurry.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Top